Tuesday 1 June 2010

Two High-Altitude Songs

I once ate pie in the sky. I was on an airplane and the Spaniard next to me did not understand my mirth. In origin, though, such pie is not simply an airborne comestible, but a heavenly one.

There was a terribly left wing song-writer called Joe Hill who didn't like the Salvation Army. The reason Hill didn't like them was that rather than feeding the poor, the Salvation Army simply promised them a better afterlife if they converted. So Hill took a Salvation Army hymn called In the Sweet Bye-Bye and wrote new and parodic words to it. The song began thuslyly:

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

And that's where the phrase comes from. Here's a video of a chap called Blind Drunk Al singing it:

That was back in 1911 and Joe Hill was executed four years later for owning a red handkerchief (and/or murder).

In 1943, when the Americans had finally noticed that there was a war on and had decided to join in the fun, a pair of songwriters called Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh decided to write a stirring patriotic song. The melody by McHugh is actually rather similar to The Preacher and the Slave, but the words by Adamson are brave and hopeful and all-American:

What a show! what a fight!
Yes, we really hit our target for tonight.

The song is about a damaged warplane returning from a sortie. They've lost one of their engines and now they're Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer. And that's where the phrase comes from.

Pie in the sky, like all food on airplanes, tastes horrid.


  1. The Antipodean2 June 2010 at 12:38


    a) you're trying to generate comments through deliberate errors - "afterlife is he they converted" (unlikely),

    b) your proofreading staff are on strike (hmm... we haven't heard from Mrs Malaprop for a while),

    c) or, well, actually there are a lot more options but most of the rest are pretty boring.

    I am interested in why Word doesn't have an issue with that sentence. Presumably there are enough subjects or objects or whatever it looks for in such things??

  2. My proofing staff is, regrettably, me (and occasionally Mrs Malaprop if she has a spare moment, which she rarely does these days).
    The first rule of proofing is that you cannot proof your own work. The second rule of proofing is that you cnaannot proff your own wok.

  3. The Antipodean2 June 2010 at 16:12

    Indeed. Proofreading is very impotent.

    Also, I realise you would never do this, but somehow my brain reads that final sentence as a kind of badly written dialect, and Sean Connery's stronger brogue comes to mind. I am slightly feverish, I must admit.