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Preview: Bear Family Records Assembles Four Discs From the Time of the Korean War

Artist: Various Artists
Title: Battleground Korea: Songs and Sounds of America's Forgotten War
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Label: Bear Family Records
  • 4-CDs
There has never been a box set quite like Battleground Korea: Songs and Sounds of America’s Forgotten War, due out in the U.S. on March 23, 2018. The award-winning folks at Bear Family Records have assembled an impressive four-CD anthology that is part ’50s American soundtrack and part historical document, representing the most comprehensive examination ever assembled of songs inspired by the Korean War. While the music of the World War II and Vietnam War eras garnered a lot of attention, far less is known about the sounds of the Korea War period, even though it stands as a significant time in American society, from the post-WWII boom years to dawning of the ’60s.

The 121 tracks on these four discs incorporate a full range of American styles — country, blues, pop, folk, bluegrass, and gospel — and features big-time acts covering all of these genres. The selections include country stars like Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Jean Shepherd, Tex Ritter, Red Foley, and Merle Travis as well as blues legends John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Boy Crudup, andJimmy Witherspoon. There are songs by Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Dave Bartholomew, and 2018 inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe, with Delmore Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Jim & Jesse, and (individually) the Osborne Brothers among the bluegrass luminaries in this collection.

Each of the Battleground Korea’s four discs is organized around a different theme, essentially taking a chronological look at the war. CD 1’s songs are about “Going to War,” while CD 2 deals with being “In Korea.” “On the Homefront” is CD 3’s focus and CD 4 explores “Peace and Its Legacies.” One of the well-thought-out aspects of this compilation is that Bear Family created several short narrative-style song-cycles throughout. The “On the Homefront” CD, for example, has “A Dear John Letter,” followed by “John’s Reply,” “Dear Joan” and “Forgive Me John.” Another set of songs goes from “Please Daddy, Don’t Go to War” to “Why Does the Army Need My Daddy,” “God Bless My Daddy” and “Don’t Steal Daddy’s Medal.” The “Peace and its Legacies” disc, meanwhile, strings together a run of tunes that starts with “Leavin’ Korea” and ends with “Back Home.” 
This anthology also does a clever job of pairing songs. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “The War Is Over” is followed by Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “The War Is Over”. B.B. King’s “Questionnaire Blues” precedes John Lee Hooker’s version. CD 1, in fact, contains renditions of “Korea Blues” done by Fats Domino, Clifford Blivens with the Johnny Otis Band, and Willie Brown. Bear Family obviously dug deep to discover tunes for this set, and certainly came up with some interesting obscurities. Where else can you hear Hank Harral and His Palomino Cowhands do “When They Raised the UN Flag In South Korea,” Cactus Pryor and his Pricklypears’ tune “(In Again, Out Again) Packing Up My Barracks Bags Blues,” and “When They Drop the Atomic Bomb” from Jackie Doll and his Pickled Peppers?

There is much more to Battleground Korea, however, than just the songs; archival non-musical material is woven in throughout. You will hear from General Douglas MacArthur as well as excerpts of speeches by presidents Truman and Eisenhower. There are field reports from war correspondents and public service announcements from Vic Damone and even Howdy Doody. 
The box also comes with a 160-page, full-color hardcover book, with liner notes from music scholar Hugo A. Keesing detailing background information on every song and recording artist. Fully illustrated, the book also is packed with vintage photographs, flyers, advertisements, record covers, magazines, and other period memorabilia. Special chapters include an interview with country singer Frankie Miller about his time in Korea, a nine-page section with some rare photographs of Marilyn Monroe’s visit with the U.S. troops, and a history of the Korean War. 

Battleground Korea arrives at a timely moment, with Korea a frequent subject in the news and the U.S. government having a particularly fraught relationship with North Korea. This highly relevant box set provides a compelling collection of period music and historical perspective into the sights and sounds of America’s forgotten war.

Track List:

Disc 1 (Going To War Again)
  • War starts in Korea [War starts….]
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins: War News Blues
  • Sunshine Boys Quartet: God Please Protect America
  • Wally Fowler and His Oakridge Quartet: Pray, Pray Pray (For The U.S.A.)
  • President Truman speaks on war in Korea
  • Hank Harral and His Palamino Cowhands: When They Raised The U.N. Flag In South Korea
  • The Four Barons: Got To Go Back Again
  • Sunnyland Slim and His Trio: Back To Korea Blues
  • Harry Choates and His Fiddle: Korea, Here We Come
  • Vince Mondi: Goodbye – Maria (‘I’m Off To Korea’)
  • Paul Mims: My New Career Is In Korea
  • Vance Brothers: Draftboard Blues
  • Ray Anderson and Tennessee Mountaineers: Draft Board Blues
  • Arkie Shibley and His Mountain Dew Boys: Uncle Sam Has Called My Number
  • Smilin’ Eddie Vernado and the Delta Ranch Hands: I’m A Soldier Boy Again
  • Harvey Stone: Here We Go Again
  • Fats Domino: Korea Blues
  • Clifford Blivens with the Johnny Otis Band: Korea Blues
  • Willie Brown: Korea Blues
  • Max Bailey: Sorry Girl Blues
  • B.B. King: Questionnaire Blues
  • John Lee Hooker (Johnny Williams): Questionnaire Blues
  • Sonny Thompson: Uncle Sam Blues
  • Lloyd Price and His Orchestra: Mailman Blues
  • Big Boy Crudup: Mr. So And So
  • Tani Allen and His Tennessee Pals: I’m Back In The Army
  • Cactus Pryor and His Pricklypears: (In Again, Out Again) Packing Up My Barracks Bags Blues
  • Montana Slim (Wilf Carter, The Singing Cowboy): The K.P. Blues
  • Bob Newman: Greetings
  • Vic Damone: Message From Vic Damone
  • The Rockets and Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra: The Girls Are Marching
Disc 2 (In Korea)
  • Armada to Korea
  • The Gospel Pilgrims: Korea (Fightin’ In The Foreign Land)
  • Bill Cason: Foxhole In Korea
  • Steve Rogers: Inchon
  • Sonny Osborne: A Brother In Korea
  • John Carpino: The Ballad Of Chosin
  • Oscar Brand & Short Arms: We’re Moving On
  • Jimmie Osborne: Thank God For Victory In Korea
  • Robert Pierpoint Under fire in Korea
  • Delmore Brothers: Heartbreak Ridge
  • Ernest Tubb: A Heartsick Soldier On Heartbreak Ridge
  • The Four Lads with Narration by Edward R. Murrow: Where The Need Is
  • Elton Britt: Korean Mud
  • Howdy Doody: Request for blood donations
  • Sherman ‘Blues’ Johnson & His Clouds of Joy: Lost In Korea
  • The Louvin Brothers: From Mother’s Arms To Korea
  • Jack Powers: From A Foxhole
  • William Cook Accompanied by The Marshall Brothers: A Soldier’s Prayer
  • Rocky Porter: Please Say A Prayer (For The Boys Over There)
  • Slim Rhodes: Red White And Blue
  • J.B. Lenoir: I’m In Korea
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins: Sad News From Korea
  • Elton Britt: Rotation Blues
  • Billy Mize: Pusan
  • Tommy (Weepin’ and Cryin’) Brown: No News From Home
  • Carl Sauceman and The Green Valley Boys: Wrap My Body In Old Glory
  • Jim Eanes: A Prisoner Of War
  • Kay Kellum and His Dixie Ramblers: When I Get Back
  • The Kalvin Brothers: Somewhere In Korea
Disc 3 (On The Homefront)
  • A GI Writes to His Kids – a Posthumous Letter
  • Tiny Hill: Two Letters
  • Red Foley: Dear Little Girls
  • Tex Ritter: Daddy’s Last Letter
  • Jackie Doll and His Pickled Peppers: When They Drop The Atomic Bomb
  • The Truman-MacArthur dispute that led the President to fire the General
  • R.D. Henden with The Western Jamboree Cowboys: Oh! Mr. President
  • General Of The Army Douglas MacArthur Reports To Congress
  • Gene Autry: Old Soldiers Never Die
  • Jimmie Short and the Silver Saddle Ranch Boys: (Old Generals Never Die) They Just Fade Away
  • Ray Snead: Fade Away Baby
  • Rep. James E. Van Zandt supports the use of the Atomic Bomb in Korea
  • ‘Skeets’ McDonald: Please Daddy, Don’t Go To War
  • George Simerly and His Tennesseans: Why Does The Army Need My Daddy
  • Cecil Gant: God Bless My Daddy
  • Oklahoma Sweethearts: Don’t Steal Daddy’s Medal
  • Jimmie Heap and The Melody Masters: God Is On Our Side
  • The Dixie Ramblers: I’ll Be Glad When It’s Over (Over There)
  • Roscoe Hankins: I’m Prayin’ For The Day (When Peace Will Come)
  • Edna McGriff: Heavenly Father
  • Gene Autry: At Mail Call Today
  • Jean Shepard with Recitation by Ferlin Husky: A Dear John Letter
  • Pete Lane and Bernice Stabile: John’s Reply
  • Jack Cardwell: Dear Joan
  • Jean Shepard with Recitation by Ferlin Husky: Forgive Me John
  • Emitt Slay Trio: Male Call
  • Hank Penny: A Letter From Home
  • The Promenade Band with Male Chorus: I Like Ike
  • ‘I shall go to Korea…’
  • ‘Little Maxie’: Drive Soldier Drive
  • Eddie Kirk: Five Star President
Disc 4 (Peace and Its Legacies)
  • President Eisenhower announces an armistice in Korea…
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe: There’s Peace In Korea
  • The Revelers: Ike
  • Jimmie Osborne: The Korean Story
  • Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup: The War Is Over
  • Lightning Hopkins: The War Is Over
  • Soldier Boy Houston: Leavin’ Korea
  • Jimmie Dale: Hello Maria
  • King Perry Orchestra with Vocal by Dell St. John: Welcome Home Baby
  • Rose Brown and Jimmie Harris with Bubbles and His Band: Back From Korea
  • Dave Bartholomew: No More Black Nights
  • Jimmy Witherspoon: Back Home
  • Margie Collie: His New War Bride
  • Harry Holt brings Korean war orphans to Portland, Oregon
  • Kwan Li: The Legend Of Harry Holt
  • Don Windle with Band: The Iron Curtain Has Parted
  • Ernest Tubb: Missing In Action
  • Smilin’ Jim Eanes and His Shenandoah Valley Boys: Returned From Missing In Action
  • Billy Strange: I’m Still A Prisoner
  • Merle Travis: Re-Enlistment Blues
  • Red River Dave: The Red Deck Of Cards
  • Eddie Hill: I’ve Changed My Mind (And I’ll Go Home Again)
  • Jim & Jesse and The Virginia Boys: Purple Heart
  • Don ‘Red’ Barry: White Cross In Korea
  • Marvin Rainwater: Korea’s Mountain Northland
  • Carl Sauceman with the Green Valley Boys: A White Cross Marks The Grave
  • Elton Britt: The Unknown Soldier
  • Red River Dave: Searching For You, Buddy
  • Don Reno, Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cutups: Forgotten Men
  • Dick Curless: China Nights (Shina No Yuro)