First published in 1919, this popular tune with lyrics by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis and music by Walter Donaldson was written at the close of World War I, which ended on November 11, 1918. The deceptively upbeat song examines the culture shock that American soldiers would certainly face when they return from the bright lights and big cities overseas - like the glitzy and provocative Paris - to their homespun lives down on the farm.
The lyrics "Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking" were taken from the children's song "Reuben and Rachel," a duet written by Harry Birch and William Gooch in 1871.
The lyrics "Once a farmer, always a jay" refer to an old nickname for Kansas farmers: Jayhawk. By 1919, the name had been around for quite awhile. It first cropped up when radical abolitionists adopted the moniker in the years just before the Civil War.
Farmers had good reason to fear their returning sons would abandon country life. By the time the US entered WWI, 50% of the nation's population was made up of city-dwellers.
This became a hit when it was recorded by the jazz band Jim Europe's 369th Infantry Band in 1919. Nora Bayes, a vaudevillian who co-wrote hits like "Shine On, Harvest Moon
" with her then-husband Jack Norworth, also had a hit with the song that same year with Columbia Records.
Judy Garland sang this in the 1942 film For Me and My Gal. Her version was sampled in The Lego Movie (2014) by the character Metalbeard.
Indie-rock musician Andrew Bird covered this for his 2007 EP Soldier On.