Rum and Coca-Cola
“Rum and Coca-Cola” is the title of a popular calypso. Originally composed by Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco, it was copyrighted in the United States by entertainer Morey Amsterdam and became a huge hit in 1945 for the Andrews Sisters, spending ten weeks at the top of Billboard's U.S. Pop Singles chart.
The song was published in the United States with Amsterdam listed as the lyricist and Jeri Sullavan and Paul Baron as musical composers, the melody had been previously published as the work of Trinidadian calypso composer Lionel Belasco on a song titled “L'Année Passée,” which was in turn based on a folksong from Martinique. The original lyrics to “Rum and Coca-Cola” were written by Rupert Grant, another calypso musician from Trinidad who went by the stage name of Lord Invader. (The true credits for music and lyrics were restored in a plagiarism lawsuit won by attorney Louis Nizer, the account of which can be read in his book, My Life in Court.)
According to Lord Invader:
"Calypso is the folklore of Trinidad, a style of poetry, telling about current events in song. Back home in the West Indies, Trinidad, where I'm from, it's a small island, I'm proud of it. I was traveling on a bus, someplace they call Point Cumana, a bathing resort, and I happened to see the G.I.s in the American social invasion in the West Indies, Trinidad. You know the girls used to get the candies and stuff like that, and they go to the canteens with the boys and so on, have fun. So I noticed since the G.I.s came over there, they really generally chase with soda, ordinary soda, but their chaser was Rum and Coke. They drink rum, and they like Coca-Cola as a chaser, so I studied that as an idea of a song, and Morey Amsterdam had the nerve to say that he composed that song back here."
The song became a local hit and was at the peak of its popularity when Amsterdam visited the island in September 1943 as part of a U.S.O. tour. Although he subsequently claimed never to have heard the song during the month he spent on the island, the lyrics to his version are clearly based on the Lord Invader version, with the music and chorus being virtually identical. However, Amsterdam's version strips the song of its social commentary. The Lord Invader version laments that U.S. soldiers are debauching local women, who "saw that the Yankees treat them nice / and they give them a better price." Its final stanza describes a newlywed couple whose marriage is ruined when "the bride run away with a soldier lad / and the stupid husband went staring mad." The Amsterdam version also hints that women are prostituting themselves, preserving the Lord Invader chorus which says, "Both mother and daughter / Working for the Yankee dollar."
Since the Yankee come to Trinidad
They got the young girls all goin' mad
Young girls say they treat 'em nice
Make Trinidad like paradise
The Andrews Sisters also seem to have given little thought to the meaning of the lyrics. According to Patty Andrews, "We had a recording date, and the song was brought to us the night before the recording date. We hardly really knew it, and when we went in we had some extra time and we just threw it in, and that was the miracle of it. It was actually a faked arrangement. There was no written background, so we just kind of faked it." Years later, Maxine Andrews recalled, "The rhythm was what attracted the Andrews Sisters to 'Rum and Coca-Cola'. We never thought of the lyric. The lyric was there, it was cute, but we didn't think of what it meant; but at that time, nobody else would think of it either, because we weren't as morally open as we are today and so, a lot of stuff — really, no excuses — just went over our heads."
The song was the top single of 1945 in the United States. Despite its popularity, it was controversial and was banned by network radio stations because it mentioned an alcoholic beverage. The fact that it mentioned a commercial product by name also meant that it could be construed as free advertising when broadcast.
In the "Songs That Won The War Vol. 8 Swing Again, Yes Indeed!" CD program notes, Edward Habib writes that "'Rum And Coca Cola' has naughty lyrics but not quite naughty enough to deny its hit status...During the forties, comedians as songwriters was the norm, Phil Silvers, Joey Bishop and Jackie Gleason all had a part in writing hit songs. While there were a number of records of 'Rum And Coca Cola', the Andrews Sisters' version was far and away the most popular."
After the release of the Andrews Sisters' version of "Rum and Coca-Cola", Belasco and Lord Invader sued for copyright infringement of the song's music and lyrics, respectively. In 1948, after years of litigation, both plaintiffs won their cases, with Lord Invader receiving an award of $150,000 in owed royalties. However, Morey Amsterdam was allowed to retain copyright to the song. Lord Invader also wrote a follow-up song to "Rum and Coca-Cola", titled "Yankee Dollar".
Julio Iglesias recorded a Spanish edition of this song, titled "Ron y Coca-Cola", on his album Hey!.
Ken Colyer was one of the UK musicians who covered the song in a live album made with Chris Blount's New Orleans Jazz Band (KCTCD5)
- Joel Whitburn, Billboard Pop Hits, Singles & Albums, 1940-1954, Record Research, 2002.
- Columbia Law School & UCLA LAW Copyright Infringement Project
- http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/rosenber/lit4188spring%202004/wk8calypso.html Calypsos and figures alluded to in the short stories and poetry
- http://rumandcocacolareader.com, For the full facts and original documents, go to RumandCocaColaReader.com.
- Biography of Rupert Grant (stage name, Lord Invader).
- During a concert in 1946, Lord Invader describes the circumstances behind his composition of the song and sings his version of it. Recording taken from “Calypso at Midnight”, Rounder Records 11661-1840 (2000).
- Biography of Lionel Belasco
- Legal opinion by New York District Judge Simon Rifkind, who ruled that the music to “Rum and Coca-Cola” infringed upon the copyright to Lionel Belasco's song, “L'Année Passée.” Includes a link to a piano rendition of Belasco's music.
- Ray Funk details the history of the song and quotes the Andrews Sisters describing their experience recording it. The Kaiso Newsletter, no. 33, January 14, 2000.
- The Mudcat Cafe, a website (Mudcat Café) devoted to folk musicology, has a forum thread that discusses the song, with postings that include the full lyrics of both the Lord Invader and Morey Amsterdam versions, as well as the lyrics to “L'Année Passée” and some alternative, more ribald lyrics for “Rum and Coca-Cola” that Amsterdam reportedly sang when entertaining troops. (“She wear grass skirt but that's O. K. / Yankee like to hit the hay.”)
"Yankee Dollar" is also the nickname of the (former) USS LCS-102(L), a museum/memorial working ship, berthed at the former Naval Ship Yard at Mare Island, Vallejo, Ca. Open to the public Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
"Don't Fence Me In" by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters
|U.S. Billboard Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
February 17, 1945–March 31, 1945
"My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time" by Les Brown