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Intro

In a Nutshell

"How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" was intended to be a fun little song about coming home from war. Written at the end of World War I, it plays around with the fact that American soldiers returning from Europe would be facing a whole lot of culture shock. Upon a closer look, though, we can see that the song taps into a pretty serious set of concerns. For decades, residents of rural America had been giving up their farms and moving to the city. Many country folks who stayed behind felt that their way of life was being lost, and they struggled daily with the problem of how to keep their kids on the farm when the bright lights and better prospects of the city beckoned.

In order to really understand this bouncy little World War I song, we’ll need to look at the transformation that America underwent during the decades before the war. Catchy and upbeat as it is, many people did not find this song very funny at all.

About the Song

Artist Musician(s)
Album
Year1918
Label
Writer(s)Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis (words), Walter Donaldson (music)
Producer(s)
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
It may seem like a simple song, but "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" actually touches on several major events and issues related to American history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most obviously, the song was part of America's response to World War I. The United States was not eager to get in involved in that war; in fact, President Woodrow Wilson resisted for quite a while, despite pressures to intervene coming from several directions. Eventually, after one too many American ships had been sunk, President Wilson took the country to war. While most people enthusiastically embraced the cause after German U-boats torpedoed the British ocean liner Lusitania, anxieties persisted.

This song also taps into the anxieties of rural America at the time. The nation's farmers had struggled during the last decades of the 1800s. Their share of the nation's wealth decreased, and their voice in American politics shrank. In response, farmers formed new organizations and new political parties. However, some of them just surrendered to what seemed the inevitable and moved to the city. On top of all of these societal and political issues, the coming of war added a new source of concern for the America people. Their sons would soon march off to fight. Would they ever return?

By the 1920s, many people in rural areas had concluded that they simply could not keep their kids down on the farm. According to many historians, this helps explain the battles waged by country farmers against the city and all that it represented during the 1920s. For these historians, the revival of the KKK, the growth of anti-immigration feeling, and the Scopes Monkey Trial are all best understood within this context.

On the Charts

Many different artists have recorded their own renditions of “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm” over the years, but none have made a significant impact on modern popular music charts.
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