Alabama Song

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For the state song of Alabama, see Alabama (state song). For the novel, see Alabama Song (novel). For the album by Allison Moorer, see Alabama Song (album). For the Whiskey Bar weblog, see Billmon.

The "Alabama Song" (also known as "Whisky Bar," "Moon over Alabama," or "Moon of Alabama") was originally published as a poem in Bertolt Brecht's Hauspostille (1927). It was set to music by Kurt Weill for the 1927 "Songspiel" Mahagonny and used again in Weill's and Brecht's 1930 opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.) In the latter, it is performed by the character Jenny and her fellow prostitutes in the first act. The song was first performed and recorded by the Viennese actress and dancer Lotte Lenya (Weill's wife).[1] She first publicly sang the song as the character Jessie in the 1927 Baden-Baden Festival performance of Mahagonny Songspiel. Lenya first recorded the song in 1930 for the Ultraphon record label. This recording was released to coincide with the Leipzig premiere of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny despite the fact that Lenya was not a member of the cast.[2] Lenya continued to perform and record the song throughout her life. Later Lenya recordings include one made for the 1955 album, "Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill" (released in the United States as "Berlin Theater Songs").[3]

The lyrics for the "Alabama Song" are in English (albeit specifically idiosyncratic English) and are performed in that language even when the opera is performed in its original German. The English text was made by Brecht’s close collaborator, Elisabeth Hauptmann, on the author’s behalf. The text dates back to 1925.[4]

The Doors version[edit]

"Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)"
Song by The Doors from the album The Doors
Released January 4, 1967
Recorded August 1966
Genre Psychedelic rock
Length 3:20
Label Elektra
Composer Bertolt Brecht
Kurt Weill
Producer Paul A. Rothchild
The Doors track listing
"Twentieth Century Fox"
(4)
"Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)"
(5)
"Light My Fire"
(6)

The song was recorded in 1966 by the rock group The Doors, listed as "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar).". The lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison, changed the second verse from:

"Show us the way to the next pretty boy" to "Show me the way to the next little girl". Although on the 1967 Live at the Matrix recording, he sings "... next little boy".

In addition, the verse from the original, "Show me the way to the next little dollar" is omitted. The melody of the verses is also changed. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek plays the marxophone on this song along with the organ and keyboard bass.

Personnel[edit]

David Bowie version[edit]

"Alabama Song"
Single by David Bowie
B-side Space Oddity
Released 15 February 1980
Format 7" single
Recorded Good Earth Studios, London, 2 July 1978
Genre Cabaret, opera
Length 3:51
Label RCA Records
BOW 5
Writer(s) Bertolt Brecht
Kurt Weill
Producer(s) David Bowie, Tony Visconti
David Bowie singles chronology
"John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)"
(1979)
"Alabama Song"
(1980)
"Crystal Japan"
(1980)

Bowie, a Brecht fan, incorporated the song into Isolar II, his 1978 World Tour. He cut a version at Tony Visconti’s studio after the European leg of the tour, and in 1980 it was issued as a single to hasten the end of Bowie’s contract with RCA.

With unconventional key changes, the track "seemed calculated to disrupt any radio programme on which it was lucky enough to get played".[5] Nevertheless, backed with a stripped-down acoustic version of "Space Oddity" recorded in December 1979, the single reached #23 in the UK. Although Bowie changed the "pretty boys" line like Morrison, he sang Weill's original melody.

Bowie would appear in a BBC version of Brecht’s Baal, and release an EP of songs from the play. He performed "Alabama Song" again on his 1990 Sound+Vision Tour and 2002 Heathen tours.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Alabama Song" (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill) – 3:51
  2. "Space Oddity" (acoustic version) (David Bowie) – 4:57

The German 1982 rerelease of the single included Jacques Brel's song "Amsterdam" as an additional B-side.

Production credits[edit]

Live versions[edit]

  • A concert performance recorded in spring 1978 was released as a bonus track on the Rykodisc reissue of Bowie's live album Stage in 1991 and on the 2005 reissue of that album.

Other releases[edit]

References in popular culture[edit]

The lyric "Show me the way to the next whisky bar" is written on the wall of the men's restroom in the TV show Cheers; it can be seen in episode 9 of season 1 "Coach Returns to Action". In 2013, The Doors' version of the song made an appearance in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's collaborative finale to the Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End.

Selective list of recorded versions[edit]

The song has often been covered:

  • Jazz musicians Eric Dolphy and John Lewis recorded an album of Kurt Weill tunes in 1964. "Alabama Song" was performed by a band consisting of Dolphy on bass clarinet, Lewis on piano, Nick Travis on trumpet, Mike Zwerin on trombone, Richard Davis on double bass, and Connie Kay on drums. The solo order is trombone, piano, and bass clarinet. Zwerin asked Dolphy to "play what [he] felt about Alabama".
  • The Mitchell Trio on The Slightly Irreverent Mitchell Trio in 1964
  • Dave Van Ronk (of the Greenwich Village folk movement), in 1964 and 1992.
  • Jacques Higelin, a French singer, covered the song with Catherine Sauvage, on his LP devoted to Boris Vian in 1966 (French lyrics by Boris Vian)
  • Mike Westbrook, a British jazz musician, featured the song in performances of his Brass Band in the 1970s, with lyrics by his wife Kate (formerly Barnard).
  • Bette Midler. The song was included in a medley in her 1977 live show and double album Live at Last.
  • Abwärts, the song featured in the 1980 EP Computerstaat the German punk band.
  • Dalida, the song was covered by the French chanteuse in English during the 1980s. She changed the lyrics in verses to "Show me the way to the next little dollar" and "For if we don't find the next petit dollar."[6]
  • Električni Orgazam, a Serbian rock band recorded a version on their 1982 album Lisce Prekriva Lisabon.
  • Nina Simone, on live at Ronnie Scott's in 1984.
  • Moni Ovadia, the Italo-Bulgarian actor, in 1997, included the song in his album Ballata di fine millennio[7]
  • Ute Lemper in 1991: Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill
  • The Young Gods covered it on their 1991 release The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill, with the lyrics "Show us the way to the next little girl".
  • David Johansen covered the song on a compilation of Kurt Weill's music entitled September Songs – The Music of Kurt Weill, released in 1997.
  • Marianne Faithfull performed this song in the 20th Century Blues album in 1997
  • eX-Girl, the Japanese band covered, the song on the album Big When Far, Small When Close in 2000.
  • Kazik Staszewski covered the song by interpreting the lyrics and adding a new verse. Moreover the song was performed in rock style. The song was published on the album Melodie Kurta Weill'a i coś ponadto (The Melodies of Kurt Weill and Something More) released in 2001.
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater recorded the song on an album This Is New in 2002.
  • Marilyn Manson covered the song live in a show in Berlin in 2003.
  • The Bobs, an American a cappella quartet recorded an arrangement of the song on their 2005 album Rhapsody in Bob.
  • Arthur H., French singer (Jacques Higelin's son) and Jeanne Cherhal also covered the song live in 2007 at the Muzik'Elles festival in Meaux (France). In English, playing four-hand piano, a video was released.
  • Max Raabe and Palast Orchester of Germany performs the song live (as "Moon of Alabama"), albeit only its first verse and the chorus, recorded on a two CD set of the Carnegie Hall performance in November 2007 titled Heute Nacht Oder Nie (Tonight or Never)
  • Amy X Neuburg, an Oakland, California composer, vocalist, and electronic musician recorded a version on Sports! Chips! Booty! in 2000.
  • Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia recorded a clarinet and accordion version in 2005.
  • Dagmar Krause, former Henry Cow member, recorded a version (as well as several other songs written by Bertolt Brecht) on her 1986 solo album, Supply and Demand.
  • Viza released a free download of their recording in 2012.
  • Chiara Galiazzo, the winner of the sixth series of the Italian version of the The X-Factor, presented a dance version on November 22, 2012.
  • Mx.Justin Vivian Bond, the transgender American singer-songwriter, covered the song on his 2012 solo album Silver Wells.
  • Amanda Palmer covered the song as a duet with Gavin Friday at her show in Dublin on July 18, 2013.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cad, Saint. "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". listverse.com. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Lenya pp.32 Hardcover Book acompaning the Bear Family Records boxset: LENYA 1998.
  3. ^ http://kwf.org/lotte-lenya/discography2
  4. ^ Bertolt Brecht : Poems and Songs from the Plays pp223 edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim; Methuen 1990/1992
  5. ^ Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.108
  6. ^ "Dalida site Officiel - Alabama song" (in French). dalida.com. Retrieved 2013-10-28. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]

Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie. London: Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 1-903111-14-5.