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"Buffalo Gals" is a traditional American song, written and published as "Lubly Fan" in 1844 by the blackface minstrel John Hodges, who performed as "Cool White." The song was widely popular throughout the United States. Because of its popularity, minstrels altered the lyrics to suit the local audience, so it might be performed as "New York Gals" in New York City or "Boston Gals" in Boston or "Alabama Girls" in Alabama (as in the version recorded by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins on a field recording trip in 1959). The best-known version is named after Buffalo, New York.
The chorus is:
- Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight?
- Come out tonight, Come out tonight?
- Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight,
- And dance by the light of the moon.
The song was used in the 1943 Bing Crosby film Dixie and is featured prominently in the 1946 movie 'It's a Wonderful Life" and in the 1952 film High Noon (starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly). Edgar Buchanan performs a version in the 1941 film Texas, starring William Holden and Glenn Ford.
Hodges wrote the song about the women in the former Canal district in Buffalo, New York. At the time the district was the western terminus of the Erie Canal and the place where canal and freighter crewman were paid off. This resulted in a high amount of bars, concert-hall dives, and brothels in the district where the men spent their money and hundreds of "dancing girls".
- The English singing game "Pray, Pretty Miss" may have been an inspiration for the lyric, according to Frank Brown in "Collection of North Carolina Folklore." The tune is reminiscent of "Im Grunewald, im Grunewald ist Holzauktion," a music hall song from Germany that was however first published in 1892.
- A new set of lyrics to the same tune entitled "Dance with a Dolly (with a Hole in Her Stocking)" became a success in 1944 when it was recorded by a number of artists. Charted versions were by Russ Morgan, Evelyn Knight and Tony Pastor. In the decades since, versions in genres ranging from children's choir to disco have been recorded. Notable recordings have included Bing Crosby (for his album Bing Crosby's Treasury - The Songs I Love (1968 version)), The Andrews Sisters, Bill Haley & His Comets and Damita Jo.
- A 1959 adaptation by Bobby Darin called "Plain Jane" went to #38 on the Billboard chart.
- A 1960 hit by Ray Smith, "Rockin' Little Angel" is based on the same melody.
- A 1961 album by The Olympics, Dance by the Light of the Moon includes the title song which borrows part of the melody and lyrics, reworking it into a doo-wop song.
- In 2016, Disney and Play-a-Sound published a musical sound button book based on the film Finding Dory titled "Swim Along with Me", which included a song titled "Aquarium Pal" which was an adaptation to the song but still included the phrase "won't you come out tonight", and the final sentence is "and sing us an echoing tune", which is known that the word "tune" rhymes with the word "moon".
In popular culture
- In the second chapter of the classic novel Tom Sawyer (1876) by Mark Twain, the young slave Jim appears singing the song.
- In Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life, Mary and George Bailey sing the song together in the scene where George "lassos" the moon. It inspired the Bedford Falls Productions as its song for the logo.
- In the Bonanza episode "Thunder Man" (May 5, 1963, S04E31), the song was called "New Orleans Woman" and was a major plot point. It was used again in the episode "Calamity Over the Comstock". Stefanie Powers, as Calamity Jane, sings the song sporadically during the episode.
- In The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "Uncle George" (November 13, 1963, S03E08), the song was called "Buffalo Girl" and sung by Uncle George (Denver Pyle) after dating Sally (Rose Marie).
- In The High Chaparral episode "The Filibusteros" (October 22, 1967, S01E08), the song is sung by Buck Cannon and Manolito Montoya as they escort Victoria Cannon by wagon.
- In the Daniel Boone episode "A Matter of Vengeance" (1970), the song is played instrumentally by a fiddler. The song hadn't yet been written at the time (late 1700s) portrayed in the show.
- In the Leave It to Beaver episode "The Dramatic Club" (March 11, 1963, S04E24), the song was called "Oh, Pretty Girls" and was performed by Karen Sue Trent as Penny Woods; it was her audition piece for the dramatic club.
- In 1959 Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney included the song in their album How the West Was Won.
- In High Noon, a piano version of the song is sometimes heard in saloon scenes.
- In Cow and Chicken, there was an episode entitled, "Buffalo Gals" that got banned by Cartoon Network due to its sexual material and stereotyping lesbians.
- "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight" is a Hugo Award-winning short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, featured in the collection Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences.
- The Lego version of The Joker (voiced by Christopher Corey Smith) sang the chorus while creating kryptonite in the 2013 direct-to-video film Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite.
- In the Friends episode "The One After the Super Bowl", Joey enters the men's room and begins to whistle "Buffalo Gals". Unbeknownst to him, Chandler is already in the restroom, hiding naked in a stall, and when Chandler whistles the next line in the song, Joey whistles back and asks, "Ma?!"
- On an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger CD is singing "Buffalo Gals".
- A piano version of the song can briefly be heard in Back to the Future Part III as Doc Brown enters the saloon.
- The line "They danced by the light of the moon" shows up a little more than a quarter century later in Edward Lear's poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat," published in 1871.
- Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014.
- "Canal Street, Buffalo – "The Wickedest Street in the World"". Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time. 2014-03-31. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 489. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. p. 162. ISBN 0-8230-7499-4.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. p. 582. ISBN 0-8230-7499-4.
- "Discogs.com". Discogs.com. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
- Willian, Michael (2006). "George Calls on Mary". The Essential It's a Wonderful Life: A Scene-by-Scene Guide to the Classic Film. Chicago Review Press. pp. 43–45. Retrieved 2016-10-08.