Over There

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1917 sheet music cover with Nora Bayes

"Over There" is a 1917 hit song written by George M. Cohan that was popular with United States military and public during both world wars. It was a patriotic song designed to galvanize American young men to enlist in the army and fight the "Hun". The song is best remembered for a line in its chorus, "The Yanks are coming."


Cohan wrote the song in 1917, when the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies and began sending troops to Europe. The song reflected Americans' expectations that the war would be short.[1]

Cohan wrote "Over There" on April 7, 1917, just one day after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany.[citation needed] Cohan wrote the song in under two hours and was inspired by the song "Johnny Get Your Gun".[citation needed] The song went unpublished until June 1, 1917 when publisher William Jerome registered it with the Library of Congress.[2]

The song was introduced to the public in the fall of 1917 when it was sung at a Red Cross benefit in New York City. It would later become the most popular song during the war with over two million copies sold.[3][4]

Notable early recordings include versions by Nora Bayes, Enrico Caruso, Billy Murray, Arthur Fields and Charles King. According to Michael Duffy of FirstWorldWar.com, "Cohan later recalled that the words and music to the song came to him while travelling by train from New Rochelle to New York shortly after the U.S. had declared war against Germany in April 1917."[5]

The sheet music was heavily reprinted and has variant covers. One of those editions was a "Popular edition."[6]

This song, as well as "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", was a popular patriotic song during the First World War. On June 29, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Cohan the Congressional Gold Medal for this and other songs.

It has been revived on various occasions during and after World War II. It was not heavily used during Vietnam, but has been used since September 11. [7] As the specific country "over there" is not named, the words can serve as an exhortation for any sending of American troops to any foreign military intervention.

The slogan "The Yanks are Coming" is derived from this song.


Sheet music from 1917 featuring sailor William J. Reilly of the USS Michigan.
Cover drawing of soldiers from sketch by Henry Hutt.

As sung by early 20th century recording artist Billy Murray:

Verse 1

Johnny,[8] get your gun, get your gun, get your gun.
Take it on the run, on the run, on the run.
Hear them calling you and me,
Every Sons of Liberty.
Hurry right away, no delay, go today.
Make your Daddy glad to have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.

Verse 2

Johnny, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun.
Johnny, show the "Hun"[9] you're a son-of-a-gun.
Hoist the flag and let her fly
Yankee Doodle[10] do or die.
Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit.
Yankee[11] to the ranks from the towns and the tanks.[12]
Make your Mother proud of you
And the old red-white-and-blue[13]


Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware -
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over, over there.

In popular culture[edit]



  • The most famous of many film appearances is in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) starring James Cagney in his Oscar-winning performance. In that otherwise Hollywoodized film, this song was used effectively as an illustration of the creative process. The way the film portrays it, Cohan is watching a military band parade by, and a segment of one of their songs catches his ear, a simple triad that he finds himself whistling. Late at night, he is seen slowly working out the complete new song on a piano, note by note. The next scene unveils the song, as Cohan (Cagney) and a woman dressed in uniform (Frances Langford, portraying Nora Bayes) sing it to a large and appreciative audience. The song is reprised at the very end of the film. As Cohan is leaving the White House grounds, a group of soldiers march past the now-aged Cohan, singing the song. Another bystander, also elderly, does a startled take as he finds himself standing next to the author of that song. Cohan (along with other citizens) begins to march alongside and in step with the soldiers. One of them (character actor Frank Faylen), not knowing who the old man is, teases him into joining the singing. The film irises-out on a closeup of Cohan (Cagney) singing the final line of the song's chorus.
  • In The Cardinal (1963), the song in the background in an early scene.
  • In Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), the chorus of the song is used to herald the arrival of American troops on the pier which serves as the symbolic setting in the film, with a line of lyrics changed to "We won't come back, we'll be buried over there."
  • It is briefly sung in 1941 (1979).
  • In Leatherheads (2008), the song appears.
  • In "A Yank at Oxford", the songs chorus is briefly sung in the first half of the movie.




This song can be heard playing in the menu of the game Verdun alongside other period songs of World War I.


  • The title of John A. Lee's book The Yanks are Coming (1943) is derived from the above song
  • The title of the anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun (1938) by Dalton Trumbo is an answer to the line 'Johnny get your gun' in this song.

"The Yanks Are Not Coming"[edit]

After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany on August 24, 1939, the Communist Party of the United States - like other Communist parties around the world - took an anti-war line, declaring the Second World War to be "an imperialist war" and strongly opposing US involvement in it. This was manifested, among other things, in widespread use of the slogan "The Yanks Are Not Coming", in direct opposition to the words of the above song.

However, after Adolf Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the CPUSA changed its position again, taking a strong position in favor of the US entering the war (manifested in revival of the original World War I song).

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ *Collins, Ace (2003). Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource. ISBN 0060513047. , page 138-145.
  2. ^ *Vogel, Frederick G. (1995). World War I Songs: A history of Popular American Patriotic Tunes, with Over 300 Complete Lyrics. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers. ISBN 0-89950-952-5. OCLC 32241433. , page 36.
  3. ^ *Smith, Kathleen E. R. (2003). God Bless America: Tin Pan Alley Goes to War. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2256-2. OCLC 32241433. , page 36.
  4. ^ *Pegler, Martin (2014). Soldier's Songs and Slang of the Great War. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4728-0929-2. OCLC 900344548. , page 72.
  5. ^ Duffy, Michael. "Vintage Audio - Over There", FirstWorldWar.com, August 22, 2009, accessed July 12, 2013
  6. ^ "Over there". pritzkermilitary.org. 
  7. ^ *Collins, Ace (2003). Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource. ISBN 0060513047. , pages 138-145.
  8. ^ "Johnny" is a very common English given name and is used to address any anonymous man or men.
  9. ^ Now usually sung "Johnny on the run...".
  10. ^ Now usually sung as "Like true heroes..."
  11. ^ Now usually sung as "Soldiers..."
  12. ^ Short for "tank town", meaning any town so small its primary purpose was to provide water for steam locomotives.
  13. ^ Now usually sung as "And to liberty be true."

External links[edit]