As rock band influences go. A German music hall star singing a song with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill might seem like a moon shot. The Moon Of Alabama (or Alabama Song, Whiskey Bar) became an anthem for hard drinking rock and rollers after The Doors featured it on their sensational debut album. So if we’re finishing Doors week with an anthem that’s a bit creepy, very influential and rather sozzled… well, then early doors Bond Villain Lotte Lenya is our gal.
Originally the lyrics were in German. Elisabeth Hauptmann was the Brecht collaborator who did the translating into English for the original song to be repurposed. First time out it was composed for a play called Little Mahogany in 1927. The translation came in handy for the big budget sequel slash remake The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahogany in 1930. Very much the Fast And Furious series of it’s time the naming of other Mahogany franchise entries include 2 Little 2 Mahogany, Mahogany 3: Tokyo Drift and The Little, The Mahogany: The Revenge Of The Woodworm (Honestly why do I write this drivel?)
When The Doors do it you can really hear their various influences. These guys did not come into being as a band of rock musicians. They have jazz, swing, theater and performance art coursing through their knowledge, their early influences, their music lessons and their record collections. They were at the vanguard of the era. They were forefathers helping build rock and roll. So it makes sense they didn’t just grow up listening to all the same stuff as the rest of us. It wasn’t there to listen to yet.
Alabama Song has been covered by the high priest of rock and weird Zavid Bowie too. The Thin White Duke’s version is of course a Lotte Lenya cover not a Doors tribute. It’s as urgent and unsettling and yet seductive as when the Fraulein does it. From Berlin with Love. It swings about unevenly and changes direction just like a night on the tiles where the ‘next’, the hunger for ‘more’ and the immediacy of a compromised mind can swerve into the morose or the panic induced before swinging back the other way. The Doors, I have to say sound more assured in their take. This is a drinking song and no mistake. Bourbon not Absinthe.
Listen to all 3 versions below. Contrast, compare, be coerced, seduced and repulsed in equal measure. Just don’t do it at work or your boss will wonder why you’ve taken on a stagger to your steps.
So there you have it. The Doors Week. A band who register in that 60’s wave of archetypes. Those who guard the gates of this stuff would have you believe the pecking order goes something like The Beatles and The Stones then everybody else. I’d put The Who and Zeppelin in there right near the top. Sabbath are only vital if you value the heavy (and believe it or not my brethren, there are many who do not). Hendrix scares the straights even now. So they’ve occupied a space right near the top holding ajar (forgive the heavy lifting this pun must do) an entrance into the world of subculture that few other bands own as fully as The Doors of Venice.
The Doors for my money are a gateway band. They can seduce with Light My Fire and Love Street. Make people think they’re all hippy dippy flower power cliches. Then they draw the kids in like a Child Catcher offering sweets and lollipops (All free today) with Riders On The Storm and Break On Through. Once that cage door catch is locked on though, the lights change to reveal the weirdo’s weirdos. Strange Days have found us. Not To Touch The Earth, The End, My Wild Love, Texas Radio And The Big Beat. It’s like the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah in here, or Warhol’s Factory at least.
And of course yes, there is Alabama Song. A young kid who just wanted to dance with the hippies is suddenly listening to a 50 year old cover of an almost 100 year old German drunk woman staggering from one mood to another with grease paint make up and a trench coat on. And even though they’re a little scared, they like it.
That’s how they get ya.