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 notably covered by The Doors and David Bowie.
|Song by Kurt Weill|
|Text||by Bertolt Brecht|
translated by Elisabeth Hauptmann
|Language||English, trans. from German|
|Single by Lotte Lenya|
|B-side||Denn wie man sich bettet|
|Recorded||24 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 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, 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"; 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. 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.
The Doors version
|"Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)"|
|Song by The Doors|
|from the album The Doors|
|Released||January 4, 1967|
|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)". The melody is changed and the verse beginning "Show me the way to the next little dollar..." is omitted. On the album version, 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" but, on the 1967 Live at the Matrix recording, he sings the original "... next pretty boy".
David Bowie version
|Single by David Bowie|
|B-side||"Space Oddity (1979 version)"|
|Released||15 February 1980|
|Recorded||2 July 1978|
|Studio||Good Earth Studios, London|
|Songwriter(s)||Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill|
|Producer(s)||David Bowie, Tony Visconti|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
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". 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.
- "Alabama Song" (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill) – 3:51
- "Space Oddity" (acoustic version) (David Bowie) – 4:57
- It was released as the B-side of the Japanese single "Crystal Japan" in February 1980.
- The German release of the single "Ashes to Ashes" in August 1980 had "Alabama Song" as the B-side.
- In 1992 it was released as a bonus track on the Rykodisc reissue of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).
- It appeared on the compilation The Singles Collection in 1993 and on The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987 in 2005.
- It was included on Re:Call 3, part of the A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982) boxed set, in 2017.
References in popular culture
- 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
- Watergate Hotel lobby whisky bar is named after this song.
- In 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.
Selective list of recorded versions
The song has been covered often:
- Jazz musicians Eric Dolphy and John Lewis recorded Mack the Knife and Other Berlin Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill, an album of Kurt Weill tunes in 1964. "Alabama Song" was performed by a band consisting of Dolphy on bass clarinet, Lewis on piano, Nick Travis on trumpet, Mike Zwerin on trombone, Richard Davis on double bass, and Connie Kay on drums. The solo order is trombone, piano, and bass clarinet. Zwerin asked Dolphy to "play what [he] felt about Alabama".
- The Mitchell Trio on The Slightly Irreverent Mitchell Trio in 1964
- Dave Van Ronk (of the Greenwich Village folk movement), in 1964 and 1992.
- Jacques Higelin, a French singer, covered the song with Catherine Sauvage, on his LP devoted to Boris Vian in 1966 (French lyrics by Boris Vian)
- Mike Westbrook, a British jazz musician, featured the song in performances of his Brass Band in the 1970s, with lyrics by his wife Kate (formerly Barnard).
- Bette Midler. The song was included in a medley in her 1977 live show and double album Live at Last.
- Abwärts, the song featured in the 1980 EP Computerstaat the German punk band.
- Dalida, the song was covered by the French chanteuse in English during the 1980s. She changed the lyrics in verses to "Show me the way to the next little dollar" and "For if we don't find the next petit dollar."
- Električni Orgazam, a Serbian rock band recorded a version on their 1982 album Lisce Prekriva Lisabon.
- Nina Simone, on her 1987 album Live At Ronnie Scott's, recorded at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London in 1984.
- It was covered by Ralph Schuckett with Richard Butler, Bob Dorough, Ellen Shipley and John Petersen on the tribute album Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill.
- Moni Ovadia, the Italo-Bulgarian actor, in 1997, included the song in his album Ballata di fine millennio
- Ute Lemper in 1991: Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill
- The Young Gods covered it on their 1991 release The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill, with the lyrics "Show us the way to the next little girl".
- Marianne Faithfull performed this song (along with several other Brecht/Weill songs) live on her 20th Century Blues album released in 1996.
- David Johansen covered the song on a compilation of Kurt Weill's music entitled September Songs – The Music of Kurt Weill, released in 1997.
- eX-Girl, the Japanese band covered, the song on the album Big When Far, Small When Close in 2000.
- Kazik Staszewski covered the song by interpreting the lyrics and adding a new verse. Moreover, the song was performed in rock style. The song was published on the album Melodie Kurta Weill'a i coś ponadto (The Melodies of Kurt Weill and Something More) released in 2001.
- Dee Dee Bridgewater recorded the song on an album This Is New in 2002.
- Marilyn Manson covered the song live in a show in Berlin in 2003.
- The Bobs, an American a cappella quartet recorded an arrangement of the song on their 2005 album Rhapsody in Bob.
- Arthur H., French singer (Jacques Higelin's son) and Jeanne Cherhal also covered the song live in 2007 at the Muzik'Elles festival in Meaux (France). In English, playing four-hand piano, a video was released.
- Max Raabe and Palast Orchester of Germany performs the song live (as "Moon of Alabama"), albeit only its first verse and the chorus, recorded on a two-CD set of the Carnegie Hall performance in November 2007 titled Heute Nacht Oder Nie (Tonight or Never)
- Amy X Neuburg, an Oakland, California composer, vocalist, and electronic musician recorded a version on Sports! Chips! Booty! in 2000.
- Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia recorded a clarinet and accordion version in 2005.
- Dagmar Krause, former Henry Cow member, recorded a version (as well as several other songs written by Bertolt Brecht) on her 1986 solo album, Supply and Demand.
- Johnny Logan covered the song on his album, Irishman in America (2008).
- Viza released a free download of their recording in 2012.
- Chiara Galiazzo, the winner of the sixth series of the Italian version of The X-Factor, presented a dance version on November 22, 2012.
- Mx.Justin Vivian Bond, the transgender American singer-songwriter, covered the song on v's 2012 solo album Silver Wells.
- Amanda Palmer covered the song as a duet with Gavin Friday at her show in Dublin on July 18, 2013.
Linda van Dyck performed it on Swedish television show Forsta Samlek on May 10 1972.
- Willett, John; et al., eds. (1990), Bertolt Brecht: Poems and Songs from the Plays, Methuen, p. 223.
- Cad, Saint, "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals", Listverse, retrieved 21 June 2013.
- "Lotte Lenya Discography", Kurt Weill Foundation.
- Lenya, Bear Family Records, 1998, p. 32.
- "Alabama Song Lyrics - Doors". LyricsFreak.com. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.108
- "Dalida site Officiel - Alabama song" (in French). dalida.com. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
- "Moni Ovadia Sito Ufficiale". Archived from the original on 23 March 2009. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- Pegg, Nicholas (2000), The Complete David Bowie, London: Reynolds & Hearn, ISBN 1-903111-14-5.