"September Song" is an American pop standard composed by Kurt Weill, with lyric by Maxwell Anderson, introduced by Walter Huston in the 1938 Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday. It has since been recorded by numerous singers and instrumentalists. It was also used in the 1950 film September Affair, and for the credits in the television series May to December (a quote from the opening line of the song).
The song originated from Walter Huston's request that he should have one solo song in the musical Knickerbocker Holiday, if he was going to play the role of the aged dictator Peter Stuyvesant. Anderson and Weill wrote the song specifically for Huston's gruff voice and limited vocal range, in a couple of hours.
Knickerbocker Holiday was roughly based on Washington Irving's "Father Knickerbocker's History of New York." Set in New Amsterdam in 1647. It is a political allegory attacking the New Deal through the semi–fascist government of New Amsterdam with a corrupt governor, Peter Stuyvesant, and corrupt councilmen. It also involves a minor love triangle with a young woman forced to marry Stuyvesant while loving another.  The musical enjoyed only moderate success and closed in April 1939 after six months. "September Song" was seldom recorded in the 1940s, with recordings by Bing Crosby (1943) and Frank Sinatra (1946). But after Huston's version was used in the 1950 movie "September Affair," and reached number one on pop music chart (see below), the song quickly became established as a modern standard, with many recordings.
"September Song" is based on a familiar poetic metaphor that compares a year to a person's life span from birth to death. (See http://www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com/?p=118 and http://wadeporter.blogspot.com/2009/09/re-september-song.html. See also Sonnet 73.) Several songs in Frank Sinatra's "September of My Years", including the title song and "It Was a Very Good Year" utilize the same metaphor.
The song is an older person's plea to a younger potential lover that the courting activities of younger suitors and the objects of their desire are transient and time-wasting. As an older suitor, the speaker hasn't "got time for the waiting game."
The song consists of a chorus, the section that starts, "Oh, It's a long, long time . . ." and two different verses, one describing the courting activities of a young man and one describing the disdainful reaction of the girl and the suitor's patience until she changes her mind.
Singers may omit both verses, as Frank Sinatra did in his 1946 version, sing one verse, as Huston did in his, or both, as Sinatra did in his 1965 recording. (The lyrics to Sinatra's 1965 version can be found here - http://www.lyricstime.com/frank-sinatra-september-song-lyrics.html)
There are major differences between the version of the song recorded in 1938 by Walter Huston and the versions heard today. (Hear his recording at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkWn4--RmEk) Huston's version is tailored specifically to the character he's playing, Peter Stuyvesant. For example, Huston sings, "I have lost one tooth and I walk a little lame," referring to his peg leg. And later he says, "I have a little money and I have a little fame," an unusual courting comment. Both of these lines, and several others, have disappeared from the song.
Other changes involve the point of view of the singer — in Huston's version, the activities of the young man are described in the second person to the girl ("When you meet with a young man . . ."). Contemporary versions make the singer the young man ("When I was a young man . . .).
One subtle difference between Huston's version and other versions is the final line. Huston sings, "These precious days I'd spend with you." Modern singers sing, "These precious days I'll spend with you." The difference is between a proposal offered but not yet accepted, I would spend with you if you accept, and one accepted, I will spend it with you.
September Song has been performed and recorded by many artists since the 1940s. Those listed below are some of the more famous examples.
Bing Crosby recorded the song twice, in 1943 and again in 1977 one month before his death. The former opera singer Ezio Pinza recorded a version in the early 1950s, as did Billy Eckstine. In 1955, Johnny Hartman included the song on his debut album, Songs from the Heart, with Howard McGhee backing on trumpet. Nat King Cole recorded a version with George Shearing (in addition to the latter's instrumental version discussed below) in 1962, and Jimmy Durante included the song on an album of pop standards in 1963. Other versions have been recorded during the 1950s and 1960s by Maurice Chevalier, Pat Boone, Matt Monro, Mel Tormé, Will Holt, Theodore Bikel, and Liberace. Andy Williams released a version on his 1964 album, The Wonderful World of Andy Williams. Mario Lanza has also recorded the song.
Versions of the song have been recorded by several members of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra recorded it three times: in July 1946 on a single (Columbia Record 37161) on the album Point of No Return in (1962), and again for September of My Years (1965); Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. have also recorded versions.
In 1985, for the Kurt Weill tribute album Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, Lou Reed recorded an unusual upbeat rock 'n' roll version of the song, featuring mostly his undistorted electric rhythm guitar --- typical of Reed's sound of the era, but ending in a searing lead guitar solo. During the period of the album's initial release, Reed was quoted as saying that he wanted to be known as the "Kurt Weill of rock 'n' roll." At only age 24, Ian McCulloch, of Echo & the Bunnymen, released a version of the song as a solo single (backed with a rendition of "Molly Malone") which reached number 51 on the U.K. Singles Chart in 1984. The following year the album Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter included the track and in 1990, Jeff Lynne recorded the song for his first solo record, Armchair Theatre.
In 1997, Lou Reed recorded the song again for the second Kurt Weill tribute album September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill, this time in a slower, less rocking version. Lindsey Buckingham included the song on his 1981 debut solo album Law and Order, and in 1990 Jeff Lynne, released Armchair Theatre (album). Bryan Ferry recorded a version on As Time Goes By in 1999. Other more recent versions include Bryan Ferry (As Time Goes By 1994), Rod McKuen (Kurt Weill - The Centennial 2001) and Pascal Comelade. Jean Sablon sung a French translation 'J’ai peur de l’automne (Café de Paris 2009). Ronnie Drew, formerly of The Dubliners, recorded the song on his 2006 solo Album There's Life In The Old Dog Yet. Pianist Pascal Comelade released his quirky September Song EP in 2000 featuring Robert Wyatt as a singer. In 2006 Jonny Fair recorded the song on his "One Dark Day" album.
Although the song was written as an old man's lament for the passing of his youth, some of the most famous versions have been recorded by women artists. Thus Sarah Vaughan's version of 1955, and Ella Fitzgerald's with pianist Paul Smith on the 1960 Verve release Ella Fitzgerald Sings Songs From Let No Man Write My Epitaph are both regarded as Jazz classics. Eartha Kitt and Weill's wife Lotte Lenya both recorded the song in 1957, and Jo Stafford, Patti Page as well as Anne Shelton also recorded versions during the 1950s. In 1958 Eydie Gormé included the song in her album, Love is the season and in 1989 both Lena Horne in The Men in My Life, and Julie Wilson in an album of Kurt Weill songs. Frances Langford, a popular singer during the big band era, also sang a beautiful rendition of the September Song.
Elaine Paige recorded the song for her 1993 album Romance & the Stage and a live performance was featured on her 2004 greatest hits compilation Centre Stage: The Very Best of Elaine Paige. Rosemary Clooney included the title on (For the duration 1991). A version was also recorded by June Christy. Betty Buckley performed the song live on June 10, 1996 at Carnegie Hall and it was subsequently featured in the cd release of that concert later in 1996, titled An Evening at Carnegie Hall: Betty Buckley. Dee Dee Bridgewater recorded the song for her 2002 album This Is New, dedicated to the songs of Kurt Weill.
In 2009, Patricia Kaas recorded a version of this song on Kabaret (listed only on the international and German versions of the album) and Masha Qrella another for her 2009 release Speak Low (Loewe & Weill in Exile), a project commissioned by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures).
The song was recorded by Les Brown and his band of renown, and on different occasions by Stan Kenton and his band, once with a band vocal, once with The Four Freshmen and June Christy, once with Tex Ritter. Billy Ward and His Dominoes recorded the song, coupled with When the saints go marching in, for Decca during the 1950s. During the 1960s recordings were made by Dion and the Belmonts (1960), The Platters 1962, and The Impressions (1964). In 1991, seminal Swiss Industrial music band The Young Gods released their album of Kurt Weill songs, The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill, including an almost ambient version of September Song, which remains an audience favorite at their concerts to this day. Peter, Paul & Mary covered the song for their 1996 album LifeLines.
Django Reinhardt recorded two versions of the song, one in 1947 with the Quintette du Hot Club de France and another in 1953. The Melachrino Strings recorded an instrumental version of the song in London on August 18, 1950. It was released by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 9952. There are many instrumental renditions during the 1950s as well, including versions by Artie Shaw, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Harry James, Liberace, Earl Bostic, Art Tatum, Mantovani, Sidney Bechet, Red Norvo, Al Hirt,Charles Mingus, and George Shearing on Velvet Carpet (1956). Among the most famous recent versions are the piano solo by Roger Williams, and a "smokey" version by jazz-trumpet legend Chet Baker recorded in 1983. Other instrumental versions include: Art Pepper on Straight Life (1980).
Other instrumental versions include Bireli Lagrene (A tribute to Django Reinhardt 2006), Gary Burton (Departure 2007), Thomas Dutronc (Comme un manouche sans guitare 2007), Jan Lundgren European standards 2009), Ignasi Terraza (Jazz a les Fosques 2009) and David Grisman.
Use in films and television
"September Song" was used in the 1950 film September Affair, and the popularity of the film caused Huston's recording to hit the top of the 1950 hit parade. In a 1961 episode ("Fly Away Home") of the TV series Route 66, it is performed by actress Dorothy Malone, and serves as the background music to much of the episode. It was also used in the 1987 Woody Allen film Radio Days. Woody Allen mentioned that the song may be the best American popular song ever written. The title was used for a UK comedy-drama television series starring Russ Abbot and Michael Williams which ran for three series between 1993 and 1995. The music was also used for the credits British sitcom in the television series May to December (a quote from the opening line of the song), which ran for 39 episodes, from 2 April 1989 to 27 May 1994 on BBC One. It was covered by Anjelica Huston (Huston's granddaughter) in an episode of the NBC musical series Smash(S01.ep14). The BBC Radiophonic Workshop recorded a cover of September Song, which was commonly used in intervals on both BBC1 and BBC2. It was also covered by actress Jessica Lange in episode six of American Horror Story: Freak Show.
- Lisle, Tim (editor) (1994). Lives of the great songs. London: Penguin books. p. 54. ISBN 0-14-024957-5.
- Ewen, David "Complete Book of the American Musical Theater, Revised" Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco pp 224–225
- "That time of year thou mayst in me behold, / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold . . ."
- Stig Bjorkman (ed.) Woody Allen on Woody Allen, . London: Faber and Faber, 1995, Revised Edition 2004, p. 160.
- For more details on the writing and history of the song: http://www.wicn.org/song-week/september-song-1938