We have a real classic for you today!
‘Alabama Song/Whiskey’ by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. In career spanning decades, Weill composed a wide variety of music including chamber, and orchestral pieces. But he is best known for the musicals he composed (especially with Brecht). Brecht also wrote famously life-affirming plays, such as “Mother Courage and Her Children” and “Baal”. But his influence is also best felt in the songs he wrote with Weill. Songs from ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and ‘Mahagonny’ have come to define the Cabaret style. Brecht/Weill songs are the very soundrack of Weimar Berlin, the years between the wars, of decadence, nightclubs, poverty, hard living, glamour and violence and all the mystique of that time and place. It originally appeared in the 1927 songspiel ‘Mahagonny’. Since then it has become a cabaret standard and has been performed by every kind of singer imaginable, from Lotte Lenya to Marilyn Manson.
My top favorite cover is by The Doors. They included it on their 1967 debut album. I love The Doors, I love Jim Morrison. Today the tide of opinion has swung away from Morrison. It is now the fashion to dismiss him as pretentious. I don’t think he was pretentious – he was a genuinely intellectual person. Because he read Rimbaud and Nietzsche and enjoyed, understood and related to their works he’s pretentious? Than just shows how dumbed down our culture is.
This is a shortened live version, dated from Before Jim Got Fat.
David Bowie has made ‘Alabama Song’ part of his onstage repertoire since the 70s. No version of the song exists on any of his studio albums, but he did release it as a single in 1980 and it can be heard on ‘Stage’ (1991 reissue) and on compilations. This live performance is from the 2004 ‘Reality’ tour. I was very, very lucky to see Bowie play that year. It was a 21st birthday present for me. It was, needless to say, absolutely amazing. The concert DVD from the tour doesn’t even do it justice. The DVD focusses on the more dour songs, while the songs choices were in reality (ha ha) more upbeat and the atmosphere was very bright. Bowie was in great voice, and looked great, very chipper, as you can see in this video. Doesn’t he look happy?
This video is of my own making! This is Marianne Faithfull, from her Weill cover album “20th Century Blues” (1997). If anyone is overqualified to tackle the Brecht/Weill songbook, it’s Faithfull. She’s blossomed from the ‘angel with big tits’ you see so much of in the video, to one of our greatest interpretive vocalists. Thank you heroin!
For many people, the definitive version is Lotte Lenya’s. Lenya was, of course, Weill wife and leading lady.
This is a more traditional take, by Ute Lemper. Lemper is a performer who specializes in the cabaret style. I think she’s great, although she does sometimes push the German schtick too hard. This material doesn’ t need a dramatic German accent, it’s got all the drama it needs.
Here’s a 1986 performance by Nina Hagen. Surprisingly, she’s reigned in the weirdness and plays it more or less straight (except for her appearance).
Out of morbid curiousity, I’ve included Marilyn Manson’s cover (vomit). I fucking hate Marilyn Manson. I didn’t like Alice Cooper the first time around, and I don’t have any use for an Alice Cooper ripoff with even less talent than the original. But the magic of really great songwriting is you can be the most godawful singer in the world and still come off tolerablely well.