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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: The Banjo Song (Oh! Susannah)

Battle of the Bands!!!!

       I may be on summer vacation but the Battle of the Bands goes on.   This is the blogging event first kicked off by our blogging friends at Far Away Series and Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends.  You'll want to visit their Battles after you finish with mine and check out the links listed at the bottom of this page.  You can even mount your own Battle--if you do then let us know in the comments so we can vote on yours.

         Here's how the Battle works:   Listen to the song clips in the blog post and then in the comment section vote on the one you like the best.   When you vote please tell us why you voted the way you did.  Long explanations are always welcomed.   After a week or so I'll tally the votes and announce them in an upcoming blog post.   Please do vote though so your favorite choice can be counted.

The Banjo Song

        In my previous Battle I presented versions of the song "Oh! Susannah" by Stephen Foster, one of America's greatest songwriters.   "Oh! Susannah" is one of the most recorded songs in the United States and one that most everybody has heard in one form or another.  Singer/songwriter Tim Rose wrote "The Banjo Song" based on the lyrics of Foster's song but there's little in common beyond that.  The Battle presented here pits two very different takes on "The Banjo Song" against each other.

The Big Three "The Banjo Song"  (1963)

          Get ready for some crazy connections with this song.   First of all if the female singer looks a bit familiar it's because it's "Mama" Cass Elliot before she was a "Mama" in the Mamas and the Papas.  "The Banjo Song" is actually Tim Rose's composition using the lyrics of Foster's original "Oh! Susannah", but the two songs are very dissimilar.   However there is a "shocking" similarity between Rose's song and a much bigger hit that came along later.   Listening to "The Banjo Song" you will undoubtedly think of the song "Venus" first recorded by Shocking Blue and later in 1986 by Bananarama.   Dutch songwriter Robbie van Leeuwen was inspired by "The Banjo Song" but Tim Rose never pursued a plagiarism suit.   Maybe it was different enough for Rose or perhaps he was flattered by the imitation.   Listen to "The Banjo Song"--isn't "Venus" essentially the same song with new lyrics and a more rocking instrumental arrangement?  No matter what, they're both pretty decent songs.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse   "Oh Susannah" (2012)

        On the liner notes of Neil Young's Americana album this song is listed as "Oh Susanna" but really it's Tim Rose's "The Banjo Song".    Maybe they figured "Oh Susannah" was more marketable, it being one of the all-time American hit songs.   Young & his band really rock this one out giving a passing salute to Stephen Foster's classic.  By the way, the depression era footage depicted in the video is pretty strange if you want to check it out.  

Time to Vote!

         You probably have a strong preference between these two.    Even if you don't like the song at all, there must be one version you'd rather listen to over the other.  Which one is it?   Tell us now and tell us why.   Whatever you do, please vote on one of them.

After You Vote Here Check Out These Battles

 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

        Do you think any of the songwriters mentioned in this post "stole" from the other or would you call it something else?   Do you think Tim Rose would have had a justifiable legal case concerning the song "Venus"?    


  1. Yes, you made it challenging since I don't like the song and I really don't like Neil Young. However, the first one was worse than nails on a chalk board, so I'll have to go with the lesser of two evils and pick Young's version.

  2. Yep -- that first version definitely sounds like "Venus!" But other than the sweet Mama Cass harmonies, there's really not much that grabs me about it.

    Also, thanks for the back-story on this. song. Very interesting to learn. I'd just assumed Neil had taken some of his own liberties with "Oh Susanna" to give it the Crazy Horse touch.

    I've always been a Neil Young fan -- especially the harder Crazy Horse stuff. Even going back to Buffalo Springfield, I've liked Neil -- I thought CSN were great, but even better with the Y because of the edge it gave them. But Neil with Crazy Horse was the best. When I was first learning guitar, many, many hours were spent doing long jams to "Down By the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand".

    And you gotta respect the man's longevity and commitment to following his own path. I saw Neil and Crazy Horse in Chicago just over a year ago, and they were STILL rockin' like mad. It was an awesome concert.

    Heck, I even tried to use Neil's version as a write-in for the LAST BOTB. lol! So no surprise that I think it definitely wins by a gazillion miles here.

  3. Hi, Arlee. I really didn't care for either version. If I have to choose one, I'll pick the second one.

  4. Never been a big fan of Neil Young...even when he was in Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but this was still a tough one.

    On one hand, the first sounds way too much like "Venus" for me to take seriously (having never heard either version of the song before), but Neil Young's voice is the worst.

    I'm going to go with the Young version, though, only for the rockin' instrumentals.

  5. i really didn't enjoy either of these, but guess since I have choose I'll go with Young's.

  6. I was not familiar with the first version, but thought it would probably be good considering Cass Elliott and her amazing abilities especially at harmonies. BUT, it was kind of irritation. I really hated them spelling out B-A-N-J-0.

    Neil and Crazy horse make it interesting. I'm probably not the biggest Neil Young fan around, but I DO like a lot of his stuff.

    Give my vote to Neil and Crazy Horse. Like Neil says himself, it sounds really funky, it gets into a good groove.

    Now, I want to comment on the Neal Young Video. Don't get the idea it swayed my vote, BUT Holy Carp! That 'Grapes of Wrath' type rendition of a family get together reminded me of my Great-Uncle Bill. The banjo player looks exactly like him and he lived exactly like what's depicted into this video, but late into the twentieth century like the 1970's. What a trip down memory lane. It's almost scary.

  7. Alex-- A lot of music like this song was around in the early 60's--a sound of an era.

    Chris -- Good for you for being a Neil Young fan. I'm a big fan too--long time.

    Susanne-- I guess you didn't grow up during that hootenanny era.

    Mark-- Crazy Horse does rock.

    C.Lee -- This song is not getting much love.

    FAE-- That video is something else for sure. You sure that isn't your great uncle Bill? The kid smoking the cigarette really struck me.


    1. I had to go back and re-read my comment. I DID say my great uncle, my maternal grandmothers brother, my mothers uncle, actually.

  8. Six, here.

    Like many others, I am not a fan of this song. However, I enjoyed learning the background and history of the song. Of the two versions here, Young makes it palatable. The Big Three (Big One and Medium Two?) version is ghastly.

    I'd vote for Bananarama if you'd posted that song along with these two!

  9. This was tough.

    While I am a Neil Young fan, on the Americana album, his voice sounded more like the sound a cat makes when you step on its tail than it has in his entire career.

    But the version has a kick that makes it more palatable to me, although the song is not one of my favorites.

  10. Well I had to go searching for the Neil Young because "an error has occurred. I kinda liked the Big Three version- yes, definitely identical to Venus. I like that Neil was able to cover it without sounding anything like Venus. Hey, it's Neil, why would you ask? (AKA my vote is for Neil, sir)

  11. Six-- But then the Bananarama version would have to go up against Shocking Blue.

    Larry -- Maybe the album needs to grow on you. I liked it all the first time I heard it.

    CW-- I liked the Big Three version just fine, but that was more from my era of music.


  12. Don't worry, ARLEE BOID, you do NOT have a dreaded "shutout" on your hands here. (That would be worse than "blood on your hands".)


    There's no question that 'VENUS' plagiarized 'THE BANJO SONG' (very interesting info regarding this). I've always liked 'Venus' and even have it on a compilation CD I own, but I had no idea that the melody line had been stolen from this song I never even heard of before today.

    When I was a teenager and into my early 20s, I WAS a Neil Young fan and I owned a number of his albums - maybe 5 or 6. But Neil was not one of the musicians I still cared for when my tastes changed and I moved first into Blues and then into Jazz.

    As you already know, I still LOVE 'Sugar Mountain'. I also still like his 'Hey, Hey, My, My' and 'My, My, Hey, Hey'. And 'Cinnamon Girl' is OK - I don't mind hearing it once every 3 or 4 years.

    But mostly I think Neil Young was a very, very poor man's version of Bob Dylan. His songwriting (lyrics) aren't even in the same league with Dylan's, let alone able to top them. His guitar playing is a bit more interesting than Dylan's, yet pretty noisy and irritating at times. His harmonica work is no better than Dylan's (neither one was particularly good on harmonica), and his vocal quality is - amazingly enough - even WORSE than Dylan's. Those are my opinions based on my ears, which have NEVER once lied to me.

    I know you're a big Neil Young fan, Lee, but that's one thing we just can't agree on. (But we do agree on plenty of OTHER things, which more than makes up for it.)

    I did, however, think the video for the Neil Young version was absolutely FASCINATING!

    It reminded me of a large, hardcover book of Dust Bowl / Depression era black and white photographs I used to own.

    I'd seen this in a book store in the mid or late 1970s and I put it on a Christmas Wish List. My maternal Grandma got it for me and I LOVED IT! But I moved so often over a short period of years that I got tired of lugging all my books with me and got rid of a lot of 'em, and that was one I eventually discarded, and later came to regret it big time!

    I wish I could remember the book's title or the name of the photographer, because I would acquire another copy of that book today in half-a-heartbeat if I could. (A couple times I have done some Google searches but have thus far been unable to find that same book again.)

    Anyway, put me down for a vote for THE BIG ONE AND HER TWO MALE FRIENDS.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  13. StMc-- I won't even bother going into the Neil Young debate any further--back to that strange question of preferences.

    But I will note your vote for the Big Three. This BOTB feature is becoming very educational. I'd never heard of this song until I noted the difference between Young's recording and other versions of "Oh, Susanna" and my research dug up the true story as told here. BOTB is getting better as we go.


  14. Hmmm...This song is definitely not my cup of tea. I'd never heard either version before, and shockingly I'm going to cast my vote for Neil Young's version. I have never cared for his music, with the exception of certain CSNY songs. I just preferred the instrumentals in his version over the Big 3, even though they did have Cass Elliiot in their favor. I liked reading the background story though. Strangely enough I never liked Bananarama's "Venus" either. BOTB is always interesting!

  15. I'm not familiar with 'Venus' -
    I did not care for the first one .. too tinny. Even though Mama Cass was in it. I liked Neil Young's one - more depth, and I enjoyed the video.

  16. Oh my goodness is it just like Venus! He definitely had a case there! This is difficult for me as do I go with the one I would enjoy listening to again (the first version) or the second because Neil Young was able to put the 2 sounds together which is not an easy feat. I know the original Oh Suzanna very well and I know the Venus song and didn't realize the original was with these 3. So do I go with Neil Young who shows his brilliance in putting the 2 musical rhythms together or the one I like to listen to more(the 1st). OK This is not like choosing what is better but what I like more so I choose the first one. I think the 2nd one is better as a piece of music composed and put together but I like the 1st one. Man do I have to get off the fence post!

  17. Forty -- I felt like Bananarama just remade the same "Venus" version as the original so I never paid much attention to it.

    Susan-- That video is something else.

    Birgit-- You kept me in suspense with your reasoning, but I do get how you arrived at the final outcome. The contest is getting more interesting.


  18. I expected to like the first one better. I think Mama Cass had a great voice. Really super. And if she had actually sang more of this song, it would have gained traction with me. Alas, no. (But I did hear Venus in it...:D)

    So, count me among the majority voting for Neil Young. Unlike so many others who have commented here, I don't hate his voice. I wouldn't say that this is an example of his best vocals, but they didn't bother me at all.

    The one thing that annoyed me about both versions was the spelling of the world BANJO instead of just saying it. Had Neil Young done that, I might have moved his version up to one I really liked versus just liked better than the other one.

  19. I can hear "Venus" in it, but in music lots of things get nicked, borrowed, or stolen. My vote on this is Neil Young's version. I decided to do my own Battle here:

  20. Wow! First I had to laugh at Alex Cavanaugh's assessment of the songs. I actually had to listen to the songs twice to figure out which one I liked better because I enjoyed them both. But Neil Young killed it, in my opinion. Loved it. He gets my vote. Also loved Mama Cass's rich voice on the first version. And yes, shocking how close it sounds to Venus!

  21. Robin --Funny about your annoyance with the spelling out of BANJO. This little musical gimmick has been used pervasively over the years.

    Mike--- Welcome to the party. You waged a good contest at your site.


  22. Kim--- "Venus" and "The Banjo Song" are so similar in so many ways. I prefer the lyrics in "Venus" better and also the presentation by Shocking Blue.


  23. This is odd. I didn't really like either version but the first grew on me a little as I listened to it and the second became more irritating the longer I listened. So I guess I'll vote for The Big Three.

  24. Surprisingly, I liked The Big Three more. A little bit of Mama Cass goes a long way. The footage in Neil Young's version was awfully creepy.


  25. You certainly picked a difficult one.

    The Neil Young version is only slightly more tolerable. I didn't enjoy either one.


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.