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 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]

"Alabama-Song"
Single by Lotte Lenya
B-sideDenn wie man sich bettet
Recorded24 February 1930
Genre
LabelHomocord
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
GenrePsychedelic rock
Length3:20
LabelElektra
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 and after the other members weren't satisfied with the melody, they changed it.[6]

Lead singer Jim Morrison reportedly altered the second verse from "Show us the way to the next pretty boy" to "Show me the way to the next little girl",[7] but, on the 1967 Live at the Matrix recording, he sings the original "next pretty boy".[8]

For the Doors' version, keyboardist Ray Manzarek plays the Marxophone along with the organ and keyboard bass.[6]:Extras

Personnel[edit]

David Bowie version[edit]

"Alabama Song"
Bowie AlabamaSong.jpg
Single by David Bowie
B-side"Space Oddity (1979 version)"
Released15 February 1980
Recorded2 July 1978
StudioGood Earth, London
Genre
Length3:51
LabelRCA
Songwriter(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".[10] Nevertheless, backed with a stripped-down acoustic version of "Space Oddity" recorded in December 1979, the single reached No. 23 in the UK. Although Bowie also changed the "pretty boy" 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 during the Isolar II Tour 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.
  • Galgalatz plays this song every Friday just before midnight
  • The Watergate Hotel lobby whisky bar is named after this song.
  • In the internet horror game Sad Satan, a slowed down version of this song can be heard in the background at some points which may cause the listener to feel nauseous while it plays.
  • The political commenter Billmon named his blog Whiskey Bar quoting the song. When he closed the comments, his followers created another blog named Moon of Alabama.[11]

Selective list of recorded versions[edit]

The song has been covered often:

Linda van Dyck performed it on Swedish television show Forsta Samlek on May 10, 1972.

See also[edit]

References[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". thedoors.com. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f The Doors (2008). Classic Albums: The Doors (DVD). Eagle Rock Entertainment.
  7. ^ Richie, Weidman (2011). The Doors FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Kings of Acid Rock. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 141. ISBN 978-1617131141.
  8. ^ "The Doors: Live at the Matrix 1967". Thedoors.com. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d The Doors (Album notes). The Doors. New York City: Elektra Records. 1967. Back cover. ELK-4007.CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.108
  11. ^ Bernhard. "About Moon Of Alabama". Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  12. ^ "Dalida site Officiel - Alabama song" (in French). dalida.com. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
  13. ^ "Moni Ovadia Sito Ufficiale". Archived from the original on 23 March 2009. Retrieved 2016-02-09.

Bibliography[edit]

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