Alabama Song

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Alabama Song
song by Kurt Weill
Textby Bertolt Brecht
translated by Elisabeth Hauptmann
LanguageEnglish, trans. from German
Composed1927 (1927)

The "Alabama Song"—also known as "Moon of Alabama", "Moon over Alabama", and "Whisky Bar"—is an English version of a song[clarification needed] written by Bertolt Brecht and translated from German by his close collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann in 1925 and set to music by Kurt Weill for the 1927 play Little Mahagonny. It was reused for the 1930 opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and has been recorded by the Doors and David Bowie.

Original version[edit]

Single by Lotte Lenya
B-sideDenn wie man sich bettet
Recorded24 February 1930
Songwriter(s)Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill

The "Alabama Song" was written as a German poem and translated into idiosyncratic English for the author Bertolt Brecht by his close collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann in 1925[1] and published in Brecht's 1927 Home Devotions (German: Hauspostille), a parody of Martin Luther's collection of sermons. It was set to music by Kurt Weill for the 1927 play Little Mahagonny (Mahagonny-Songspiel) and reused for Brecht and Weill's 1930 opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), where it is sung by Jenny and her fellow prostitutes in Act I. Although the majority of all three works is in German, the "Alabama Song" retained Hauptmann's broken English lyrics throughout.

Brecht and Weill's version of the song was first performed by the Viennese actress and dancer Lotte Lenya, Weill's wife,[2] in the role of Jessie at the 1927 Baden-Baden Festival's performance of Little Mahagonny. The first recording of the song—by Lenya for the Homocord record label—came out in early 1930 under the title "Alabama-Song";[3] it was rerecorded the same year for the Ultraphon record label for release with the 1930 Leipzig premiere of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, despite Lenya not being a member of that cast.[4] She continued to perform and record the song throughout her life, including for her 1955 album Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill (Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill), released in the United States under the title Berlin Theater Songs.[3]

The Doors version[edit]

"Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)"
Song by the Doors
from the album The Doors
ReleasedJanuary 4, 1967[5]
RecordedAugust 1966
Songwriter(s)Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill
Producer(s)Paul A. Rothchild

The song was recorded in 1966 by the rock group the Doors, listed as "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)". According to drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger, the song was presented by keyboardist Ray Manzarek to the group during their early years, and due to their dissatisfaction with the melody, they radically changed it.[6][7] The Doors' cover version combines avant-garde[6][8] and carnival music influences[9] with psychedelic elements.[10] It was a regular one from their set at the Whisky a Go Go, and Van Morrison reported that he was surprised when he heard the Doors playing it at the venue.[11]

Lead singer Jim Morrison altered the second verse from "Show us the way to the next pretty boy" to "Show me the way to the next little girl",[12] but, on the 1967 Live at the Matrix recording, he sang the original unaltered "next pretty boy".[13] For the Doors' recording, Ray Manzarek also contributed marxophone along with organ and keyboard bass.[14] Manzarek recalled that it was producer Paul Rothchild's idea to provide a marxophone on the track, to which Manzarek ultimately said, "It worked out perfectly, that jingle-jangly sound."[15]


Per sources:[7][14][15][16][17]

David Bowie version[edit]

"Alabama Song"
Single by David Bowie
B-side"Space Oddity (1979 version)"
Released15 February 1980 (1980-02-15)
Recorded2 July 1978
StudioGood Earth, London
David Bowie singles chronology
"John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)"
"Alabama Song"
"Crystal Japan"

David Bowie, a Brecht fan, performed the song throughout his 1978 Isolar II tour. A live version from the tour, recorded in either Philadelphia on 29 April 1978 or in Boston on 6 May,[18] appeared on the 1991, 2005 and 2017 reissues of the live album Stage.[19][20] On 2 July 1978, a day after the tour's European leg ended, Bowie recorded a studio version at Tony Visconti's Good Earth Studios in London with his studio band. Pianist Sean Mayes stated that "it had been such a hit on the tour that David wanted to do it as a single."[18][19] With unconventional key changes, the track "seemed calculated to disrupt any radio programme on which it was lucky enough to get played", in the words of NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray.[21]

Bowie's studio cut of "Alabama Song" was released by RCA Records as a single on 15 February 1980, with the catalogue number RCA BOW 5.[18] Reaching number 23 in the UK,[22] the single featured a fold-out sleeve and was backed by Bowie's new acoustic rendition of "Space Oddity", recorded in December 1979 for The "Will Kenny Everett Make It to 1980?" Show.[19] Discussing the track, biographer Nicholas Pegg calls it "one of the most defiantly uncommercial, discordant and aggressive recordings Bowie ever released".[19] In 2016, Ultimate Classic Rock placed the single at number 84 (out of 119) in a list ranking every Bowie single from worst to best.[23]

Bowie later appeared in a BBC version of Brecht's Baal and released an EP of songs from the play.[24] He subsequently performed "Alabama Song" on his 1990 Sound+Vision and 2002 Heathen tours.[19] The song also appeared on the 1992 Rykodisc reissue of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), as well as the compilation albums Rare (1982), The Singles Collection (1993), The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987 (2007) and Re:Call 3, part of the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) box set, in 2017.[19][20][25]


According to Chris O'Leary:[18]


  • David Bowie – producer
  • Tony Visconti – producer

References in popular culture[edit]

  • The Watergate Hotel lobby whisky bar is named after this song.[26]
  • The political commentator Billmon named his blog Whiskey Bar quoting the song. When he closed the comments, his followers created another blog named Moon of Alabama.[27]

Selective list of recorded versions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Willett, John; et al., eds. (1990), Bertolt Brecht: Poems and Songs from the Plays, Methuen, p. 223
  2. ^ Cad, Saint, "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals", Listverse, retrieved 21 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Lotte Lenya Discography", Kurt Weill Foundation.
  4. ^ Lenya, Bear Family Records, 1998, p. 32.
  5. ^ "The Doors – Album Details". Archived from the original on September 7, 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Childed, Serg (August 27, 2018). "German roots of the Moon of Alabama". Music Tales. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
  7. ^ a b The Doors (2008). Classic Albums: The Doors (DVD). Eagle Rock Entertainment.
  8. ^ Jones, Dylan (2015). Mr Mojo: A Biography of Jim Morrison. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 978-1408860571.
  9. ^ Luhrssen, David; Larson, Michael (2017). Encyclopedia of Classic Rock. ABC-CLIO. p. 95. ISBN 978-1440835148.
  10. ^ Matijas-Mecca, Christian (2020). Listen to Psychedelic Rock! Exploring a Musical Genre. Hardcover. p. 76. ISBN 978-1440861970.
  11. ^ Fricke, David (April 17, 2015). "Van Morrison: I Didn't Know I Was Going to Have This Body of Work'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  12. ^ Weidman, Richie (2011). The Doors FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Kings of Acid Rock. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 141. ISBN 978-1617131141.
  13. ^ "The Doors: Live at the Matrix 1967". Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  14. ^ a b The Doors (2008). Classic Albums: The Doors [Extras] (DVD). Eagle Rock Entertainment.
  15. ^ a b Golsen, Tyler (November 19, 2022). "The Bizarre Instrument at the Heart of the Doors' 'Whisky Bar' Cover". Far Out Magazine. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  16. ^ The Doors (Album notes). The Doors. New York City: Elektra Records. 1967. Back cover. ELK-4007.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  17. ^ Gerstenmeyer, Heinz (2001). The Doors – Sounds for Your Soul – Die Musik Der Doors (in German). p. 11. ISBN 978-3-8311-2057-4.
  18. ^ a b c d O'Leary 2019, chap. 3.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Pegg 2016, p. 17.
  20. ^ a b "A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) – David Bowie Latest News". David Bowie Official Website. 22 July 2016. Archived from the original on 13 July 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  21. ^ Carr & Murray 1981, p. 108.
  22. ^ "David Bowie – full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  23. ^ "Every David Bowie Single Ranked". Ultimate Classic Rock. 14 January 2016. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  24. ^ O'Leary 2019, chap. 4.
  25. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Singles: 1969–1993 – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 1 May 2021. Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  26. ^ "Watergate Hotel's luxury whiskey bar gets its name from a Doors song". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  27. ^ Bernhard. "About Moon Of Alabama". Retrieved 2020-06-19.