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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: Alabama Song


          It's time for another Battle of the Bands, the event where music loving bloggers offer up two different versions of one song for you to vote on your favorite one.   This popular event which is now in its second year was founded by Stephen T McCarthy and Faraway Eyes.   After you vote on my pairing, please visit their posts and vote on theirs.   More possible participants will be listed at the end of this post.

        Some of my past Battle entries have been reviled and ridiculed.  Believe me, I've liked all of my choices and have felt there was merit in presenting each of them.  The songs I present are songs that I enjoy and I always hope that my visitors to Tossing It Out will enjoy them as well.  But, alas, this is not always the case.   This installment of BOTB is no exception.  "Alabama Song" is a wonderful song in my opinion.  You may not particularly like my choices for the Battle, but I do hope you'll listen with an open mind accepting the song for what it is and appreciating the performances in the context they have been presented.

        The first time I heard "Alabama Song" was on The Doors debut album.   This is one of my favorite songs from that album with its oompah beat, quirky calliope circus organ riffs, and carousing chorus.  About fifteen years later I discovered this was not a song that originated with The Doors, but was composed in the late 1920's by the German songwriting team of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, the same duo that gave us classics like "Mack the Knife".  

           This discovery came to light upon my purchase of a cassette of the Kurt Weill tribute album Lost in the Stars in 1985.   It was then that I discovered that the great song performed by The Doors was actually a feature tune in the political-satirical opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.   It was not long after that discovery when I caught a performance of the opera that appeared on the PBS station in Knoxville, Tennessee.  

          Almost a cabaret style musical, it's an interesting modern opera with some fine music and a peculiar story.  Actually I didn't follow the story so much as focus on the music and the spectacle of the presentation. Mahagonny is probably rarely seen on television, but if you ever run across it you might want to check it out.  There are a few YouTube clips of performances that you can find if you'd like to get an idea of what the opera is like.

           If you are interested in hearing and viewing a performance of  "Alabama Song" by an opera company you can check out this clip.  And if you are not familiar with the version by The Doors or just want to refresh your memory about what it sounds like you can find that here.    Please don't vote on these versions.   If The Doors were in the running this Battle would undoubtedly be a landslide in their favor.

          Here are your candidates up for the vote:    

Lotte Lenya  "Alabama Song"  (1930)

        Lotte Lenya was an Austrian performance artist who was married to the composer of the music for "Alabama Song" Kurt Weill.  She also appeared in several American films including the James Bond film From Russia With Love.   This version of "Alabama Song" holds up pretty well in my opinion despite having been recorded 80-some years ago.   Remember, this is opera so it's not quite the same sound of popular songs of that era.   Maybe we should call this style of music "popera"?  I hope you will enjoy this early version of the song.   It has a kind of eerie sound that might work well for Halloween.

Marilyn Manson "Alabama Song"  (2003)

            And speaking of Halloween...

            I'm not a Manson fan and can't say I know much about his music.   I couldn't resist using his version though.   He's kind of scary--or at least weird.  And I think his version is appropriately done.  Before you set off on a tirade of how out of tune and horrid he sounds, keep in mind what this song is about and who might be singing it.   "Alabama Song" is a boozy anthem of debauchery.   I would fully expect off-key wailing drunks staggering down the street singing this.   Don't you think that Manson kind of pulls this off?

Time to Vote!

           Which do you prefer?  Please vote on your favorite before heading out to search for the next whiskey bar.   Let us know in the comment section and tell us why you prefer the one you chose.  Then after you've finished here, please visit the other blogs listed below who may or may not be participating this time around.   And if you've put up your own BOTB contest let us know that as well so we can vote on yours.


 StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands




 Alex J. Cavanaugh

           The results of my Battle will be announced on Wednesday October 22nd.  Other stuff might even be happening on this blog from time to time.  I know I've become somewhat unpredictable on Tossing It Out, but I assure you that it's not because I've been carousing in the city of Mahagonny. 

             Was this one of my most horrendous offerings or did you enjoy it?   Are you familiar with the "Mahagonny" opera?   Would you consider the Weill/Brecht work to be opera or something else?       


  1. I know the Doors isn't a voting option but that's where I'm casting my vote! lol I think my stepkids, or at least the girl child, like(s) Marilyn Manson. Thanks, I'll pass.

  2. I have to vote for the first one because Manson is just too twisted and evil. And no, not an opera fan.

  3. I'd definitely pick the Doors version over either of these. These are both all about the vocals, and while Jim Morrison WAS the Doors to many people, Robbie Kreiger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore were a tight and unique band and their version of this song has a lot of great instrumentation and playing -- it blended modern rock and the retro old opera influence really well.

    But between the two choices you've offered, I'll go with Lotte Lenya. There are much more interesting vocal arrangements and interplay. Marylin is all about the "Lookit me!!! Ain't I all weird and scary?!" The song is secondary at best...

  4. LOL. Way too many songs about whiskey today.
    I guess I have to go with Manson and the sound is a bit drunk or stoned.

  5. I LOVE your choices-They are so original and that is why I follow you. It is so intelligent and you have such a wealth of knowledge especially in music. Why am I not surprised that this song comes from a cabaret style of 1920's Germany. Yes I know it is in an opera but it feels very Cabaret to me. I was never a Manson fan but he loves the decadence of Germany in the 1920's that few people are aware of except if they watch Cabaret (which he might be quite good in the role of the M.C.). This is actually very tough for me. Manson projects a live art type with the girls in those contraptions-it so works. That is theatre so now the song. I will go with Lotte Lenya's version. I do find the singing and the style of the music very nightmarish (would go well in the film Freaks). It presents more decadence and reality of that then the more art performance style of Marilyn Manson

  6. JoJo-- I guess this will be a non-vote. Gotta stick to the "rules".

    Alex -- There is some great music that has come from opera. In fact I'd dare suggest that much heavy metal and prog rock is more influenced by opera than more rootsy music.

    Chris - The reason I didn't want to include the Doors version is that it would be a shut-out in all probability. I like to avoid the shut-out contests when I can.

    Susan GK-- Must be a boozy sort of day as we approach Halloween and colder months.

    Birgit-- Great assessment and I agree with the points you make. Cabaret is such a great film--among my favorites. Interesting thought having Manson play the role of MC in Cabaret. I think it could work.


  7. Arlee, I really try not to moan and groan about the song choices (because doing my own BOTB I know it isn't easy and all musical taste is subjective). BUT, why, Lee, why????

    30 seconds into the first one I thought, "Oh my sweet Jesus, this is terrible. There is no way I am voting for this." And then I scrolled down to see that the second offering was from Marilyn Manson and I choked. Good thing I wasn't eating or drinking. So, I listened to the first one all the way through praying it would grow on me. It didn't.

    I think I should have watched the second one with my eyes closed. I cannot stand the make-up and showmanship of MM. However, as you say, since this song is about debauchery I suppose it works better than most.

    Heaven help me, I am voting for Marilyn Manson. I think hell just started to freeze.

  8. >>... Some of my past Battle entries have been reviled and ridiculed.

    Reviled and ridiculed? Who's done that?! Who's reviled and ridiculed some of your past Battle entries? You point them out to me and I'll kick their ass! ;-)

    Yeah, I knew about the origin of this song, but I believe I've heard a different version of it by Kurt Weill himself.

    Someone else once used a Marilyn Manson song in a 'BOTB' installment. I'm pretty sure it was Donna. I was very surprised to find I kind of liked it. I had pretty much dismissed his freaky self and figured I wouldn't like ANYTHING he (she?) recorded.

    In this case though, (s)he wasn't able to pull off that same surprise on me. It was pretty bad and (s)he's hard to watch (although I never let the visuals affect my votes).

    Gotta vote for the Kurt Weill/Lotte Lenya original on this one.

    "Jenny Diver, yeah, yeah, Sukey Tawdry
    Hello, Miss Lotte Lenya;
    good evening, Lucy Brown

    Sing it, Bobby, sing it!

    'Loyal American Underground'

  9. Lee-

    I forget if you ever responded to my comment the last time you mentioned the Lost In The Stars tribute album-didja guess why I own that one? Take a look at the contributing artists...

    I, too, learned of this song through the Doors.

    Of these two versions, I am surprised to say I am voting for Marilyn Manson.

    Here's a link to another version:


  10. (Sheboyganboy VI, here)

    HA HA HA!

    You must really be pleased with your bad self over this one! You make them darned interesting, that's for sure. I can guarantee you that you are right, most of your readers are grabbing for their airsick bags as you read this. But you cut everyone off at the pass by predicting revulsion and criticism, thus preventing them from voicing it (from most "commentors," at least.)

    I love this BOTB!

    I hate the song, but I love the contest. Who does the song is less an issue for me than the fact that I just don't care to hear ANYONE sing it.

    Of these two, I will go Lotte, since I AM a huge opera fan, although MM does a creditable job with the material.


  11. This is a profundly weird song, regardless of who does it.

    I went into this thinking I would love Lotte Lenya's version and hate Marilyn Manson's, but after listening to both, I like Marilyn's better, mostly because I could understand it. He's definitely a bit outre for my taste, but on this song, it works.

    John Holton
    The Sound Of One Hand Typing

  12. Robin-- Why you ask? Because I like the song. I like the music of Kurt Weill and the era from whence it stemmed. As I said in the post, the version by the Doors is one of my favorite songs off their first album and it's one of my favorite Doors songs period. I believe some musical minds need to be opened. There's a whole world of very different and interesting music out there. Listen a few more times--this is actually a pretty cool song I think.

    StMC-- You shouldn't watch the video to let it sway you. I like Birgit's analysis in an earlier comment. I think she makes a good point. Have you seen the film Cabaret?


  13. Larry -- Yes, I am aware of Todd's contribution on the Lost in the Stars tribute album. Ol' Todd's all over the place it seems.

    Sheboyganboy-- Hmmm. Well at least you appreciate opera. Are you saying you don't even like this song as done by The Doors? It's a pretty cool song I think. I can't endorse the sentiments of the lyrics, but one has to consider the original context of the song.

    John -- It is a rather different song which is probably why it appeals to me. It has that 20's cabaret sound and that's something I like about it.


  14. Lee-

    Todd did a few "off-the-wall" tribute albums back in the 80's/90's-besides Weill, he did one for Thelonius Monk and another that I'd have to go up an search my collection to recall.

    When you first mentioned this one, I was surprised anyone but me owned it.


  15. >>... StMC-- You shouldn't watch the video to let it sway you.

    Whatchootalkin' 'bout, LEE?
    Go back and re-read my comment. I plainly stated that I did NOT (and never do) let the video sway my vote.

    Yes, I've seen 'Cabaret', and I agree that it is closer to cabaret, really, than it is to opera.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  16. Usually I read the BOTB posts and listen to the music early in the morning on my phone and then come back later to vote (the phone won’t let me comment). Today was no different. After I read the intro to your blog post, I thought; gee, maybe I’ve been too hard on Lee with some of my BOTB comments, and I decided that no matter what you posted I would try to be nice and sincerely evaluate each selection. After I listened to the selection, I thought; gee, I think I’ll save this one for last and come back to it sometime maybe tomorrow to make a comment, but instead I find myself starting here. Call me crazy, but I just can’t seem to help myself.

    I admit I’ve read through the other comments and found some of them to be hilarious.

    Keeping with my first thoughts and effort, let me start by saying that before I listened to either of your choices I clicked on the link for The Doors version and listened to it, mainly because I was thinking ‘Alabama Song’, heck when did The Doors record something called ‘Alabama Song’? After the first few notes I did recollect the song and thought; yeah, I would vote for that one.

    THEN, I went on a listened to YOUR selections; So, here’s my effort to be nice. I’ll start by answering your questions first;

    Was this one of my most horrendous offerings or did you enjoy it? Are you familiar with the "Mahagonny" opera? Would you consider the Weill/Brecht work to be opera or something else?

    One of your most horrendous offerings? Hummm, let me think, I’m not sure, but I will tell you what was horrifying; Marilyn Manson singing; ‘oh, let me find your sweet little girl’, ‘oh, let me find your sweet little boy’. THAT was horrifying.

    Am I familiar with the ‘Mahagonny’ opera? No, but from this tune it sounds more like ‘the penny opera’ than what I consider to be ‘real’ opera.

    Do I consider Weill/Brecht to be opera or something else? Well, it certainly is ‘something else’ and if you are talking about something along the lines of ‘la ‘Boehme’ or la Traviata’, ‘Rigoletto’, Tosca’, ‘Carmen’ or even ‘Madame Butterfly’ - NOT EVEN CLOSE!

    I will tell you that I found Lotte Lenya’s falsetto to be entertaining and at several points the lyrics were hard to understand. I could easily imagine her singing something about Obama ‘mooning’ the country and THAT was funny.

    THEREFORE, give my vote to the high pitched lady with the sense of humor. Probably not exactly what you were going for here, but there you have it all the same.

  17. Larry-- There seemed to be a lot of tribute albums crop up in the 80's and it's been a trend ever since.

    StMC-- True, you did say that. The video did kind of sway me in a sense--not that this version is my favorite--I'll tell that later. But the presentation was so reminiscent of the decadent cabaret era in pre-WWII that I was persuaded to use this version. And it was so Halloween-like.


  18. Faraway -- I guess your reasoning works as well as anything. Since Mahagonny is considered opera by many and typically performed by opera companies it probably does fit in some category of opera. To me it's more like a musical, but that doesn't even exactly pinpoint it.

    AS far as the lyrical content of the song it is indeed lacking in a certain morality, but that's the point. In context of the "opera" that's what the story deals with--Mahagonny is a place beyond the morality that we consider to be civilized. Check out the story on Wiki or some such place so you can understand what they are talking about. It was in 20's Germany when this music came about and things were pretty wild I guess.

    As far as modern opera goes--which is what this would be--recent works are not like anything you mention or what we typically think of as opera. Music changes with times so I guess it is with opera.


  19. I was cringing when you mentioned the Doors. I despise the Doors (again, committing sacrilege, I know), and was relieved to find that neither contestant featured Jim Morrison's vocals.

    The opera version was entertaining and very listenable. Marilyn sounds like he found the whiskey bottle before he started singing.

    While not my style of opera (see ELO's Rockaria!), they get the vote.

  20. Great job on the ear pain this time. LOL

    The first version reminded me of drunk, homeless ghosts. The second version, if I closed my eyes, was a cheap cabaret. So, I guess ol' Marilyn barely finds my vote.

  21. Lee

    I just came back to say; I get the moral decline of the times in this - ahem, opera, but I'm still disturbed watching MM sing those lines. It's not the song itself, it's him. That guy is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard to me. It's everything about him. I suppose if I didn't watch the video, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but then - for me - just knowing it's him. Well, I think you know what I mean.

  22. CW-- I'm interpreting this as a vote for Lotte Lenya.

    Jennifer-- Glad to oblige, but was it really that bad?

    FAE-- Yes, MM is disturbing in many ways, but it's Halloween.


  23. I'll vote for the Lotte Lenya version. I like Marilyn Manson but I just wasn't feeling him here. Matt @ JC's Book Haven.

  24. Love, love, love Kurt Weill. I collect different versions of some of his songs—"Pirate Jenny" in particular. My vote goes to Lotte Lenya for being true to the era.

  25. Matt--Since I'm rather unfamiliar with Manson's work I have nothing to compare this performance to.

    Kelly-- I thought Manson's staging was kind of true to the era, but you're right about the performance.


  26. Dude, I totally enjoyed this. Please don't apologize for exposing your viewers to something unique and different.

    I'm a fan of rock opera, though I don't seek it out. I just enjoy it when I hear/see it. I'm sure I would have voted for The Doors had they been on the ballot.

    The Lotte version was lovely, if a bit on the ear-drum shattering note. That's opera, though, right? My vote is a no-brainer for Marilyn though. This suites his style, his voice, everything about this song seems written for him.

    Have a good weekend Lee.

  27. First, I about choked with laughter at Robin's comment.

    Second, while I don't like the first one, I can't possibly vote for Manson. He is pure evil. I vote neither.

  28. Interesting post! I vote for neither. I don't like to put myself out on a limb.

  29. I never heard any of these versions. What a sad and creepy song but like most others here I prefer the Doors version. Manson is just too creepy and that woman, oh my!

  30. I vote for Lotte Lenya, and I listened to both. Not a Manson fan, and didn't listen to all of them either way, probably half.

    Amazing finds, Lee!

  31. Arlee, I'd never heard of this song before. Although I didn't like either version, I'd like to say thank you for introducing me to something new.

  32. Dolorah-- I try to provide some musical education or enlightenment in my Battles. Thanks for recognizing that.

    L. Diane-- I guess evil is part of Manson's schtick.

    Donna -- I encourage everyone to go out on a limb in my crazy Battles.

    Doreen-- The Doors version was probably inspired by Lenya's version.

    DG -- I like this song a lot and listened to both of these versions several times.

    Susanne-- This won't be the last time that I'll be introducing readers to something they've not likely heard before.


  33. After viewing both choices, I am reminded of the upcoming Election Day. Once again, I will be voting for the lesser of two evils. My experience was similar to Robin's in that after I immediately turned off the LL version, I was able to listen to MM's version without the video. I guess this makes him the winner. Great choice for giving us a pre-Halloween scare! Oh, and I'm still laughing at Robin's comment! I think Robin and Stephen should do a Best Of BOTB Point/Counterpoint with you as the moderator, Lee!


  34. They both have merit (I was unfamiliar with the song). At first I would have voted for Lotte Lenya because the beginning voice was "better". But Marilyn's seems to be more consistant. On the Halloween version - I think Lotte's sounds better. But - I guess I vote for Marilyn overall.

  35. My vote Lotte Lenya, like the version better and a bit different than The Doors version of course they beat the doors by 30 some years.

  36. Julie --I guess I delivered on my Halloween Battle. A BOTB "Best of" might be interesting to consider.

    Sheila -- I'm glad you found merit in both versions. That is what I would hope everyone would do.

    Mike -- The lasting power of the song goes to show how much some musicians appreciate it.


  37. Okay, I'm way late to the party but I'm going to cast my vote anyway. As much as it pains me, I'm going to go with Marilyn Manson. That guy is just so freaky but the song goes so well with him! It's a perfect fit. It made me squeamish -- especially the part about "looking for the next little boy or girl", it just made me shudder and that's why I think MM is a good match for this one. Interesting song choice, Lee, that's for sure!

  38. Michele-- Your vote is too late to be included in the tally, but even so it would not have made it enough to put MM ahead of LL. Good reasoning though for voting for Manson--I thought the same thing, but I still preferred Lenya's take.



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.