Modern Jazz Quartet: Pyramid

Rating: 8.1/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Genre Recommendation
Released: 1960
Specific Genre: Cool Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones
: Third Stream
Label: Atlantic

1 Vendome 2 Pyramid 3 It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing) 4 Django 5 How High the Moon 6 Romaine

Cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic

There are no fundamentally weak releases in the Modern Jazz Quartet’s catalogue, but which albums would you recommend as their absolute top picks? That’s no trifling matter. Discounting their live albums, Pyramid is a slight contender among their studio work, with its focus on sophisticated vibraphone-and-piano duels that draw their power from subtlety bordering on inconspicuousness. The Modern Jazz Quartet had entered their phase as elderly statesmen, and alongside their (in my view) epochal Third Stream Music, they were ready to further test out the possibilities to turn their jazz quartet format into a chamber music style that could have potentially broken loose from either jazz or classical – yet without strings or clarinet, they end up on the slightly conventional side of cool, sneaky swing once more.  

As such, this is a terrific jazz release: cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic, minimalistic, but not sparse. It works just as well as background music as it does for an intense listening. Given the fact they barely seem to touch their instruments, these guys put down one mean swing.

Morphine: Cure for Pain

Rating: 10/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status
: Backdoor Classic
Released: 1993
Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock
Label: Rykodisc

1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral

I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!

If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.

Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.

Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.

Jimi Hendrix: Live Isle of Wight ’70

Rating: 5.9/10
Rated as
: Archival / Live Album
Album Status
: Obsolete
Released: 1991
Recorded: 1970
Specific Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Label: Polydor

1 Intro / God Save the Queen 2 Message to Love 3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4 Lover Man 5 Machine Gun 6 Dolly Dagger 7 Red House 8 In From the Storm 9 New Rising Sun

… and the man with the guitar!

Note: this review and rating refers exclusively to the extended yet incomplete Live Isle of Wight ’70 1991 re-issue.

This is not a bad or boring entry in the never-ending stream of live-Hendrix releases. It’s just that there are so many live releases, and so many issues, re-issues and re-re-issues of so many concerts that there are bound to be better performances captured elsewhere, statistically speaking. As some of Hendrix’ live works are pretty frustrating though, this specific version of the Isle of Wight concert still holds up as one of the comparably decent live albums. There are numerous versions of this with wildly differing content, so watch out for the specific tracklist of prospective acquisitions. This CD is a heavily edited and shortened version, obviously going for the approach to deliver the less erratic versions of the set, and even go as far as to edit „Machine Gun“ from 22 down to 12 minutes. This is neither the original six-track LP version Isle of Wight released in 1971, nor the complete concert Blue Wild Angel, released 2002/2004: It falls in between the two, as it is longer and more satisfyingly representative than the short 1971-version, but it’s not the whole ordeal, skipping historically (if not musically) interesting bits like the „Sgt. Pepper“-opening.

This is a typical release of the CD-era: doubling the run-time of the Vinyl-release, aiming for an actual “concert” experience, while containing the unfocused concert with Hendrix disgruntled by technical problems and unwilling to play his „old numbers“. Hendrix often complained about similar things on stage, sometimes more, sometimes less jokingly. Here, you can really tell that the stoned rock festival environment held him back from delivering the kind of music he was interested in, and he hates it. Weirdly, this might be my favourite constellation of his co-musicians – in theory: Billy Cox on bass is simply groovier than the (otherwise excellent) Noël Redding, and while Buddy Miles contributes to my favourite Hendrix-live album, the Band of Gypsys (1970), as much as Cox and Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell’s nervous hyper-jazz-hard-rock percussion will always be the perfect counterpart to Hendrix’ more experimental musings. But the two don’t mix and no one here lives up to their potential.

Anyhow, this particular issue is strictly not a recommended buy anymore. If you’re not enough of a Hendrix-fan to want the complete Blue Wild Angel, this edited version won’t add anything to your experience.

Lead Belly: How many versions of „Easy Rider“ (See See Rider, C.C. Rider) did Lead Belly record?

Answer: Probably about five.

But aha! This is another update to my Complete Discography of Lead Belly recordings. This time, a contradiction was spotted by Bernard Sigaud.

My list used to have a take of „Easy Rider (See See Rider“ for the session of May 1944 (appearing on DOCD-5310 and SFW40045) and another take, „Easy Rider“, for June 1946 (appearing on DOCD-5311 and SFW40201). Bernard noticed that these two takes seem to be the exact same take.

And he’s right!

When I went throught the available documentation, there seems to be an uncertainty or a mistake for the May 1944-session (and its following documentation) that goes something like this:

The take certainly stems from some mid-1940s session Lead Belly made for Moses Asch – this much was always known, but the details of those sessions seemed to be unclear for a long time. The title „Easy Rider (See See Rider)-1“ does show up in the discography by Wolfe/Lornell (1992) for the session in May 1944, but this session does have the Wolfe/Lornell disclaimer „[It is uncertain if these selections were recorded at the same session]“. Wolfe/Lornell give the 1950-Folkways LP 4 (or 2034 or FP34) as the first appearance of this track. They note the title „Easy Rider-2“ for June 1946, with an non-label „Disc 5501“ as first source.

These two takes mentioned separately by Wolfe/Lornell are the same take in question.

The liner notes of the first big CD-reissue of Folkways FP34, which is SFW40045, follow Wolfe/Lornell and also note the „Easy Rider“ take as from May 1944.

Liner notes Bourgeois Blues – Lead Belly Legacy Vol. 2, Smithsonian Folkways 40045

The Document Records CD DOCD-5310 also reproduces this and puts the take at May 1944. Now, as Wolfe/Lornell noted, there was always doubt about the tracks of this May 1944-session: „[It is uncertain if these selections were recorded at the same session]“. As it turns out, the discography by Fancourt/McGrath (2006) does list a number of songs from FP34, but „Easy Rider“ is not to be found there. But the title „Easy rider (See see rider)-1“ does show up for June 1946, with „Disc 5501?, Fw FP 34“ as source. The later Folkways Collection SFW40201 notes „Easy Rider“ as from June 1946 with Folkways 2034 (FP34) as the first appearance.

Liner notes Lead Belly – The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, Smithsonian Folkways 40201

So in both instances, this would be the take that Wolfe/Lornell had placed for May 1944. The Document Records DOCD-5311 simply works with this information and uses the take as from June 1946.
The mistake seems to be simple: Folkways mistakenly placed the take in 1944 for its first issue in 1950 and there was contradictory information in Wolfe/Lornell with an „Easy Rider“-take for May 1944 and for June 1946. As this turned out to be the same take, it was obviously concluded at some point (I don’t know anything about the specifics) that there was no „Easy Rider“-take for May 1944 after all.
The placement of the take on DOCD-5310 is therefore misplaced and outdated – at least that’s what the documents say now. It would be interesting to have a look at the documentation to find out when the knowledge arose that this mid-1940s Asch-recording of „Easy Rider“ wasn’t from 1944 but from 1946. But I have no idea.

Short take away:

  1. There is (as of now) no „Easy Rider“-take from May 1944.
  2. DOCD-5310 and SFW40045 mistakenly list an „Easy Rider“ -take from May 1944.
  3. DOCD-5311 contains the same take, listed for June 1946.
  4. SFW40201 contains the same take, listed for June 1946.

I deleted the „Easy Rider“-entry in my list for May 1944 and put a note for the version of June 1946.

Thanks, Bernard!

Various Artists: The Big Lebowski [Original Soundtrack]

Rating: 6.0/10
Rated as
: Compilation / Soundtrack
Compilation Status
: of Zeitgeist interest
Released: 1998
Recorded: 1959–1997
Specific Genre: Soundtrack
Main Genre: Soundtrack
Undertones
: Singer-Songwriter, Folk Rock, Experimental Rock, Pop Rock, Exotica, Big Band, Vocal Jazz, Third Stream, Experimental, Romanticism, Lounge, Latin Rock, Electronic
Label: Mercury

1 Bob Dylan – The Man in Me 2 Captain Beefheart – Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles 3 Elvis Costello – My Mood Swings 4 Yma Sumac – Ataypura 5 Piero Piccioni – Traffic Boom 6 Nina Simone – I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good 7 Moondog – Stamping Ground 8 Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – I Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In) 9 Meredith Monk – Walking Song 10 Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Glück das mir verblieb 11 Henry Mancini – Lujon 12 Gipsy Kings – Hotel California 13 Carter Burwell – Wie glauben 14 Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers

We believe in nussing

An expectedly tasteful and quirky choice of songs by the Coen Brothers, but ultimately just that: Some songs and artists you might not get acquainted with otherwise set next to each other. Of course the film context adds a lot of consistency to the experience, but musically speaking, this playlist, say, on a mix tape would merit some respect for musical knowledge and eclectic boldness, but people would ask: Where’s the actual flow?

Admittedly, some things go together nicely, at least conceptually: Exotica-diva Yma Sumac and Mancini’s death-by-tropic-lounge „Lujon“ on the same album is a good idea, as well is one of Dylan’s greatest underrated tunes next to Costello’s very good „My Mood Swings“, surprisingly recorded for this soundtrack. Kenny Rogers and The First Edition add the nowadays monumental „Condition“, which is the best psychedelic country-rock number that I know this side of „Eight Miles High“ (even as pastiche), so this is also a good buy if you’re looking for just that (as it isn’t really representative of how Rogers would develop).

The ultimate avantgarde obscurity Moondog makes an appearance and this is the one song that sounds as if was made for the movie in a kind of prophetic move by Moondog a few decades earlier), and kudos to the Coens for picking „Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles“, whose inclusion here I’m sure introduced legions of teens to Captain Beefheart. That’s worth a lot.

So, while I see many good things about this as a cultural artefact, and I admire the boldness of putting a bunch of avantgarde artists next to Mancini and a piece of Austrian classical Opera (in German, nonetheless), this is hardly something you’ll listen through over and over as a musical document. It’s more like an educational effort: „Look, teenagers, you liked our movie about a stoner. Your subconscience noticed it being accompanied perfectly by the song picks. Now, learn and listen to what you’ve actually listened“, hopefully prompting further research. And why not?

Oh, and all the Creedence tracks are missing – for copyright and run-time reasons, I assume, but it’s kind of a great in-joke between soundtrack and film.

Some «Irene»-Trivia: What is the recording length of aluminum lacquer discs, aka «acetate discs»?

Source: Library of Congress

Having busied myself with some «Irene»-trivia lately, more questions arose. For example, you’ll notice that the «Irene»-version 44-A is almost five minutes long while the maximum play length of a commercial shellac 78 was around three minutes. The «Irene»-version 44-B, then, lasts only about 2 minutes and features only one additional verse – verse 7 if you reconstruct 44-A and 44-B-1 as a supposedly continuous version. This is almost the same verse-structure (with seven verses total) that shows up if you reconstruct the «Irene»-versions 124-A-2 and 124-B-1 as a continuous version, compare my harmonization of «Irene»-versions.

Anyway, how do the field recordings by John and Alan Lomax account for the longer running time of tracks than a commercial 78 could hold?

The recording device and recording discs

It is true for commercial shellac 78rpms (10-inch) meant for replayat home that they only held about 3 minutes of music. Different discs were used for field recordings. John and Alan Lomax were supplied by the Library of Congress with a state of the art recording device, a «Presto» – this was a big machine that made electrically enhanced direct-to-disc recordings on aluminum discs and ,later, aluminum discs with a lacquer coating. These are called «aluminum discs» and «lacquer discs» usually, the latter most often referred to as «acetate discs» – which is materially speaking wrong, they were not made of acetate. While different explanations exist, it remains unclear how this factually wrong manner of naming them developed, but «acetate disc» is the most common name in popular contexts nowadays.

These recording «lacquer discs» were 12-inch-discs, not 10-inch (cf. Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 113), that could hold 5 minutes of music, and even more with some trickery: I read Alan Lomax could bring the recording time of those discs up to seven, some sources say even ten minutes – the most common technique to lengthen the record time apparently was to leave a narrower space between the grooves which in turn worsened the recorded quality. But this was a trade-off the Lomaxes often made for field recordings as these were not meant for commercial use.

Although John Lomax had used one of the only «portable» recording devices on his trips (starting 1907) before – recording on «Edison Dictaphone» wax cylinders which were fragile (cf. Morton 2000, 147) –, and although John and Alan Lomax even started out the 1933-trip with this «Ediphone» (cf. Kahn 2003, 1) and picked up the superior disc-cutting machine in Baton Rouge in mid-July (cf. Szwed 2010, 43), the Presto disc-cutting device was still immensely chunky. With a reported weight of 300 to 350 pounds (plus the discs, so some sources drive this number up to 500 pounds, cf. Ferris 2013, 15), installed in the back of the Lomaxes car.

The cylinder machine made only scratchy and squeaky sounds, but their new disc-cutting machine was the best portable machine on the market. These were long before the days of magnetic recording tape, transistors, and digital sound. Their new behemoth weighed a hefty 315 pounds. Alan recalls that the machine consisted of one large amplifier, a cutting turntable, two Edison batteries […], a loud-speaker, and the discs themselves. The latter were twelve inches in diameter, and were of annealed aluminum […].

(Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 113)

The fact the received the disc-cutting recording device just a couple of days before they first recorded Lead Belly in Angola Prison brings to attention that they had virtually no experience running that machine at that time. You can get a glimpse of such a device as well as of the 12-inch-discs in the film documentary Lomax the Songhunter (the device shown in that clip is not the one used for the Lead Belly-session of 1933 in Angola Prison, it’s a newer one). You can probably see that older Presto in action for a about two seconds in a completely staged «prison» scene recorded for the March of Time newsreel, with John Lomax and Lead Belly here, around the 15-second mark. (By the way, this film with its horrific script was reportedly despised by all involved: «There was something in the film to upset everyone», Szwed 2010, 73).

We have to imagine the process something like this: the 4+ minutes version 44-A was one continuous recording on one of those 12-inch-discs – the side was then labeled 44-A. Since the song wasn’t finished with all verses, Lomax then asked Lead Belly to finish the song for the archive, Lead Belly probably «restarted» the ending part which Lomax recorded on the flip side: 44-B. This explains the wildly different lengths of those recordings.

You can check how this worked if you consider three other examples.

1) Check the «Ella Speed»-version (125-B) on the essential compilation The Midnight Special: Library of Congress Vol. 1 (Rounder-1044) (also on SFW 40201), it is from Angola Prison, 1934. That recording runs a bit over six minutes and then gets a scrambled ending with the song unfinished. This is probably the maximum Lomax could stretch these discs out which he clearly didn’t like to do since examples of this length are rare. I guess that is where the assumption of a «seven minute»-limit comes from. Compare this to Lead Belly’s first recordings with commercial intent (the ones on Leadbelly – King of the 12-String Guitar, CK 46776) by the American Record Corporation (ARC) – they all punch in at around 3 minutes, as was necessary for shellac-78s playable at home.

2) Then, take a look at and listen to the first session by Lead Belly in Angola Prison, July 16–20, 1933, on DOCD-5579. You’ll notice that this session features the call numbers «119-B-1» to «119-B-6» and «120-A-1» to «120-A-7» (plus «120-B-5»). These are 45 to 90-second-snippets of different songs – DOCD-5579 doesn’t even bother to split the songs apart, they are one track on the CD: All songs labeled «119-B» were recorded on one side of a lacquer disc, as were the songs labeled «120». Wolfe/Lornell note about these recordings: «These [songs] took up one side of disc number 119-B, and a second, labeled 120, was started.» (Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 114). Lomax recorded for a short while, stopped the disc. Then restarted to record another song. And so on, until the side was full. The combined time of these song snippets is 4 to 5 minutes, that’s what a 12-inch-disc could hold on a side.

3) One last example: If you take a look at Alan Lomax’s Library of Congress-recordings of Jelly Roll Morton, it becomes clear just by looking at the track times what Lomax’s preferred manner of recording was in a controlled setting – maximum length of continuous recording without sacrificing too much quality. The entirety of the Library of Congress-Morton-recordings runs over eight hours – but each song and each interview cuts out very consistently at about 4:30 minutes. You can hear how Morton is interrupted after 4:30 minutes and then picks up the story where he was interrupted when Lomax puts on the next recording disc.

Well here we are, this was predominantly an entry to consolidate the scattered sources I found available online. There’s some more books I referenced and that I’ll make a note of here:

Further Reading and Sources:

Cohen, Ronald D. (Ed.): Alan Lomax. Assistant in Charge. The Library of Congress Letters, 1935–1945. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi 2010.

Doctor Jazz: Library of Congress: Jelly Roll and Alan Lomax Narrative Recordings and   Discography. URL: http://www.doctorjazz.co.uk/page22.html

Ferris, William R.: Alan Lomax: The Long Journey. In: Piazza, Tom (ed.): The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax. Words, Photographs, and Music. New York: Library of Congress 2013, 10–21.

Kahn, Ed: Part I. 1934–1950: The Early Collecting Years. In: Lomax, Alan: Selected Writings 1934–1997. Ed. By Ronald D. Cohen. New York: Routledge 2003, 1–8.

Library of Congress: Southern Mosaic. The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. URL: https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9908/lomax.html

Ma Platine: History of the Record. URL: https://www.maplatine.com/en/content/64-history-of-the-record

Morton, David: Off the Record. The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America. New Brunswick et al.: Rutgers 2000.

Preservation Self-Assessment Program: Aluminum Disc. URL: https://psap.library.illinois.edu/collection-id-guide/phonodisc#aluminumdisc

Preservation Self-Assessment Program: Lacquer Disc. URL: https://psap.library.illinois.edu/collection-id-guide/phonodisc#lacquerdisc

Public Broadcasting Service: Lomax the Songhunter. URL: http://archive.pov.org/lomax/background/

Szwed, John: The Man Who Recorded the World. A Biography of Alan Lomax. London: Heinemann 2010.

Wikipedia: Acetate disc. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acetate_disc

Wolfe, Charles and Kip Lornell: The Life & Legend of Leadbelly. New York: Harper Collins 1992.

Yale University Library: The history of 78 RPM recordings. URL: https://web.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/historyof78rpms

Lead Belly Discography: Updates

The single features take „SC-261“, not take „SC-261-1“

There have been some updates to my Lead Belly Discography. Some inconsistencies were found concerning the «Irene»-versions from the session from July or August 1943, with the call numbers «SC-261-1» and «SC-261» (both found on DOCD-5227) and an alleged «Irene»-version from the session «ca. February 1947», on DOCD-5568.

I thank Tim Dickinson for pointing out the irregularities.

The new and rectified situation is this: The «Irene»-version «SC-261-1» (with Sonny Terry on harp who is not «SC-261») is found on DOCD-5227, DOCD-5568 and SFW 40201. All discographical information points to this take being from the «July or August 1943» session. Confusion arises because DOCD-5568 claims February 1947 as a recording date for a lot of takes that are in fact from 1941 or 1943, respectively. These informations seem largely false, criticized by professional discographers. There is no «Irene»-version from February 1947 (as DOCD-5568 claims).

Although being the identical take, the «Irene»-version on DOCD-5227 is longer than the tracks on DOCD-5568 and SFW 40201 – this is because the latter are being faded out while the track on DOCD-5227 has a doctored, artificially enlengthend ending.

This detail raises are larger point: It will be necessary to go through all of the tracks on DOCD-5568, because the information there seems incorrect to a degree that we’ll have to identify each track aurally, through comparative close listening. These mistakes have been known for years, judging by Fancourt/McGrath’s discography The Blues Discography 1943–1970 (2006), but the Document Records-website still touts this as an «undiscovered session» from 1947. I’m also interested to know why DOCD-5227 includes a doctored version of otherwise available takes. The Document Records label usually didn’t operate like this.

Along with these changes, I made several other minor corrections that are part of the process; I won’t line them out here.

Lead Belly’s „Irene“ and its lyrical variants of the chorus: Kissing, getting, guessing and seeing.

Ramsey, Frederic Jr.: Liner notes for Leadbelly’s Early Recordings, Legacy Volume 3 (Folkways FA 2024, 1951).

Let’s talk about Lead Belly and his song «Irene, Goodnight», alternatively called «Goodnight, Irene». I’ll just refer to it as «Irene» here.

The question that interests us here is simple: What exactly does Lead Belly sing in the chorus’s last line? Is it: «I get you in my dreams»? «I guess you’re in my dreams»? «I kiss you in my dreams»?

It is really hard to make out in some takes and online ressources don’t seem to have a great consensus. There are different recordings with different plausible outcomes, we’ll take a look at that and some prominent cover versions below.

For those with little time, the «too long, didn’t read»-summary is this: Lead Belly mostly used «I get you in my dreams» for the early recordings (up until 1943), other times most likely an «I kiss(ed) you in my dreams». For later records (from 1944), he opted for something like «I guessed you in my dreams», which can be seen as a cleaned-up version of «I get» or «I kissed». Cover versions mostly use «I’ll see you in my dreams» (from the Weavers’s hit version) or, more in line with Lead Belly, «I get you in my dreams». For the fun details, read below.

As for the song: This is nowadays a classic of folk americana, a weird waltz that doesn’t quite fit into Lead Belly’s repertoire of blues, field hollers or folk songs, but does fit very well into his habit of soaking up whatever good song he could find and modify to make it his own. There is a cute family story about its origins – he supposedly made it up on the spot as a lullaby for his little baby niece. But this story is debunked – first, by his own uncle, Bob Ledbetter, who is known to have it sung before Lead Belly (and who says he learned it from his brother Terrell – you can hear this statement and Bob’s 1940 version on Document Records DOCD-5579), and secondly by Wolfe/Lornell who trace the song back even further to a 19th century popular song – but there is no written record. Wolfe/Lornell note:

There is evidence, nonetheless, that the chorus, at least, was circulating among other folksingers besides the Ledbetters. In November 1936 […], a Library of Congress field recording unit came upon Gilbert Fike in Little Rock, Arkansas. Fike was originally from Louisiana and sang a song called «The Girls Won’t Do to Trust,» [sic] which used a set of unusual misogynistic verses to set up a familiar chorus:

The girls will chew tobacco, but she will raise a fuss
The girls will dring good whiskey, boys, but they
Won’t do to trust

Irene, goodnight, Irene,
Irene, goodnight, my life,
I’ll kiss you in my dreams.

While it is possible that Fike had heard Huddie sing a version of the song […], it is probable that both Fike and Leadbelly heard the song as it circualted among rural singers in Texas and Louisiana.

(Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 53)

Well, the story goes on (there’s even earlier textual evidence), but so far this is pretty standard fair as far as the creation and development of folk songs go (for this, see also Ek 2014, and for a short summary online, see Lornell 2003). Let’s turn to the lyrics. What does Lead Belly do in his dream? «Get» Irene? «Kiss» Irene? «Guess»? The problem is that – especially on the early field recordings – it is really hard to make out what Lead Belly sings – and even in later versions, he uses a dialectal phrasing that sounds a lot like «giss» (hard g), like a mixture of «get» and «kiss». I think this is where the «guess» version comes from, which, spoiler, will turn out to be the least plausible one in my view.

Before we turn to the audio analysis, let’s get some clear textual evidence. As noted above, Wolfe/Lornell transcribe the songs origins as using the line «I kiss you in my dreams», and if you listen to Bob Ledbetter’s 1940-version, there is no doubt about it. This in itself stakes a strong claim for «kiss» instead of «get» or «guess» as an initial variant. Also, in the liner notes of the Folkways-LP Leadbelly’s Early Recordings, Legacy Volume 3 (Folkways FA 2024, 1951), Frederic Ramsey makes quite astute poetic observations about Lead Belly’s lyrical craft:

There is one quality of Leadbelly’s song that is only partially touched on in the Lomax book, how ever, but if we piece together bits of the Lomax story and combine them with the text and mood of Leadbelly’s songs, it can be sensed. There is in certain of the songs a mood of sleeplessness; in others, of dream, and trance. […] Where no escape is provided through sleep or dream, it is through alcolhol as in Roberta. The sleeplessness complements the dream, for it is a waking dream. It is a state where real and unreal are mixed, seen and unseen come together.

Ramsey 1951.

Ramsey then goes on to quote several other songs that reference this escape or wish fulfillment through (day dreams) and, on the occasion, transcribes the bit from «Irene» as:

«Irene, good night, Irene good night,
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
I kiss you in my dreams …» (Irene, FP 4)

Ramsey 1951.

Since Ramsey mentions Folkways FP 4 as the source, it is clear that he refers to the versions «SC-261» or «SC-261-1» from 1943, both on FP 4 (cf. my bio-discography of Lead Belly for such session-details). Now, Ramsey isn’t just anybody – he met and recorded Lead Belly in his late sessions. But apart from this supposed authority on the subject matter, I find his lyrical assembly of quotes about dreamy wish fulfillment persuasive: This again makes a stronger claim that Lead Belly dream-wishes that he «gets» or «kisses» Irene, rather than the line not fitting in this logic: «I guess you’re in my dreams».

But Wolfe/Lornell go on to say this:

The first time he recorded the song on disc, in 1933, he sang only two verses and two choruses, including the slightly ominous refrain «I’ll get you in my dreams». A year later he recorded it with four verses and four refrains.

Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 56.

I agree with their assessment that it sounds most like «get» in the 1933-chorus (version 120-A-1) which is the only complete chorus from that year that includes the line. Very generally, it coud be heard as «kiss» with a mumbled «s» in the end. But «get» is what they decide on, so let’s take that as corroborating evidence.

Now, if we turn to what is audible on Lead Belly’s own recordings, there is little doubt about one thing: On several occasions, he clearly sings «I get you in my dreams». If you compare my harmonisation below, you see that I think there is no doubt about him singing this line on the versions 124-A-2 (1934) – starting with the second chorus, as the first is unclear to me –, 124-B-1 (1934) and SC-261-1 (1943). As opposed to SC-261-1, version SC-261 (1943) gives you this weird «get/kiss»-mixture, so that must have been the one Ramsey refers to in his transcription above.

If we now take a close listen to his other versions, we most of the time end up with a word that sound like «giss» or even «gass». At one point I though this might be a dialectal version of «catch» (as in «I catss you in my dreams»), and it also occured to me that it could simply be a dialectal «I gets you» – because Lead Belly pretty systematically uses this conjugation on all other verbs in the song, «I lives», «I loves», «I haves», but I don’t know enough about the nature of Lead Belly’s idiom to know if this is even remotely plausible from a linguistic perspective. American dialectologists, please let me know if «I gets» was a plausible form.

Anyway, if you are primed by textual knowledge about the «kiss»-version, most of these can pretty reliably sound like «kiss». The version where I’m really struggling to hear a difference between «kiss you» and «guess you’re» is version 44-A (1935).

Two last points on the «I guess you’re in my dreams»-variant: First, I must say I can hear «guess(ed)» on some occasions, but I have to force myself to hear «you’re in my dreams», it is usually a clear «you in my dreams» to me. Also, in later versions (from 1944 onwards), it becomes a more clearly pronounced «I guessed you’re in my dreams». The past tense makes even less poetic sense to me – it seems like a bowlderized versions of «kissed» to me.

This is also why I don’t quote more of Lead Belly’s numerous later Irene-versions because even though he clearly gravitated to what sounds like «I guess you in my dreams», the problems fundamentally remain the same: Even with better and clearer recording (and Lead Belly having adapted his singing for white audiences), it is hard to know whether we’re dealing with a dialectal «kiss», «gets» or «guess» (compare especially version 413-3A, 1944). But more importantly: Folk lyrics change. At this point of Lead Belly’s career, we’re dealing with lyrical adaptation by Lead Belly for the audiences he played for. In the version FC 7533 (1945), I hear a clear «I guessed you in my dreams», but at that point he had also changed the lyrics of «take morphine and die» to «run away and fly». As in the Weavers’ version (see below), «getting» and «kissing» maybe wasn’t deemed suitable for mainstream (and children) audiences, so «guessing» might have become a valid option from 1944 onwards.

Taken all of this together, I’d say we end up with the following for the versions up until 1943:

  1. There is clear textual evidence for «I kiss you in my dreams», clear auditive evidence for it in Bob Ledbetter’s version and plausible auditive evidence in Lead Belly’s versions
  2. There is clear auditive evidence for the variant «I get you in my dreams». Some of Lead Belly’s versions leave no doubt.
  3. There is clear «poetic» evidence for both these variants, that is to say: they simply make sense, even in a larger thematic context of Lead Belly’s lyrical motifs
  4. There is some auditive, little poetic and no textual evidence for «I guess(ed) you(’re) in my dreams»

As corroborated evidence goes, I’d say Lead Belly sings a dialectal «I kiss» on some, and «I get» on other versions. Having said that, none of this disproves the «I guess you’re in my dreams»-version which remains plausible, why not? But it remains the least supported version by corroboration. As a last resort, I’d propose a dialectal «I gets», until an expert tells me that this form didn’t exist in the idioms spoken then.

Cover versions

The story could but doesn’t have to end here. How did prominent cover versions handle this textual unclarity? To spoil the harmonisation of lyrics I made below: There is a strong preference to use the completely different line «I’ll see you in my dreams» – this is easily explained as this stems from the cleaned-up version by the Weavers which was a 1950-hit that made the song as famous as it is nowadays in the first place. No kissing or «getting» in this mainstream folk context (cf. Ek 2014)! Even Mississippi John Hurt uses this line in his 1966-version – he announces it as «Lead Belly’s song» in the spoken intro, says that he «learned it off the record» and then continues to sing a song that structurally uses the lyrics from the Weavers’, not Lead Belly’s, version. So hilariously and wonderfully for folk authenticity and pop history, Mississippi John Hurt most likely learned this song from the Weavers’ hit record. Eric Clapton’s 2013 also shares this approach of using the song in the form it first entered the mass audience’s mind: as the Weavers-version.

Then, more reconstructionist artists like Ry Cooder (1976) and Tom Waits (2006) both opt for lyrical structures the pretty much exactly resemble one of Lead Belly’s version. Ry Cooder clearly goes with «I’ll get you in my dreams» in the chorus, while Tom Waits, in typical fashion, sort of recreates Lead Belly’s «kiss/get» mixture as «giss». Waits gives no lyrics in the liner notes for this song.

As an example of continued oral folk permutation, Dr. John’s version from 1992 just uses general musical and lyrical elements of the earlier version to come up with something very different. He turns the music into a big-bandish boogie and the song is not about yearning, scrounging, suicide and loss (with a dream as escape), but about desire, sex and partying, balling down the river while screaming «I wanna get you into my dream!» Of course, Dr. John pays his dues as a reconstructionist as well, at one point introducing a female choir which sings the exact lyrics of the Weavers’ chorus.

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it. For what I’ve exactly heard, uncertainties included, compare below harmonisation of the different versions I mentioned. Sources are below.

 Lead Belly 120-A-1Lead Belly 120-A-6Lead Belly 120-A-7Lead Belly 124-A-2 (1934)Lead Belly 124-B-1 (1934)Lead Belly 44-A (1935)Lead Belly 44-B-1 (1935)Irene SC-261-1 (1943)Irene (SC-261) (1943)Bob Ledbetter (1940)Weavers (1950)Mississippi John Hurt (1966)Ry Cooder (1976)Dr. John (1992)Tom Waits (2006)Eric Clapton (2013)
INTRO / CHORUSIrene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get/kiss (?) you in my dreams
ø Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get/kiss (?) you in my dreams
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams + Spoken Intro
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I get you in my dreams
øIrene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
Spoken Intro + Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I will see you in my dream
øøIrene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
ø
VERSE 1One day, one day, one day
Irene was a-walkin’ along
Last word that I heard her say
«I want you to sing one song»
I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
I’m sorry  you ever was born
 Quit ramblin‘ and quit gamblin‘
Quit staying out late at night
Come home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright
 I asked your mother for you
She told me you was too young
I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
I’m sorry you ever was born
 Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I have the great notion
Jumpin‘ in, into the river and drown
I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish dear Lord,that  I’d never seen your face
I’m sorry you ever was born
Last Saturday night I’ve got married
Me and my wife settled down
Me and my wife is parted now
I’m goin‘ take a stroll uptown
Last Saturday night I got married
Me and my wife settled down
Now me and my wife are parted
I’m gonna take another stroll down town
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometime I take great notion
Jump in the river and drown
I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish dear Lord never have seen your face
And I’m sorry that you ever been born
Last night as I laid in my bed a-sleepin’
Last night as I laid down across my bed
Last night I had myself a nightmare
I had a dream, I had a dream
My little Irene was dead
Last Saturday night I got married
Me and my wife settled down
Now me and my wife are parted
I’m gonna take me a little stroll uptown
Last Saturday night I got married
Me and my wife settled down
Now me and my wife are parted
Gonna take another stroll down town
CHORUS Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
(scrambled)
(possible continuation of 120-A-6, scrambled)… in my dreamsIrene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I get you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss (?) you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I will see you in my dream
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
I had to say now:
Goodnight Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I wanna get you, I wanna get you
Wanna get you into my dream
Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
VERSE 2  Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
Quit staying out late at night
Come home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright
Last Friday night, I got married
Me and my wife settled down
Now me and my wife have parted
Gonna take me a stroll uptown
 Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I have the great notion
Jumpin‘ into the river and drown
 Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
quit stayin‘ out late at night
Go home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright
Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I haves the great notion
Jumpin‘ in, into the river and drown
Quit ramblin‘, quit gamblin‘
Quit staying out late at home(– at night!)
Come home to your wife and  family
Sit down by the fire[?]side bright
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river and drown
Stop ramblin‘, stop gamblin‘
stop stayin‘ out late at night
Go home to your wife and family
And stay by the fireside bright
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump into the river and drown
Last Saturday night we got married
Last Saturday night we sho’ got down
Last Saturday night we went sailin’ down the river
We swung that little boat
And we almost drowned
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown
Stop ramblin‘, stop your gamblin‘
stop stayin‘ out late at night
Come home to your wife and your family
And sit by the fire so bright
CHORUS  Irene goodnight, Irene (scrambled fade-out)Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I get you in my dreams (Fade out)
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss (?) you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I will see you in my dream
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams (+ instrumental chorus)
I had to say now:
Goodnight Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I wanna get you, I wanna get you
Get you into my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
VERSE 3   I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
 I’m sorry you ever was born
 You cause me to weep and you cause me to moan
You cause me to leave my home
The last words I heard her said
„I want you to sing this song“
  Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
quit stayin‘ out late at night
Go home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright
 Stop ramblin‘, stop your gamblin‘
stop stayin‘ out late at night
Go home to your wife and your family
Stay there by your fireside bright
øI loves Irene, God knows I do
Loves her till the sea runs dry
If Irene turns her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die
øI loves Irene, God knows I do
Loves her till the sea runs dry
If she ever loves another
I’m gonna take morphine and die
I loves Irene, God knows I do
Loves her till the rivers run dry
If Irene should ever turn her back on me
Gonna take morphine and die
CHORUS   Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
  Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss (?) you in my dreams
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams (Repeat + Fade-Out)
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I will see you in my dream
ø(Female choir:) Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnigt Irene, goodnight Irene
I will see you in my dream
Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
VERSE 4   One day, one day, one day
Irene was a-walkin‘ along
Last words that I heard her say
„I want you to sing this song“
 Last Friday night, I got married
Me and my wife settled down
Now me and my wife have parted
Gonna take me a stroll uptown
  I loves Irene, God knows I do
Love her ‚til the sea run dry
If Irene turns her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die
   Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
Quit stayin‘ out late at night
Come home into your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright
Sometime I wanna drink
Sometime I wanna gamble
Sometime I wanna stay out all night long
Lord, but when I’m lovin’ my little Irene
I wanna love the girl
Love her on and on and on and on…
Stop your ramblin‘, stop your gamblin‘
Stop stayin‘ out late at night
Go home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the firelight
ø
CHORUS    ø (possible continuation of 124-A-2)Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams
      Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
Yeah yeah
Goodnight Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I wanna get you, I wanna get you
Get you into my dream
(Everybody!) Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I kiss you in my dreams (Repetition + Fade-Out)
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams
VERSE 5    …And she caused me to moan
She caused me to leave my home
Last words that I heared her say
„I’m sorry you ever was known“
 ø         
CHORUS    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
 (possible continuation / re-start of 44-A) Spoken Intro         
VERSE 7    I love Irene, God knows I do
Love her ‚til the sea runs dry
If Irene turns her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die
 I love Irene, God knows I do
Love her ‚til the sea run dry
If Irene turn her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die
         
CHORUS    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams
 Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I get you in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
         
       ø         
       Spoken Interlude + Hummed Chorus Ending         

Sources:

  • Ek, Kirstin: «A Precipice Between Deadly Perils»: American Folk Music and the Mass Media, 1933–1959. Dissertation University of Virginia 2014.
  • Lornell, Christopher «Kip»: «Goodnight, Irene»–Leadbelly (1933). Added to the National Registry: 2003. Essay by Christopher Lornell (guest post). Library of Congress. URL: http://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/GoodnightIrene.pdf
  • Wolfe, Charles and Kip Lornell: The Life & Legend of Leadbelly. New York: Harper Collins 1992.
  • Ramsey, Frederic Jr.: Liner notes for Leadbelly’s Early Recordings, Legacy Volume 3 (Folkways FA 2024, 1951).

Die Schlägels

Diskographie

Mach mir bitte ’ne Freude (1963)

Ich hab sie da drüben stehen sehen
Trübsal
Anna (geh zu ihm)
Ketten
Jungs
Frag mich wieso
Mach mir bitte ’ne Freude
Na hopp, sei mein Schatz
P.S. Ich liebe dich
Baby, du bist es
Soll ich dir ein Geheimnis verraten?
Ein Hauch von Honig
Es gibt einen Ort
Zappeln und schreien

Mit den Schlägels (1963)

Dauert nicht mehr lang
Ich muss nur
Nerv nicht
Kleines Mädel
Dann kamst du
Bitte, Herr Briefträger
Stück mal’n rück, Beethoven!
Halt mich fest
Du hast mich in der Tasche
Ich will dein Kerl sein
Die ist von Grund auf böse
Kein zweites Mal
Knete

Eine Nacht aus hartem Tag (1964)

Eine Nacht aus hartem Tag
Hätte ich besser wissen sollen
Wenn ich mich
Ich find’s schon toll, nur mit dir zu tanzen
Und ich liebe sie
Sag mir warum
Kann mir keine Liebe kaufen
Rund um die Uhr
Dann heul ich halt
Was wir heute gesagt haben
Wenn ich nach Hause komme
Das kannst du nicht machen
Ich komme wieder

Schlägels im Ausverkauf (1964)

Keine Antwort
Ich bin eine Null
Meine Flamme trägt schwarz
Sexmusik
Ich wende mich nach der Sonne
Herr Mondlicht
Südwindstadt / Hejo!
Acht Tage die Woche
Worte der Liebe
Honigmaus, hör auf
Jedes kleinste Ding
Ich will hier nicht die Spassbremse sein
Was du da machst
Alle wollen meine Honigmaus sein

Hilfe! (1965)

Hilfe!
Letzte Nacht
Du musst deine Verliebtheit überspielen
Ich brauche dich
Ein anderes Mädel
Du wirst dieses Mädel verlieren
Fahrschein
Sei einfach du selbst
Es ist nur Liebe
Du magst mich zu sehr
Sag mir, was du siehst
Ich hab grad ein Gesicht gesehen
Gestern
Irre Fräulein Ira

Gummi-Seele (1965)

Sei mein Chauffeur
Norwegisch Holz (Diese Maus ist raus)
Du willst dich nicht mit mir treffen
Nirgendmann
Denk dir’s selbst
Das Wort
Michaela
Was geht?
Mädel
Ich durchschau dich
In meinem Leben
Wart mal!
Wenn ich wen bräuchte
Renn um dein Leben

Drehpistole (1966)

Steuerinspektor
Eleanor Bergkammdorf
Ich schlafe doch nur
Unbedingt, dass du
Hier, dort und überall
Gelbes Unterseeboot
Hat sie gesagt, hat sie gesagt
Guter Tag Sonnenschein
Und dein Vogel kann zwitschern
Für niemanden
Doktor Robert
Ich möchte dir erzählen
Muss dich in mein Leben kriegen
Morgen weiss nicht

Oberfeldwebel Pfeffers Tanzorchester der einsamen Herzen (1967)

Oberfeldwebel Pfeffers Tanzorchester der einsamen Herzen
Mit ein wenig Unterstützung meiner Freunde
Lucia im Himmel mit Diamanten
Wird besser
Ein Loch stopfen
Sie verlässt Heim und Herd
Zugunsten von Herrn Drachen gibt’s
Selbst in dir, ausser dir selbst
Wenn ich vierundsechzig bin
Schöne Rita
Guten Morgen Guten Morgen
Oberfeldwebel Pfeffers Tanzorchester der einsamen Herzen (Zugabe)
Ein Tag im Leben

Magische Mysteriösitätentour (1967)

Magische Mysteriösitätentour
Der Narr auf dem Hügel
Fliegen
Blauhäherweg
Deine Mutter sollte das wissen
Ich bin das Walross („Nein, bist du nicht!“ sagte die kleine Nicole)
Hallo, und tschüss
Erdbeerfelder für immer
Pfennigschneise
Schatz, du bist Krösus
Alles, was du brauchst, ist Liebe

Die Schlägels (1969)

Zurück in der UdSSR
Liebe Umsicht
Glasszwiebel
Hoppe Hoppe Reiter
Wilde Honigmaus
Die Fortsetzungsgeschichte von Plattenbau-Didi
Während meine Gitarre sanft wimmert
Glück ist eine warme Knarre
Martha mein Liebling
Ich bin so müde
Amsel
Schweinchen
Wolfi Waschbär
Lass mich nicht links liegen
Wieso machen wir’s nicht mitten auf der Strasse?
Ich werde es tun
Julia
Geburtstag
Dein Blues, wa?
Mutter Naturs Sohn
Alle haben etwas zu verstecken ausser mir und mein Affe
Maharishi
Rutschbahn
Lang, lang, lang
Umsturz Eins
Honigmaus
Savoyer Trüffelpraline
Weine, Baby, weine
Umsturz Neun
Gute Nacht

Gelbes Unterseeboot (1969)

Gelbes Unterseeboot
Nur ein nördliches Lied
Jetzt alle zusammen
Hey Bulldogge
Es ist alles zu viel
Alles, was du brauchst, ist Liebe
Pfefferland
See der Zeit
See der Löcher
See der Monster
Marsch der Miesepeter
Pfefferland geschrottet
Gelbes Unterseeboot in Pfefferland

Everest (1969)

Gleichzeitig kommen
Ein gewisses Etwas
Alfreds Silberhammer
Oh! Liebling
Tintenfischs Garten
Ich will dich (sie ist so krass)
Hier kommt die Sonne
Weil
Du gibst mir nie dein Geld
Sonnenkönig
Fieser Herr Senf
Polyethylen Paula
Sie kam durchs Badezimmerfenster
Goldener Schlummer
Die Bürde schultern
Das Ende
Ihre Majestät

Lass es werden (1970)

Wir beide
Ponies pudeln
Durchs Universum hindurch
Ich Mir Meins
Lass dich gehen!
Lass es werden
Cornelia Kramer
Ich hab so’n Gefühl
Der nach dem Neun-nach-Neuner
Die lange und gewundene Strasse
Schmoll dir nach
Zurück

Dies ist die komplette (offizielle) Diskographie der bekannten Band Die Schlägels (Friedrich, August, Wilhelm und Ringo).

Moments of Plunder: American Federation of Musicians vs. Musicians‘ Union

Hennessey, Mike: Klook. The Story of Kenny Clarke. London: Quartet Books Limited 1990, 121.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Paris was the European hotspot for American jazz musicians, the place to go if you were looking for jobs and admiration by European jazz lovers. As Paris had been associated with jazz eversince the 1930s through Django Reinhardt and the likes, this seems somewhat commonplace today, but it does beg some questions: What about London? Why did American jazz greats like Sidney Bechet or Kenny „Klook“ Clarke (among many, many others) opt to regularly perform and settle down in the French-speaking world after World War II as opposed to an English metropolis?

There are a few more factors, but the main answer, it turns out, lies in one of the oddest factoids of musical history I encountered for the 20th century: American musicians were, with few exceptions, banned from performing in the UK for almost thirty years,from 1933 until the late 1950s.

It comes down to what is at its core a protectionist conflict of unions. Turns out, the American Federation of Musicians (AMF) and the British Musicians‘ Union (MU) were at each others throats eversince the beginning of the century or even before that. Without going into details, the quibbling was mostly about expectable things: copyrights, anxiety that foreign musicians flood the market and put local musicians out of jobs (this was especially a growing concern in the 1930s considering jobs for the „Talkies“, as jobs for muscially accompanying silent movies became superfluous). So for instance, the Musicians‘ Union had tried to establish quite early that for each American playing in the UK, there had to be a British musician playing in the US:

The law which underpinned the restrictions was the Aliens Restriction Act, originally a wartime measure introduced in 1914 and revised in 1919. In 1920, the Aliens Order was introduced, an amendment to the Aliens Restriction Act of the previous year. Specifically, the part concerning foreign musicians was the Aliens Order, 1920, Part 1 (3) (b), which stated that any foreign musician must „if desirous of entering the services of an employer in this country, produce a permit in writing for this employment issued to the employer by the Ministry of Labour“. In 1923, the Prince of Wales helped to ensure that Paul Whiteman was able to tour Britain. Whiteman was allowed to perform provided that for every American musician employed, a British musician was employed. This became know as ‚the Whiteman clause‘, designed to protect the work of the British musician from the importation of the American musicians.

The application of the Aliens Order was the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour, not the MU. The supposed ban is often referred to as an MU ban, but this is slightly misleading.

(Hodgetts 2017, 65)

Anyhow, the American Federation of Musicians seemed quite comfortable to simply ignore these kinds of quid-pro-quo-requests and seemed to be quite a bit more protectionist than its British counterpart (or at least that is how the Musicians‘ Union perceived it), and with jazz emerging the American art form per se, they probably felt they had some leverage considering demand/supply over the Europeans.

In 1935, as the popularity of touring US jazz bands grew, the MU managed to get the Ministry of Labour to agree that it would not issue work permits for foreign musicians without Union approval—which was routinely refused. This situation lasted until 1955 and is often referred to as a “ban” on US jazz musicians entering the UK.

(Cloonan 2014, 35)

This led to some straight-up absurd situations, like the AMF pushing through deals that the Britons had to financially compensate American musicians that didn’t even perform, just so English orchestras were even allowed to play on American ground, as in 1932:

 Louis Armstrong visits the UK and plays shows in London, while [English musician] Jack Hylton broadcast to the USA, via. arrangement with NBC. However, while this broadcast was taking place the AFM had struck a deal that the same number of American musicians would sit in a New York studio and receive the same fee as Hylton’s band without playing a note. This typified the bizarre nature of reciprocal deals between the UK and US unions, which returned in the 1950s and 1960s.

(University of Glasgow, URL: https://www.muhistory.com/contact-us/1931-1940/ )

The climax of these petty fights came in 1934, and of course we need another historical name for this event: Duke Ellington.

[In 1933], Duke Ellington plays a series of shows in London and is quoted as saying “if it doesn’t become an annual trip, I’ll be most disappointed.” However, the protectionist policies of both the MU and the AFM, meant that he would be unable to return until 1958. This was the last major performance by a US dance band in the UK until the 1950s.

(University of Glasgow, URL: https://www.muhistory.com/contact-us/1931-1940/ )

The Ministry of Labour (technically not the MU, but they pushed for it) refused Ellington re-entry in 1934, when the orchestra was scheduled to play. The Ministry is quoted in Hodgetts (2017, 67) as stating that they were „becoming more and more alive to [the] entire absence of reciprocity“ from the AMF. This procedure was repeated in 1935 for Duke Ellington and became the standard attitude towards American performers for the coming twenty years.

What can I say? All this kerfuffle didn’t really start to change again until 1955/56, with some penny-pinching, intercontinental swapping of British and American acts, but the weirdness didn’t stop immediately. My favourite anecdote about the ongoing quarrelling is that British skiffle-star Lonnie Donegan was indeed allowed to tour the US in 1956 – but he was refused to play his guitar (in order to ensure the hiring of an American backing band). By the way, according to Billy Bragg’s book Roots, Radicals and Rockers (2017), Donegan was ‚exchanged‘ for what the English newspapers announced as a certain „Elvin“ Presley.

Anyway, back on topic: American jazz and its new developments from 1930 to 1960 were basically banned from being performed in the UK for the probably most seminal three decades of its development (in stylistic and commercial respect). This not only made Paris the jazz-capital of Europe, with no truly relevant jazz scene in London (sorry). It also made sure that young people in the UK couldn’t witness any of the transformations of jazz from swing to bop to cool jazz to hard bop first-hand. Let’s think about this in terms of what happened: For instance, Bragg puts forward the thesis that this ‚ban‘ basically created the British Invasion in the long run, as rock&roller Bill Haley’s UK tour of 1957 was greeted by young UK-audiences as a sort of big bang or messianic event, and, since there had been no fancy jazz going on, young folks flocked to the simple guitar- or banjo-based skiffle style à la Lonnie Donegan – there simply wasn’t anything else nearly as cool and American. Skiffle bands (instead of, I don’t know, a Liverpool-bebop scene – dibs on the genre name „liverbop“ for my alternate history novel about this. I know „merseybop“ is more obvious, but liverbop sounds cooler) led to Beat music, voilà: British Invasion of the US as soon as the ban was loosened in the early 1960s. By the way: The quid-pro-quo-approach for performing musicians was technically in place until the 1980s.

There’s another scenario in which the ban never happened. Imagine a young Paul McCartney growing up in a world surrounded by jazz giants having relocated to England instead of France. «Yesterday» becomes his «Body and Soul» on the saxophone. Or let’s say the ban had stuck around in its severe form until much later. No British Invasion at all, the Beatles being refused to perform in the US for the entire decade, just like Duke Ellington during the 1930s in the UK. And so on. There’s a number of alternate history-novels here.

Sources:                                                    

Bragg, Billy: Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World. London: Faber & Faber 2017.

Cloonan, Martin: Musicians as Workers: Putting the Uk Musicians‘ Union into Context. In: MUSICultures 41:1 (2014), 10–29.

Hennessey, Mike: Klook. The Story of Kenny Clarke. London: Quartet Books Limited 1990.

Hodgets, Andrew: Protection and internationalism: The British Musicians‘ Union and restrictions on foreign musicians. In: Fagge, Roger and Nicolas Pillai (eds.): New Jazz Conceptions: History, Theory, Practice. London/New York: Routledge 2017, 63–89.

University of Glasgow: The Musicians‘ Union: A History (1893–2013). Timeline 1931–1940. URL: https://www.muhistory.com/contact-us/1931-1940/