"September Song" is an American standard popular song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. It was introduced by Walter Huston in the 1938 Broadway musical production Knickerbocker Holiday. After being used in the 1950 film September Affair, the song has been recorded by numerous singers and instrumentalists. It was also used during screen credits in the British television series May to December, the name of which quotes the opening line of the song's main theme.
The song originated from Walter Huston's request that he should have one solo song in Knickerbocker Holiday if he was to play the role of the aged governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant. Anderson and Weill wrote the song in a couple of hours for Huston's gruff voice and limited vocal range.
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 criticizing the policies of the New Deal through the portrayal of a semi–fascist government of New Amsterdam, with a corrupt governor and councilmen. It also involves a love triangle with a young woman forced to marry the governor Peter Stuyvesant while loving another. The musical closed in April 1939 after a six-month run.
"September Song" is based on a metaphor comparing a year to a person's life span from birth to death. Several songs on Frank Sinatra's 1965 album September of My Years, including the title song and "It Was a Very Good Year", use 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 rendition on the aforementioned September of My Years album. Sinatra sang the first verse in his 1962 album Point of No Return, his last for Capitol Records.
Differences exist between the version of the song recorded in 1938 by Walter Huston and the versions heard today. 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". 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 difference between Huston's version and other versions is the final line: Huston sings, "These precious days I'd spend with you", whereas later singers tend to sing, "These precious days I'll spend with you".
"September Song" has been performed and recorded by many artists since the 1940s, including:
- Walter Huston recorded the song twice; the original version from the Knickerbocker Holiday score was issued by Brunswick in 1938, while a second recording with altered lyrics was issued by Decca in 1944.
- Bing Crosby recorded the song twice: on December 29, 1943
- Frank Sinatra recorded the song in 1946 (Columbia Records), 1962 (Capitol Records), and again in 1965 (Reprise). Each time, he did a different version. In 1946 he did not sing the intro. In 1962, he recorded only the first verse of the intro. And on his last recording in 1965, he recorded both verses of the intro.
- Burl Ives recorded the song in 1949.
- Sarah Vaughan recorded the song in 1954.
- Lotte Lenya recorded an especially chilling version of the song in 1957.
- Claudio Villa recorded the Italian version on the song (lyric by Mario Panzeri) in 1970, for his album International hits - Vol. 2 - Music for ever (Cetra, LPP 155).
- Zoot Sims recorded the song on his 1965 Impulse! Records album Waiting Game (album), which title derives from the verse in the song, “One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”
- In 1978, Willie Nelson recorded the song on his album Stardust.
- 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." Reed revisited it in the 1994 video documentary September Songs – The Music of Kurt Weill.
- At only age 24, Ian McCulloch, of Echo & the Bunnymen, released a version of the song as his debut solo single (backed with a rendition of "Molly Malone") which reached number 51 on the UK Singles Chart in 1984.
- Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra recorded the song on his 1990 solo album Armchair Theatre, with George Harrison on slide guitar.
- The Young Gods recorded the song as the closing track on their 1991 album The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill.
Use in other media
"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. The song is also used in the 1987 Woody Allen film Radio Days; Allen has stated 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 song was featured in the film My House In Umbria (2003) directed by Richard Loncraine. The music was also used for the credits for the 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, in episode fourteen of the first season.
The four-line refrain, "For it's a long, long time,/From May to December,/And the winds grow cold,/When they reach September," are the concluding lines of the 2016 novel, "Goodbye, Peter Pan," by Jo Anne Horn.
- Lisle, Tim (1994). Lives of the Great Songs. London: Penguin. 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
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890–1954. Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 576. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
- See In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens and Mills of the Gods. See also Sonnet 73: "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..."
- "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- "Official Charts Company – Ian McCulloch". 19 January 2013.
- Stig Bjorkman (ed.), Woody Allen on Woody Allen. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, Revised Edition 2004, p. 160.
- Horn, Jo Anne (2016). Goodbye, Peter Pan. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1533005960.