- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

LONDON (AP) — At age 92, Dame Vera Lynn has beaten the Arctic Monkeys and even the Beatles to capture the No. 1 record in Britain.

The singer, who 70 years ago recorded an evocative reminder of home for British soldiers fighting far away, became on Monday the oldest living artist to have a No. 1 record in Britain when her album “We’ll Meet Again — The Very Best of Vera Lynn” took the top spot.

This week’s British album charts were a veritable trip down memory lane: The Beatles had 17 records in the top 100, thanks mainly to the release last week of their remastered albums, and Michael Jackson had five appearances in the top 100.

Some were expecting the Beatles’ offerings to overtake Miss Lynn’s record — which was No. 2 last week, after the Arctic Monkeys’ “Humbug” — but their mass release may have prevented any one album from outselling “We’ll Meet Again.”

Miss Lynn was known as the “Forces’ sweetheart,” and her songs, including “We’ll Meet Again” and “(There’ll be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” were wartime anthems.

“In a sense, it’s comfort music,” music writer John Aizlewood said. “These are quite uncertain times, and quite austere times, as well. And in these times, you need music to help pull you through.”

He attributed much of Miss Lynn’s resurgence to nostalgia, a longing for simplicity and old-fashioned values — and “pensioner power.”

“Obviously, young people aren’t buying Vera Lynn records,” Mr. Aizlewood said, “but there’s a certain age group that (is).”

Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini attributed part of the attraction to the convenience of having all of Miss Lynn’s seminal songs in one place.

“This is what I call tapping a reservoir of love,” he said. “There are a lot of people who know they love her — they may have one or two singles, they may have two songs or albums — but this makes them think that ‘I don’t have them all, I should go out and get this.’”

Miss Lynn’s record entered the charts at No. 20 three weeks ago, and a buzz over her return to the country’s top-selling records steadily grew, said HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo.

“I can’t imagine it’ll be No. 1 next week, but it’ll be a consistent seller over the next weeks and months, and could be a big hit at Christmas,” he said.

Both downloads and physical sales count on the Official Chart Co.’s count, according to their Web site. Mr. Castaldo said he thought it was unlikely that many of Miss Lynn’s sales were attributed to downloads. Mr. Gambaccini said the singles chart, topped this week by Pixie Lott, is much more heavily influenced by downloads, while the album chart is mainly physical purchases.

According to her record company, Miss Lynn first recorded “We’ll Meet Again” in September 1939, just as World War II broke out. She wasn’t the soldiers’ favorite right away, said Terry Charman, a senior historian at London’s Imperial War Museum. But as servicemen all over the world heard Miss Lynn on the radio — and many saw her in person, in far-flung places such as Burma and Egypt — she became the voice that would remind them of home.

Her wartime BBC radio show, “Sincerely Yours,” followed the Sunday evening news and was a must-listen for British troops abroad. She read messages from their families and performed songs they requested.

And Miss Lynn is still speaking out for soldiers, appearing recently in major British newspapers to urge support for troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Made a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975, she has been part of important national functions, such as the 2005 anniversary celebrations of World War II’s V-E Day and the late Queen Mother’s birthday.

Miss Lynn says she doesn’t intend to record again and told the BBC she was puzzled by her comeback.

“I think it’s because of the problems going on with fighting in various parts and a bit of nostalgia, but I don’t know,” Miss Lynn said. “I’d like someone to tell me.”

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