Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer (Russian songs of Victory)

Russian St.George's ribbon

Russia marks Victory Day today known as VE Day in Britain and Victoire in France. 

In the past years the holiday has been built up in Russia as the day of national pride. A drumbeat of patriotic pomp and circumstance accompanies parades and celebrations in Moscow and throughout the country. (Wearing St.George's ribbon badge for Victory day was introduced in 2005. The gold and black are traditional colours of the Russian Empire.)

The literary and musical legacy of the Great Patriotic war, as world war two is known in Russia, is truly amazing.

Contemporaries and historians note, however, that real hits that soldiers and families took to heart were not the patriotic marches and songs of military feats but lyrical numbers, songs about love and personal loyalty in the face of death and separation. 

The war also partially opened up Stalin's Soviet Union to Western pop culture. 

In 1943 Leonid Utyosov, the popular singer and musician, released his version of the American song Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer, by Harold Adamson и Jimmie McHugh, a number 1 hit in 1943. In Russian it was called Bombardirovshiki – The Bombers. The lyrics were written  by T.Sykorskaya and S.Bolotin who kept the words close to the English original. 

They changed the key line in refrain, though, from 'on a prayer' to 'on the word of honour' – na chestnom slove. This Russian idiom means 'only just managing', 'just holding on', in poor condition. Translators' find also avoided the religious reference that would have been frowned upon in Soviet times. 

In this video Utyosov sings Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer with daughter Edith. The footage is from the US film Memphis Belle. In the Russian version of Tetradki I publish a video with both English and Russian versions of the song superimposed over footage from the same film.

And this is a country style take on the song in a very smokey 1997 video version by the Russian group Chizh and Co.  

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