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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: Oh! Susanna (+ #IWSG)

         Since the posting day for the Insecure Writer's Support Group kind of coincides with  my Battle of the Bands schedule, I'm combining the two.   Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting #IWSG every month.  Be sure to visit his site for more information.
Getting Paid for the Work      

          Talk about insecurity!   Stephen Collins Foster wrote some of America's biggest hit songs and is now known as "the Father of American Music", yet he saw little money from his efforts and died penniless in a charity ward in New York City in 1864.   People knew his name, but his fame didn't pay the bills.   It's nice to be remembered in history, but getting a good paycheck while one is alive would be nice.    

What are your ultimate writing goals?    Do you write for the money, the recognition, or personal fulfillment?

Battle of the Bands:  Oh! Susanna

       It's the 1st of the month and that means another Battle of the Bands is here.  This is the twice monthly event that is brought to you by the fine bloggers at A Far Away Series and Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends.  Be sure to visit both of their sites and vote on their battles.   Other possible participants are listed at the bottom of this post.  If you'd like to do a Battle of your own let us know in the comments so we can come to vote on yours.

         This battle is the first of a two parter that I think you'll find rather interesting.  The installment that will appear on July 15th is one that might surprise you and will hopefully entertain you.   But first the Battle at hand...

Al Jolson  "Oh Susanna" (1939)

          Now we recognize the racism of the concept of minstrel shows, but it was a highly popular form of American entertainment from the 1840's and into the mid-20th century.  Al Jolson became famous with his blackface performances of popular songs.  I offer the first clip only for perspective to give you an opportunity of hearing the way the popular song "Oh! Susanna" was traditionally performed.

          Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was the first great American songwriter.  Trained in classical music he took an interest in the music he heard played in the black community and wrote a number of songs in that style.  Many of his songs were taken by touring minstrel shows and were published under the names of the performers.  

           Foster wrote "Oh! Susanna" in 1847 and it became a national sensation which in turn gave the composer a good bit of fame.   Please don't vote on the Jolson version as I would prefer the battle be between the more modern versions that follow.  But since it's a short clip I encourage you to give the great Al Jolson a listen.  He was a huge star in the first half of the 20th century.

The Byrds "Oh! Susannah" (1965)

         The folk rock group The Byrds recorded their version of this song for their second album.  They certainly give it a sound of that time.

Yambo  "Oh Suzanna" (1999?)

         Not sure what to say about this group.  From the information I found on them they are a Euro-pop girl dance group from Germany.  They changed the song lyrics to fit what they do, but the melody is the same.  Just goes to show the timelessness of the popular song from over 150 years ago.  This version to me is strange, but strangely compelling.  Give it a shot.  I've chosen the live action video version since the studio version had a pretty boring video.

Now for the Vote

         Now it's time for you to pick your favorite version of  "Oh! Susanna".    Let us know your preference in the comment section and tell us why you chose that version.   I'll announce the winner next Wednesday.

 Here are some other bloggers who may or may not be participating in the Battle of the Bands.  Please visit their sites to vote on their battles:

         Faraway Series
         Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends
         Your Daily Dose

         Did you used to sing "Oh! Susanna" in school?   Have you ever seen any Al Jolson films?    Do you enjoy Europop?  


  1. Well, I appreciate the visuals of the third one, that's for sure! That would almost be my pick. They did modernize it well. But I'll give it to the the original, Jolson.
    I never started out to write for any fame or fortune. I just enjoyed it and my road to publication became a journey of 'what if?' That any money and recognition have followed has been all bonus.

  2. No, didn't sing it, on the other side of the pond, but does sound fun!

  3. It's so sad how many "famous" people ended up dying penniless. It's seems so sad.

    I'm writing for 'fun' mostly.

  4. I love Jolson's version-perhaps it is because this song is tangled in my memories. I can see a cartoon playing in my memory-as I hear this song. I am a 60s baby. I guess Elmer had a makeover~

    The final version does make it fun-I feel like I am on American Bandstand-It is easy to dance to~ ;D

  5. Definitely The Byrds! Loved the Al Jonson rendition also. Do NOT like the Yambo one. Yes, I know this song and probably sang it in school. Its history is fascinating Arlee thank you.

    Re: writing. It's a lovely fantasy of mine to imagine making lots of lovely boodle from writing. But as Alex says, he wrote for personal fulfilment and bonuses followed. Who knows, this could happen to me .. a lovely fantasy. I like writing, it gives shape and form to my thinking/feeling. Makes things concrete...

  6. I didn't watch the video for the second one. I didn't want to either like or not like the group based on the antics in the video. That said, I was kind of prepared to dislike that version because it was Euro-Pop. But I forgot about how I actually like all different sounds.

    First, The Byrds. I think I would have liked their version better had it started in the middle and been a shorter song. I liked the song much better when they picked up the pace about halfway through. I also got bored during their instrumental breaks. What was going on there just wasn't interesting enough to keep me focused.

    I was very prepared to dislike the Yambo version, but I was pleasantly surprised. I tapped my toe all the way through and that is a pretty good sign that I am enjoying the song. So, color me shocked, but I am voting for Yambo.

  7. Alex-- I'm a big Jolson fan so I can't argue about you picking his version.

    Carole Anne--It's definitely an American song though it has caught on internationally.

    Southpaw-- Fun is it's own reward. Money and fame would be a bonus.

    Ella-- I don't remember that particular cartoon, but I'm sure I've seen it. The song was used in many movies and cartoons.

    Susan Scott-- "Do what you love and the money will follow". I think that's the name of a book I've got and maybe it's a quote from someone.

    Robin -- The Yamboo version does kind of stick with me.


  8. Well, LEE, if we were permitted to vote for the Al Jolson version, that's probably the one I'd vote for. But I'll follow your instructions and limit myself to the two more modern versions.

    THE BYRDS - I don't like them. I never liked them. I am never going to like them. I can't understand why they were ever popular. That high-pitched jangly sound of theirs is almost - not quite, but almost - like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

    Musically I found The Byrds boring; and if one likes them for their harmonizing - well, The Beach Boys, The Mamas And The Papas, and Spanky And Our Gang were MUCH BETTER singers with better harmonizing. So I can't find one unique thing they did better than anyone else, and I have never heard even ONE song The Byrds ever recorded that I liked. Not one.

    YAMBO - Female EuroPop singers from Germany - enough said. I was prepared to hate them from the get-go, and for the first 30 to 45 seconds I DID hate them. But by about the one-minute mark I had grown accustomed to it and it was starting to sound like just some American Hoedown in Oklahoma or something.

    I actually liked that Jew's Harp sound in there - which I suspect was really a synthesizer. It gave the song a genuine Middle America "boing-boing" bounce. Plus, I always seem to appreciate hand-claps in a song as part of the percussion element.

    Like Robin, I found myself surprised to be able to cast a relatively enthusiastic vote for Yambo. The song went on a little too long but it really wasn't bad. In fact, if you hadn't categorized it as EuroPop I don't think I'd have considered that label for it.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  9. StMc-- Alex already broke the no-vote rule for Jolson so I guess if you'd rather I can do it for you. Let me know or I'll cast yours for Yamboo.

    I'm not so down on the Byrds--they were a group that I enjoyed throughout their various incarnations. They had interesting harmonies I thought--more like CS&N and those types of groups.

    I called the Yamboo version "euro-pop" because that's how the group is described on Wiki. It actually sounds "techno hoedown pop" or something like that. There is a sort of catchiness to their version.


  10. LEE ~
    No, I'll play by the rules and stick with my Yambo vote.

    Yeah, I know I'm in the great minority with my opinion of The Byrds.

    You mentioned CS&N, and yes, that's another vocal group I like far better than The Byrds.

    Even the covers that The Byrds did - like of Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man' - which pretty much put them on the map, I always prefer the original.

    Oh well, that's what makes it a horse race, eh?

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  11. I'm glad I glanced at McCarthy's comment as I was all set to vote for Jolson.

    I like the Byrds okay, but this song does not work for me in their jangly-pop arrangement.

    However, the Yamboo video did nothing for me aurally, although the video made me feel a little old and lecherous.

    So given the two choices, I'm going with the Byrds.


  12. Well, Lee, your rules have stymied me (and apparently others.) Like McCarthy and LC, I like Jolson's version better... in fact, WAY better. But, rules are rules and so I don't ask you to bend them here. No Jolson for us.

    Although I like some of the Byrds stuffs, I dislike their version a lot. I also dislike the lip-synched Euro-crap version of the slatterns despoiling our American heritage capering around in costume.

    So, upon what may I hang my vote?

    Hot pants. I vote for hot pants.

    Sheboyganboy VI

  13. In the spirit of July 4th I will duly note this recognition for Jolson, but thanks to all for giving me alternatives and arguments pro and con. This may sway my vote.

    Tossing It Out

  14. Definitely the Yamboo version. And that's only partially because of its visual appeal. I like Europop anyway, and it was lively and uptempo. I always get the feeling that The Byrds treat the music with a little too much respect, and it comes out sounding like a guitar Mass.

    The only Jolson movie I've seen is "The Jazz Singer." For all of its hype as the first talking movie, it had the spirit of a silent, and as such had a bigger impact on me. And seeing Warner Oland as someone other than Charlie Chan was a trip.

  15. Yup, getting money to pay the bills for what you're known for while alive is ideal in my humble opinion.

  16. Well, if Jolsten is legal, I'll go there. If not, I'll take even a tired sounding Byrds effort over syntho. I got to be able to listen without wanting to play with my non-existant little sister's Barbie Dolls.

  17. I don't like any of these very much. You know I'm a big silent film buff, but the blackface stuff is just hard to stomach. The rendering of the dialect into "gwine" and "wedder" is just awful. Blackface was played for comic effect, which misses the point of a folk song.

    I love the Byrds, but don't think they're suited to this song, and I don't think anything about the song lends itself to the breathy, sexy interpretation of the last group.

    Any version of "Oh, Susanna" without some good banjo pickin' is missing the point, so I vote for one you didn't feature: Pete Seeger's version, which gives good banjo and has the folk spirit the song demands.

  18. Oh my-I find it nice that Jolson would win if he was a choice despite the blackface but that was the sign of the times and they felt they were paying homage to the African Americans and meant it in a positive light. Hell-Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby both appeared in blackface. I was prepared to like the Byrds but found them boring and long winded. Even though the little harpy gals can't sing that great, their rendition is better as it makes one happy and feels like fun. The time didn't drip by. I write for fun-if I was expecting money from it I would die penniless:)

  19. And you thought I had a sense of humor where BOTB was concerned. Ha, this one takes the cake, at least for me.

    I never disliked The Byrds, but I was never crazy for them either. Their versin here is just kind of boring.

    BUT, those Yamboo Bimbos (sorry was that an un-pc remark, well you know me. were a little over the top for me. The beat might hae gotten your toe tapping but it also made me want to run away, very fast.

    So, there is nothing left to do but break the rules and vote for good ole Al. I absolutely love that 'Swannee River' type ending that he tacked onto this. I also, can't see all the fuss about 'blackface'. Like someone else said it was the times and meant to be a 'homage' not an insult, at that time. Lighten up everybody, especially the white folk.

  20. John-- The Jazz Singer starring Jolson is an interesting relic of its time and I still think it's superior to the remakes that came later.

    Patricia --It's nice to be paid for at least time invested in the writing. The satisfaction of having written something is nice too.

    CW-- The system is falling apart. The inmates have run amok.

    Kelly --"Oh! Susanna" was written to be performed as a minstrel act. Not written to be a "folk song" the song has reached folk song status so to speak.

    Birgit-- I guess Al Jolson may win this contest. He's my favorite.

    FAE-- I suggest that you listen to Yamboo three more times to see if the catchiness of the song will stick with you. And the minstrel entertainment is not just part of music history, it's a part of history that should be acknowledged. Some great entertainment came from the minstrel shows.



  21. I do write for money and personal recognition; but have only made about $5 off my writing. Well, I have many years left to make an impression, I hope.

    In my head, I always hear the Al Jolson version of this song.

    But, the Byrds actually use a banjo, which is awesome. Not a fan of the group effect to the song though. Doesn't have that folk-lore sound.

    The girls, however, used a banjo for intro, and while their style is very upbeat, all that clapping, and I think consistent banjo (hard to tell though)makes my country/folksie heart and feel want to clap, tap and dance. This song was extremely well done, even with the update in tempo.

    Yambo gets my vote (and nearly replaces Al in my head).

    BTW: I'm not posting for BotB this month.

    Excuse me, I think I'll listen to Yambo again.

  22. It's a surprisingly tough choice between The Byrds, and Yambo. I'll go with The Byrds, though they won by a feather. I also write for the fun of it.


  23. I write for personal fulfillment first, and financial reasons second.

    Sadly, my internet connection is so bad today that listening to the three songs will take me until next week.

    So I'm going to bow out of the vote this time round.

  24. I'll go with the Byrds. And I had no idea there was so much to know about this song. You really taught me something today.

  25. I can't think of that song in any way but the way Al Jolson sang it. I've seen bits of movies he was in.
    I write because I like creating stories. If I make some money then that's good too. I don't expect to be famous.

  26. Hi Arlee! Hope you're doing great!

    Creating anything to try and get fame or fortune is a hollow quest. It's sadly true that fame is fickle, and I'd love to see more artists rewarded for creating original work, but trying to chase fame only leads to diluted schlock instead of art that speaks from the heart.

    In general, I'm a huge Byrds fan. I love that chimy 12-string and the way the band evolved over the years -- the incarnation with Clarence White was especially great. But their version of the song is not really grabbing me. But then, this song doesn't move me that much anyway -- maybe it's my Michigan-raised Yankee bias. I've never been to Alabama, and I've never had a banjo on my knee.

    Still, I'd vote for the Byrds over Yambo. I'm all for updating songs and can enjoy modern electronic dance music, but this is a little too kitschy and cheesy -- it's mainly backdrop for the women to dance to. And while I'll always have a fond spot in my heart for attractive women dancing, it doesn't mean that I have to think the song they dance to is great music.

    I would actually submit the version that Neil Young and Crazy Horse did as my personal favorite rendition of this song ( ). It's an update that packs a lot of rough-edged energy and soul. But then I've always been a big fan of Neil with Crazy Horse, so maybe that's just me -- I like that grungy screamin' guitar. You can always find a hint of it in everything I do, like the new song I just posted on my blog.

    But if you don't want to take a Neil Young and Crazy Horse write-in, I'll go with the Byrds.

  27. It would be nice to receive a paycheck for my writing but truth be told, I started out writing just for me. If it turns out that I make some money once I decide (get the courage) to publish something, well, that wouldn't make me sad. Not sad at all.

  28. I'm definitely writing for myself (though less so as time goes on, more thinking of a hypothetical audience) and trying to reach fulfillment. Hopefully, I can find like-minded readers someday.

  29. I've seen The Jazz Singer a few times, including once on the big screen at the local indie theatre. I've also seen his short piece A Plantation Act, from 1926, where he's made up in blackface and singing minstrel songs. The first time I saw The Jazz Singer, I was pleasantly surprised at how non-racist the blackface bits seemed. He's himself for most of the film, and puts on the blackface and performs very matter-of-factly instead of hamming it up and "acting" Black, the way I've heard some other performers did.

  30. Donna -- This contest is taking a turn that I did not expect.

    Julie --A feather, eh? Byrds work for me.

    Misha -- Still you've set a pretty impressive financial goal for yourself.

    Michael-- Stephen Foster has an interesting story and this particular song does too.

    Susan GK -- Guess I should have made Jolson an official contestant.

    Chris -- You're actually jumping ahead with the Neil Young version. Be sure to check back on the 15th with part 2 of this contest. Neil's version is actually not the Foster song and I'll be presenting what I think is interesting background on his version.

    Elsie --- I think writing for oneself is important. Adapting the finished product to wider tastes can be where the money comes in.

    Michelle -- That's pretty much where I stand on the writing issue.


  31. Carrie-Anne--Actually I've found most film depictions of Jolson, black-face entertainment, and minstrel shows not to be racist or deprecating towards blacks. I read where even the black entertainers in the minstrel show days would apply the black-face make-up.


  32. After being first traditionally published, even with a small press, I totally agree about the paycheck. While I do love it when readers are happy, and of course I get so much personal satisfaction just producing, but, in the end, I need the paycheck, as well. It works as a scorecard of sorts.

  33. I loved the effect of the song in The Byrds versions. It made me think of another time, a time when the song was originally created. Stephen Foster would have liked it.

    I've never been a fan of black face musicians, or Al Jolson.

  34. Re writing: recognition and personal fulfillment, as apparently I don't do it for money.

    Re BoB: Always liked The Byrds version best.

    Father Nature's Corner

  35. Nancy-- There's something about cash remuneration that makes ones efforts seem more worthwhile.

    C.Lee-- Jolson was one of the greatest singing personalities of his time. He had a wonderful voice.

    GB-- Then the money is a bonus if you get any.


  36. I would love to be paid for any creative work I do, as well. But since I'm not counting on it, I'm keeping my day job. ;)

  37. That was an interesting third video you posted there. :) I say they have my pick.

    I knew I'd never be famous when I started writing. It's fine with me if I never achieve fame, but you're right, it wouldn't hurt to get paid.


  38. My wife came home to me watching the Al Jolson Story, she looked at the television... then looked at me. What the heck is this, I explained... it was quite an interesting film. Sorry boss, for the lack of everything... life keeps getting in my way.

  39. Trisha-- If you've got a good job I think it's a good idea to keep it.

    Loni -- I'll take money over fame any day.

    Jeremy -- Yeah, life sure has been keeping me busy lately and that's generally a good thing--or should be.


  40. Must be a family thing rather than an over the pond thing as I definitely remember hearing this and singing along - but maybe that's because it's my name so Mum would sing it to me!
    The sound doesn't work on my laptop so can't vote :(
    Suzanne @ Suzannes-Tribe

  41. Suzanne - The song is pure Americana, but it's one with international reach. It's lost some popularity in the past decades as it was often used in the old cartoons and films. Glad you could at least stop by to leave a comment.


  42. The satisfaction that come from readers who enjoy my stories make writing worthwhile. Making some good money from it would be icing on the cake.

    The modern version of Oh Suzanna is definitely a far cry from the original. Sounds good though.

  43. Wow, talk about flashback! I remember singing this in grade school. Interesting twist with the last song. I think I prefer the original the best, though. Thanks for dancing with the 4M crew!

  44. Oh yes, I grew up singing this song! I'm so sorry to hear that he died the way he did. I write because I love it, but also because I'd like to make a living doing it. So far only have the desire, not yet the income I'd like. But, gotta keep on keepin' on! I like the music better in the second one, with the girls but can't say that either one of them are "favorites."

  45. OOh I love this jamboo!
    Dancing going on!

    Thanks for sharing your tunes with us!

    Happy Summer!

  46. Jolson gets my vote for this one. And yes, I used to sing it in school, at home around the house with my grandma and parents, and then with my kids when they were younger.

    And I write for the love of it, but I have a little project that I'm working on (when I have time, which isn't much with my other projects), that I'm hoping will earn money. I never thought I would write any kind of romance, except as a part of a larger plot, but I've seen those romance sales numbers and it would be nice to put some money back into the bank from writing.

  47. Definitely Al Jolson! The other one looks like a fun party, but not a good song. Great choices here & thanks for joining us. That was fun!

  48. Thank you all for your votes and insight regarding #IWSG.


  49. My vote's for Jolson.

    I first write for personal fulfillment. It feels good to get an idea off my chest, improve in the craft, and finish a project. Money comes second.

  50. I am choosing not to vote for one.
    However, it was nice to see a comparison. Yes, I grew up with this song and know it quite well.

    Glad you came by the 4M's to join in. We are there every Monday.

  51. Definitely a great look at a song from different sides. Not sure i can choose one but enjoyed them for sure.


Go ahead and say something. Don't be afraid to speak your mind.
I normally try to respond to all comments in the comment section so please remember to check the "Email follow-up comments" box if you want to participate in the comment conversation.

For Battle of the Bands voting the "Anonymous" commenting option has been made available though this version is the least preferred. If voting using "anonymous" please include in your comment your name (first only is okay) and city you are voting from and the reason you chose the artist you did.

If you know me and want to comment but don't want to do it here, then you can send me an email @ jacksonlee51 at aol dot com.