Friday, January 30, 2009

A Gershwin Friday Meets The Song Stuck in My Head When I Woke Up This Morning

"By Strauss" was one of George Gershwin's last tunes, written with Ira for their friend Vernon Duke's 1936 Broadway production The Show Is On. It's a playful song about someone (a girl in the original version) who prefers the waltzes of Johann Strauss II to the coarse, loud "new music."

I've always thought this was one of the finest examples of Ira Gershwin's intelligence and wit as a lyricist. The entire first verse is wonderful, and any work that rhymes "souses" with "Strauss's" and "free and easy" with "Viennese-y" is pretty much a miracle of the songwriting craft. Those generations raised in the shadow of the Bob Dylan colossus too often forget (or, sadly, never know) just how damn good some of the tin-pin alley folks were when it came to playing with the English language.

And, of course, the song also features George Gershwin goofing with the waltz form, which was a rare and fascinating occasion in itself.

Ella Fitzgerald has a good version on her George and Ira Gershwin Songbook. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it on YouTube. This one, by Lesley Garrett, is a little too PBS-y for my taste, but she doesn't screw around with the lyrics, and she does give it a fun rendition.

"By Strauss"
(George and Ira Gershwin)

Away with the music of Broadway
Be off with your Irving Berlin
Oh, I give no quarter to Kern or Cole Porter
And Gershwin keeps pounding on tin

How can I be civil when hearing such drivel?
It's only for night-clubbing souses
Oh, give me the free-'n'-easy
waltz that is Vienneasy
and Go tell the band
if they want a hand,
The waltz must be Strauss's

Jah Jah Jah, give me oom-pa-pah
When I want a melody
Lilting through the house
Then I want a melody
By Strauss
It laughs, it sings, the world is in rhyme
Swinging in three-quarter time

Let the Danube flow along
And the Fledermauss
Keep the wine and give me song
By Strauss

By Jove, by Jing, by Strauss is the thing
So, I say to ha-cha-cha, heraus!
Just give me an oom-pa-pah by Strauss!

Let the Danube flow along
And the Fledermauss
Keep the wine and give me song
By Strauss

By Jove, by Jing, by Strauss is the thing
So, I say to ha-cha-cha, heraus!
Just give me an oom-pa-pah by Strauss!

More on "By Strauss" from All Music Guide:
Gershwin wrote this song, featuring lyrics by his brother Ira, for the 1936 Vernon Duke Broadway revue The Show Is On. The Strauss in the title is Johann Strauss, the "waltz king," and the humorous lyrics call for the banishment of the Broadway music of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and of Gershwin. This was Gershwin's only song for that production and, ironically, it turned to be the last one to be performed on Broadway before his death in 1937, at the age of 38. Another oddity associated with "By Strauss" is that its original orchestration was lost shortly after the show closed. Now the song is heard in various arrangements by different composers or with Gershwin's original piano accompaniment. "By Strauss" presents a colorful theme sung to a waltz rhythm, its character quite different from Gershwin's style in Porgy and Bess and his earlier Broadway musicals like Oh, Kay! The mood is light, the music lively, and brief passages at the beginning and end quote from Strauss. While there is little jazz here and none of the black American folk idiom so pervasive in much of Gershwin's music, there is that unmistakable wit, that charming impudence typically found in the composer's songs. This is a delightful gem.


victor said...

I have so much to learn and the internet is still teaching me but I must apologize that my musical cells still have not gotten accustom to Strauss and any of that kind of music but I must also admit that it is no longer responsive to me. :)

Hey give it a chance and anything will eventually grow on us!

The funny part about it is that my lead guitarist before I got married loved that kind of music and I was really surprised and I'm just starting to believe it now.

That's because our youngest daughter writes her own music and if you check her out, you'll see that it's far from country music. What hurts a little bit is that she no longer admits to having a father who loves country music. To make a long story short, she says that she still loves me so everything is ok, I guess! (lol)

I hear ya! Have you been drinking again Victor?

Just a little :)

cowboyangel said...


You play or played in a country music group? Am I reading that right? Or you just like country music AND you played in a band of unknown musical genre?

victor said...

Let me just say this as far as my musical so called talent is concerned.

In the early to mid sixties, I know now that I was blessed with learning songs and I was encouraged by a few friends to sing.

To make a long story short, I learned how to strum on a guitar and a friend of mine joined me and could he ever pick a guitar. He seem to be able to make his guitar talk while I was singing. We really complemented each other. He could follow me in any song and I could sing all night and we even played at a couple of weddings.

To make one more story short, it all came to an end when I left our city because of a good government job in the mid sixties but if truth be known, I was really on a search for god in my own crazy quiet way. We eventually parted ways.

When I did come back, we were both too busy raising a family and both of us kind of lost interest in a band. He had just left one which didn't make it and that also turned him off.

I think it was in the eighties when someone talked me into joining the musicians association in our city and I had bookings everyday all over this city plus I was getting a check from this organization. I was going to quit my job and do it full time because I honestly believed that everyone loved my singing. Mind you it was mostly seniors home and the likes but my daily schedule was full. I had my B25 Gibson, an amplifier, two microphone with stand and all the songs I needed in my brain.

I was put to the test as to how many songs I really knew when I played at our city jail. I call it a blessing because I really never sat down and learned most songs, it just came naturally. I sank for three hours and I still knew more songs. Of course, I've learned nowadays that I could easily be crytizised. :)

One day I had to perform for three hours in our city jail to a group of guys. After singing for the guys for about an hour and half and telling them that they were my first captive audience I was moved upstairs to sing for the girls.

When I left the guys, I had a farm feeling and I can say the same thing for the girls. Some of them were writing letters and I can just hear my ego now saying that they were writing about me! :)

I better just say that it took the president of the musicians association to knock my castle down. He politely said in so many words that I was using up all their money. He went on to say in so many words that this fund was there for others also and he was right.

There's so much that I want to say but I'll simply close by thank you for having stuck out your neck and asked me a short question.

I hear ya! Why didn't you just post your answer in your blog Victor but then that wouldn't be you! Right? :)

Liam said...

That's a great one.

victor said...

After re-reading my second comment here, I noticed that I should have re-read it because my thank you doesn't seem to have been heart felt.

It probably should have went something like this:

There's so much that I want to say but I'll simply close by thanking you for having stuck out your neck as to what others might think of you for having asked me a short simple question.

Again Thank You :)

cowboyangel said...

Victor, sounds like you've definitely had an interesting life. Playing to prisoners - like Johnny Cash at Folsom and San Quentin.

victor said...

Thank you very much but I think that even with my ego that would be strenching it a bit this time around. :)