Spoiler if you haven’t seen the end of Dr Strangelove: everybody dies. Well, presumably they do, since the film ends with the outbreak of nuclear war. Soundtracked, naturally, with Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again”.
I haven’t found a definitive answer as to which recording the film used, but it seems to be the same arrangement done by Roland Shaw for Lynn’s 1953 remake version. An A/B comparison quickly reveals it’s not the same performance though (for one thing, on the film version the backing vocals are noticeably out of time), so my best guess is that it’s an alternative take from the 1953 session. Speculation: could Kubrick’s people have been supplied with an out-take by mistake? In any case, it’s certainly neither the original 1939 version (on which Lynn was accompanied by a Novachord, a pioneering if temperamental and ultimately not very successful analogue synthesiser), nor the better-known orchestral recording from 1943. Nor even the dashed-off remake from Lynn’s 1962 Hits of the Blitz LP. I can tell you this, I really didn’t expect to be delving quite so deeply into Vera Lynn scholarship. Which, incidentally, doesn’t appear to exist, as you’d think somebody in the last 50-odd years would have attempted to identify the Dr Strangelove take already… but apparently not.
I wasn’t intending to post any Vera Lynn today… or ever… but the fact that the original version used a synthesiser, in 1939, is actually rather interesting, so here is that version:
However, what I’m really here for is the fallout (pardon the pun) from Kubrick’s use of the song. “We’ll Meet Again” wasn’t entirely unknown in the States before then: Benny Goodman laid down a really rather fun swing version in 1942, with a young Peggy Lee on vocals; and Frank Sinatra cut a slow and boring version on his 1962 album Songs From Great Britain. But after Dr Strangelove‘s concluding mushroom cloud montage, the song suddenly became hip in the US counterculture as well. First to the punch were The Byrds, who used the song to close their 1965 debut album Mr Tambourine Man. That the song was considered quintessentially British is reflected in the performance, which is marred by some terrible mock-English accents…
Also playing up the Englishness is this recording by The Turtles, an unsuccessful US single which British audiences got to hear when it was issued as the B-side to the UK pressing of “Happy Together”. This is my favourite version, an upbeat celebratory arrangement with a pub-style piano.
There were other versions as well, and they didn’t always go for the Anglophile angle. For example, this attempt at a Beach Boys-style rendition by The Cryan’ Shames:
The song was well established as a peacetime, as well as wartime, standard by the time P. J. Proby gave it the lounge treatment in 1972 (stick with it, it starts slow but it goes full Vegas by the end):
Proby’s version demonstrates a perennial problem for interpreters of this song: there’s not a lot to it. You basically have to do the entire song twice to stretch it out to a reasonable length. It doesn’t help that none of the later versions (even Lynn’s own) bother with the opening verse present on the 1939 Novachord original. Proby’s partial answer to the problem, a spoken-word section, is also used by Johnny Cash on American IV, his last album released during his lifetime. This was the same album which included his acclaimed version of Nine Inch Nails‘ “Hurt”. “We’ll Meet Again” is the closing song (of course), and it’s a rather sweet acoustic version. Special mention has to go to Terry Harrington for his understated clarinet solo.
I was going to leave it there, but it occurred to me that we haven’t heard a female performance since, well, the original. So to take us full circle (kinda), here’s the version from She & Him‘s 2014 covers album, Classics. It’s actually quite strange to hear the song done straight again…
And we’ll meet again… in a few days. It may even still be sunny.