By the Sleepy Lagoon

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"Sleepy Lagoon"
Written 1930
Published 1940
Genre Valse serenade
Songwriter(s) Composer: Eric Coates
Lyricist: Jack Lawrence
Plaque commemorating Eric Coates, and the piece, at Selsey, West Sussex. (read plaque)

"By the Sleepy Lagoon" is a light orchestral valse serenade by British composer Eric Coates composed in 1930.[1] In 1940, lyrics were added with Coates's approval by Jack Lawrence, and the resultant song "Sleepy Lagoon" became a popular music standard of the 1940s.[2]

Coates had originally been inspired to write the piece in 1930 while overlooking a beach in West Sussex. His son, Austin Coates, remembers:

It was inspired in a very curious way and not by what you might expect. It was inspired by the view on a warm, still summer evening looking across the "lagoon" from the east beach at Selsey towards Bognor Regis. It's a pebble beach leading steeply down, and the sea at that time is an incredibly deep blue of the Pacific. It was that impression, looking across at Bognor, which looked pink—almost like an enchanted city with the blue of the Downs behind it—that gave him the idea for the Sleepy Lagoon. He didn't write it there; he scribbled it down, as he used to, at extreme speed, and then simply took it back with him to London where he wrote and orchestrated it.[1]

The resultant piece is a slow waltz for full orchestra lasting roughly four minutes in duration. Michael Jameson suggests that the piece is "elegantly orchestrated" with "a shapely theme for violins presented in the salon-esque genre entirely characteristic of British light music in the 1920s and '30s".[3] In 1942, Coates's original orchestral version was chosen (with added seagulls) to introduce the BBC Home Service radio series Desert Island Discs, which it still does to this day on BBC Radio 4.[4]

"Sleepy Lagoon"[edit]

Bandleader Harry James in 1943. James had released a hit version of "Sleepy Lagoon" in April 1942, which reached No. 1 in the Billboard charts.

In early 1940, songwriter Jack Lawrence came across the piano solo version of "By the Sleepy Lagoon" and wrote a song lyric, then took it to Chappell, the publisher of Coates's original melody. The head of Chappell's New York office, Max Dreyfus, was concerned that this lyric had been added without consulting its famous British classical composer. Dreyfus warned Lawrence that Coates "may resent your tampering with his melody." Dreyfus also didn't think the melody belonged in the popular genre and that it was better suited to its original treatment as a light classical piece.[2]

Later that year, Lawrence attempted to contact Coates in person. Britain was in the middle of World War II, and contrary to Dreyfus' fears, Coates thought the lyrics fitted so well that he retorted he could hardly believe it had been written to a pre-existing melody:

You have set the words to my music so cleverly that one would never suspect that the music had been written first![2]

The resulting song was published as a collaboration of Lawrence and Coates. After Lawrence showed the song to bandleader Harry James, it was recorded for a major hit (again counter to Dreyfus' thoughts). The James recording was released by Columbia Records as catalog number 36549. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on 17 April 1942 and lasted 18 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 1.[5]

Other hit versions were recorded by Dinah Shore, David Rose, Fred Waring, Glenn Miller and others. A recording with Tom Jenkins and his Palm Court Orchestra was made in London on 15 March 1949. It was released by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalogue number B 9768. Peter Kreuder, piano with rhythm recorded the tune in 1949. The song made the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, in a version by the Platters, found originally on the flipside of the 1960 top ten "Harbor Lights". A Khmer language version was apparently recorded in the 1960s.[citation needed]

In 2012, the musical piece became the main musical theme of the water fountain spectacle Aquanura at the Dutch theme park Efteling. Aquanura is the third largest permanent fountain show in the world and the largest in Europe. As the show is performed nightly on a large lake, the creaters used "By the Sleepy Lagoon" as an introduction and linking melody throughout the show. The musical piece was partly rearranged and rerecorded by the Dutch Brabant Orchestra especially for the show.

During the height of the song's popularity, a minor reservoir near Los Angeles was christened the "Sleepy Lagoon" by local youths. The name became permanent (although the reservoir itself has since disappeared) after the media's extensive use of the song title when reporting on the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon Murder.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Eric Coates in Sussex", Transcript of The Enchanted Garden, BBC local radio programme, devised, scripted and produced by Ian Lace. Available on MusicWeb; retrieved 14 November 2010.
  2. ^ a b c The Story Behind The Song,, Retrieved 14 November 2010.
  3. ^ "By the Sleepy Lagoon, valse serenade for orchestra", Classical Work Reviews, All Media Guide, 2010.
  4. ^ Lace, Ian. Foreword to Eric Coates's autobiography Suite in Four Movements, Thames Publishing, 1986.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940–1955. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research.