Alabama Song

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Alabama Song
Song by Kurt Weill
Textby Bertolt Brecht
translated by Elisabeth Hauptmann
Language English, trans. from German
Composed1927 (1927)

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.


Original version

Single by Lotte Lenya
B-side Denn wie man sich bettet
Recorded24 February 1930
Label Homocord (H3671)
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 [1] 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, [2] 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"; [3] 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. [4] 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. [3]

The Doors version

"Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)"
Song by The Doors
from the album The Doors
ReleasedJanuary 4, 1967
RecordedAugust 1966
Genre Psychedelic rock
Label Elektra
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" [5] but, on the 1967 Live at the Matrix recording, he sings the original "... next pretty boy".

For The Doors' version, keyboardist Ray Manzarek plays the Marxophone along with the organ and keyboard bass.


David Bowie version

"Alabama Song"
Bowie AlabamaSong.jpg
Single by David Bowie
B-side "Space Oddity (1979 version)"
Released15 February 1980
Format 7-inch single
Recorded2 July 1978
Studio Good Earth, London
Label RCA
Songwriter(s) Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill
Producer(s) David Bowie, Tony Visconti
David Bowie singles chronology
"John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)"
"Alabama Song"
"Crystal Japan"

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". [6] 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.

Bowie would appear in a BBC version of Brecht’s Baal , and release an EP of songs from the play. He performed "Alabama Song" again on his 1990 Sound+Vision Tour and 2002 Heathen tours.

Track listing

  1. "Alabama Song" (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill) – 3:51
  2. "Space Oddity" (acoustic version) (David Bowie) – 4:57

The German 1982 rerelease of the single included Jacques Brel's song "Amsterdam" as an additional B-side.

Production credits

Live versions

Other releases

Selective list of recorded versions

The song has been covered often:

Linda van Dyck performed it on Swedish television show Forsta Samlek on May 10 1972.

See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. Willett, John; et al., eds. (1990), Bertolt Brecht: Poems and Songs from the Plays, Methuen, p. 223.
  2. Cad, Saint, "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals", Listverse , retrieved 21 June 2013.
  3. 1 2 "Lotte Lenya Discography", Kurt Weill Foundation .
  4. Lenya, Bear Family Records, 1998, p. 32.
  5. "Alabama Song Lyrics - Doors". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  6. Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: p.108
  7. "Dalida site Officiel - Alabama song" (in French). Retrieved 2013-10-28.
  8. "Moni Ovadia Sito Ufficiale". Archived from the original on 23 March 2009. Retrieved 2016-02-09.