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Music / Glenn Miller

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That jukebox is probably playing one of
his own records.

Alton Glenn Miller (March 1, 1904 circa December 15, 1944) was an American jazz trombonist and bandleader popular in the Swing and Big Band era of the 1930s and '40s. He's the subject of a major 1950s biopic, The Glenn Miller Story, in which he was played by Jimmy Stewart.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra's recording of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", which they introduced to the world in the 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade, was the first pop recording to be awarded a gold record. Said gold record, awarded in February 1942 to celebrate 1.2 million copies sold, actually predates the RIAA certification, which wasn't established until 1958.note 

Also notable for being a Real Life example of Never Found the Body. When World War II broke out, he volunteered for service, but he was considered too old (and, perhaps, too famous) for active duty, and was instead commissioned a Captain in the Army Air Forces, assigned to entertain the troops. Officially declared missing in action when his plane disappeared around the English Channel during a flight to France in bad weather, he was eventually pronounced dead in absentia. Historians ascribe the event to the type of plane Miller was traveling in being infamously failure-prone in cold conditions, meaning he most likely met his end in the Channel after his plane shorted out, while the fact that his disappearance went unnoticed for 72 hours (due in part to the Germans launching the Battle of the Bulge counteroffensive the following morning) meant that any recovery effort would have been downright impossible. As with any situation in which a body is never recovered, Miller's disappearance would spawn several Urban Legends about the true cause of his death being covered up by the US Military for various purported reasons, ranging from the RAF having accidentally shot down his plane, to his being assassinated while on a top-secret mission for Dwight D. Eisenhower to negotiate a German surrender, to his succumbing to a heart attack while in bed with a French prostitute.

These days he's mostly remembered for being mentioned in the All in the Family theme song (or, if you're British, a joke in Red Dwarf about aliens returning planes that disappeared during the War).

His works provide examples of:

  • The Band Minus the Face: The Glenn Miller Orchestra was reformed in 1956 and still exists today.
  • Big Band: One of the most succesful jazz band leaders of his time. So much even that after his death his band still went on tour under his own name.
  • Blatant Lies: "Five O'Clock Whistle" has a youngster relating how her father didn't come home the night before, because (he claimed) the whistle that signalled the end of the working day was broken.
    You ought to hear what my mommy said
    When papa came home and sneaked into bed
    And told her he'd worked 'til half past two
    'Cause the five o'clock whistle never blew
  • Epic Swinging: "In the Mood" which goes on and on.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "In the Mood" keeps getting more quiet and quiet towards the end, only to suddenly erupt back in all of its loudness for the grand finale.
  • Fake Band: Played by Real Band variant. In the movies Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives, each of which revolves around backstage drama in a fictional big band, the band members who aren't part of the plot are played by members of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, with Miller himself appearing as the bandleader in each film.
  • 555: Famously averted by "Pennsylvania 6-5000", which was the phone number of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York (and remained so until the hotel closed in 2020), which was a major venue for live Big Band music at the time the song was written.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" sounds innocent enough, until you realize that it was about World War II... and that Miller himself never "came marching home"
  • Melancholy Moon: "Moonlight Serenade".
  • Phone Number Jingle: The above-mentioned "Pennsylvania 6-5000", or "Pennsylvania 6-5-oh-oh-oh" as they call it later in the song for variety.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Glenn Miller Story is a biopic about his life.
    • "In the Mood" is quoted in the fadeout of "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles.
    • In The Simpsons' episode "Lady Bouvier's Lover" "Moonlight Serenade" is Marge's mother's favorite number.
  • Spiritual Successor: After the war, there was a mini-revival of the Miller sound with orchestras led by Jerry Gray (former Miller arranger), Tex Beneke (former Miller saxophonist and vocalist who led the Glenn Miller ghost band before going out on his own), Ray Anthony (former Miller trumpeter and last surviving member of the band as of July 2019) and Ralph Flanagan (who never worked with Miller, but did record for the same label [RCA Victor] and employ several ex-Miller musicians).
  • Stop and Go: "In the Mood"
  • Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks: "It Must Be Jelly ('Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That)" was one of several songs inspired by that popular expression, which did not necessarily compare the respective merits of the foodstuffs; Harry James and Woody Herman also covered the tune.
  • Theme Song:
    • "Moonlight Serenade" was his band's theme song, played at the beginning and end of every concert and radio broadcast. It was swapped out in favor of "Slumber Song" during the ASCAP boycott of 1941 note ; after the boycott it became the closing theme.
    • "Make Believe Ballroom Time" was recorded as a new theme song for Make Believe Ballroom, a disc jockey program hosted by Martin Block (who co-wrote the song). That recording is notable as being the first to feature the Modernaires vocal quartet with the Miller orchestra.
  • Took a Level in Cheerfulness: In The Mood is a joyful record.
  • Top Ten Jingle: The 1930s Lucky Strike slogan "Sold! American!" note  inspired an instrumental of that title, which was recorded twice (for Brunswick in 1938 and for Victor in 1939). Ironically, shortly after the second version was released, the band got a radio show that was sponsored by rival Chesterfield, which limited performances of "Sold American" due to obvious conflicts of interest.
  • 12-Bar Blues: "In the Mood".

Miller is mentioned in the following works:

  • As noted above, the theme song from All in the Family, "Those Were the Days":
    Boy, the way Glenn Miller played
    Songs that made the hit parade
  • The second verse of "Reminiscing", the biggest US hit from the Little River Band, opens with:
    That's the way it began, we were hand in hand
    Glenn Miller's band was better than before
  • The last verse of "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" from The Manhattan Transfer is a fanciful interpretation of Miller's final flight. Said verse is preceded by an introductory narration that's an obvious homage to The Twilight Zone.
    On a cold and rainy night
    One Mr. Miller had a rare flight
    Glenn was up there boppin' a rhythm
    Then the engine stopped to listen with him play that beat
    Suddenly he heard this sound
    This melody that keeps spinning 'round and 'round
    Now he resides and plays trombone
    In the mystic unknown zone
  • He's referenced in one of the episodes of Red Dwarf where alien conspiracy theorist Rimmer is convinced he was abducted. Rimmer is less than pleased at the prospect that an unknown vessel may be trying to return him.
    Rimmer: We don't want him! Go away! You took him, you can keep the smegger!