Top 5 Sheet Music Covers of World War I

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It was one hundred and six years ago this week that a major global conflict began on August 4, 1914. It was known as The Great War, and as history would show, this war certainly lived up to its name, even before it was renamed to the more emasculated-sounding World War I.

Although it was a conflict of devastating proportions, it did leave behind an intriguing legacy, most notably in the music and art that it spawned. Today, we'll be exploring the top five sheet music covers of World War I.


5.) 101st Regiment U.S.A. March (1917): Surprisingly, you don't need color to create an effective design, as some of the best designs totally lack color. This is one such example. I especially want to call your attention to the vertical stripes in the background. Notice how you can still see them through the smoke from the guns, which gives the whole image a three dimensional feel to it. Besides this, all the other elements of the design are very well-placed, and you can tell that the designer gave some serious thought to the layout and composition of the image.


4.) Do Something (1917): Being a huge fan of James Montgomery Flagg, I couldn't resist including this one. His stirring "I Want You" painting fits the purpose of the composition by pointing directly at the viewer, just as on the better known poster. Besides the painting, the typography is also very well-thought out. The title, "Do Something," written in big, bold letters, is a clear and unavoidable call to action. We can't help but think it would be wrong of us not to assist the war effort in some way.

3.) Keep the Old Flag Flying (1918): Simple designs are often the best designs, and here we see one that clearly makes a bold statement while maintaining a sense of simplicity. The red, white, and blue stripes running diagonally across the page symbolize the American Flag even in the absence of stars or any other overtly patriotic symbols. In other words, the colors alone are enough to suggest that sense of patriotism that was so prevalent during the war.

One bit of criticism I have, though, is that the fonts are too decorative, so they don't appear to belong, for lack of a better term. In Gestalt Theory, there is a term called "closure," which means that all design elements should connect in such a way as to make them inseparable as their own independent designs. To put it another way, closure means you shouldn't be able to mentally separate the text from the stripes. If they had chosen a bold, sans-serif typeface, such as in the title for "Do Something" above. the closure would be much more effective.


2.) Fight For the Flag We Love (1917): Symmetry is one of my favorite design techniques, and here's one cover that employs this very effectively. I especially like how the symmetrical parts of the design (in this case, the soldier and sailor,) frame the battleship on the water. It's a very even composition, but it's even with the purpose of drawing your eye further in.

Before I unveil my number one pick, here are some honorable mentions:

If You Don't Like Our President Wilson, You Knife the Land That Feeds Us All (1917)

The Fight is On (1918)

Johnny's In Town (1919)

1.) I Want To Go Back To "Blighty" (1918): After a bit of research, I found that this song is about a homesick British soldier. (Some of you might already know this, but "Blighty" is an informal term for Great Britain.)

But as far as the design goes, this background information is important, because, knowing what we know about the song itself, we can appreciate the radiating circles. One leads to the next leads to the next leads to the next, all the way to the center. To me, that clearly symbolizes coming home, which is refreshing considering that most sheet music from this time period is overtly patriotic in nature. This one doesn't deal with patriotism so much, but it does communicate a very real human emotion that all of the soldiers felt. A longing for home and family, and for their normal lives.

That's it for this list. Which WWI sheet music cover did you like the best? Are there any you wish I had included? As always, please let me know in the comments, so we can have a nice conversation.

Till next time.

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