Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Moon, June, Spoon #1
Ah, it’s June—along with May, a month that rhymes easily, & as such a long-time favorite for poets & songwriters. Of course it’s such a favorite that the phrase “Moon, June, Spoon” was originally a bit derogatory, ridiculing what were seen as the cookie cutter tunes produced by Tin Pan Alley. More recently, tho, the phrase was wonderfully rehabilitated by a simply wonderful musical duo, the Fabulous Heftones. I posted about their Moon June Spoon album here, & it’s really a delightful collection of music.
& since it’s June, I thought I’d take a look at “Moon Songs”—quite simply, songs that have the word “moon” in the title. Of course, because this list could be overwhelmingly long, I did set myself a couple of ground rules.
First, I limited it to songs that fit my current listening tastes. This means no “Moondance” or “Moonshadow” or “Dark Side of the Moon,” etc.—not to knock these as songs at all—it’s just not what piques my interest these days.
Second, I tried to limit the list to songs I have on a recording. I fudged on this with a few songs that I like a lot & know well, but just from happenstance don’t have on cd or vinyl.
I came up with a list of 42, & I’ll be presenting that in six installments throughout the month—each Wednesday, & then two other days as well. I didn’t go into great detail describing each song, but I did list the recordings or recordings I have, in case you’re interested in adding any of these songs to your own listening collection. There will also be a video per post featuring one of the songs—but since this is the kick-off post, there are two!
Aba Daba Honeymoon: This rather wild & wooly novelty tune was written in 1914 by Arthur Fields & Walter Donovan. For those who don’t know, it tells the love story of a monkey & a chimpanzee; Thomas Pynchon referred to the song as “the nadir of American expression”—despite this, there are many recordings available, & it is fun to play. You can check it out on: Cynthia Sayer: Attractions (Plunk) & The Fabulous Heftones: Moon June Spoon (Heftone Records)
All By Yourself in the Moonlight: Although Answers.com lists the composer for this as Traditional, the song was written by Jay Wallis in 1928—I have pretty conclusive evidence, having seen a vintage sheet music cover. This is another 20s novelty song with a real music hall feel & some rather madcap lyrics—a natural for singer Whispering Jack Smith, who was a star in the 20s, but who’s now mostly forgotten. Once you hear Whispering Jack “sing,” tho, you won’t forget him again. Whispering Jack Smith: Me & My Shadow (ASV)
Blood Red Moon: Dave Van Ronk was such a fantastic musician—a singer & guitar player & a songwriter. This is one of his originals, & it’s a wonderful acoustic blues with an old-time feel. The Van Ronk recording of this song I have is live. Dave Van Ronk: Statesboro Blues (Blues Collection)
Blue Moon: OK, so everyone has done this 1934 Rogers & Hart classic, complete with its chord progression that conquered the world (viz. everything from Hoagy Carmichael’s 1938 “Heart & Soul” to Blondies’ “The Tide is High”). But it’s hard to beat Billie Holiday’s version. Billie Holiday: Jazz Masters 12 (Verve). For the rockabilly minded—Elvis Presley: The Sun Sessions (RCA)
Blue Moon of Kentucky: Folks who know this song from the Elvis rockabilly version (also on The Sun Sessions) may be surprised to learn that it was written as a slow waltz by Bill Monroe (not a musician generally associated with slow songs!) Monroe’s version is really haunting & beautiful, & the recording dates from the days when Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs were part of the Bluegrass Boys. But the vocal is all Monroe’s “high lonesome.” Bill Monroe: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection (MCA-Nashville)
By the Light of the Silvery Moon: Folks of a certain age certainly remember this as one of the old standby singalong songs. I wonder if that’s still true—however that may be, I’ve always liked this song a lot, & I can steer you toward a great version, complete with the verse! Almost all those old standards, dating back to these very early 20th century tunes, had verses, but these are rarely heard now, so I love it when folks include them in a performance. The Fabulous Heftones: Moon June Spoon (Heftone Records)
Carolina Moon: I’m a Jim Reeves fan, but I’ve somehow managed not to purchase any recordings of his music. Still, I love to play & sing songs like “He’ll Have to Go,” “When Two Worlds Collide” or “The Blue Side of Lonesome.” Reeves had a golden voice, & his version of “Carolina Moon is a classic. I believe he originally issued this on the Moonlight & Roses album, which is available doubled up on cd with The Jim Reeves Way on the RCA label.