The residents were abuzz with talk of the social hour to take place in their assisted-living complex later that day. “I heard there’s going to be alcohol,” Frieda announced, confident that a glass of wine would improve her Friday afternoon considerably. I know the feeling.
And how about a little music to go along with the drinking? “Beer Barrel Polka,” “There Is a Tavern in the Town,” “Rum and Coca-Cola,” or “Tequila” could get the senior party started. For something a little classier, I’ve always liked “The Night They Invented Champagne” from the 1958 musical Gigi.
My grandfather used to sing “Little Brown Jug” when he bounced my brother or sister or me on his knee. It had just the right beat. In fact, Glenn Miller turned the song into a dance hit during the swing era. It never dawned on me as a child that “Little Brown Jug” is a drinking song:
My wife and I live all alone
In a little log hut we call our own.
She loves gin and I love rum
I tell you we have lots of fun…
Floyd, a near-centenarian, always requests “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” which he and his fellow soldiers sang when they served in the South Pacific during WWII as part of a U.S. Army bomb disposal team. As he explains, “We sang it because we wanted to get the hell out of there and go home.”
Floyd also asks for “How Dry I Am,” from the Prohibition era:
How dry I am, how dry I am
It’s plain to see just why I am
No alcohol in my highball
And that is why so dry I am…
“You Go to My Head,” an elegant 1938 collaboration between Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots, took two years to find a publisher. That’s because the lyrics likened romance to the heady effects of champagne, Burgundy, and julep—at a time when radio banned references to alcoholic beverages. Eventually, though, “You Go to My Head” became a jazz standard. Here Diana Krall does the honors. There’s a glitch at the beginning, when she starts off singing a section from the end of the song by mistake, but after a brief word with her confused bassist, they’re back on track:
For W.C. Fields, alcohol trumped other beverages, and he took liberties with lyrics that claimed otherwise. Here’s a story I found on my sheet music for “Java Jive,” a 1940 swing tune:
When Milton Drake was writing lyrics for a movie that starred Mae West and W.C. Fields, the latter would often offer the former a drink, which she’d decline with “I love coffee, I love tea.” Later, at a party, Miss West asked Drake and composer Ben Oakland to write a song starting with her phrase. In an hour they completed “Java Jive,” then sent a copy to Fields, who immediately substituted his own lyrics, “I love whiskey, I love gin. I’m pretty healthy for the state I’m in.”
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.