Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine

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.

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6 Responses to Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine

  1. Roger Wise says:

    Oh my, is there any end to the list of drinking songs that have been recorded over the years? Lonnie Donegan, better known for his hit “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavour (On The Bedpost Overnight?)” had an earlier hit titled “Have A Drink On Me.” My best buddy and I used to sing it when we were kids back in the 50s. In the very first band I was ever in, the leader sang the Kingston Trio’s tune “Scotch And Soda” which was one of the tracks on an album we made back in the mid 60s. The bass player in that same group did Roger Miller’s “Chug-A-Lug. always an audience favorite. “One Mint Julep” was recorded by a number of artists including The Clovers, Ray Charles and Louis Prima. But we have to turn to the Country genre for the majority of drinking songs, Because my wife is country to the core, I became familiar with a good number of them including:
    There’s A Tear In My Beer – Hank Williams, Sr.
    Family Tradition – Hank Williams, Jr.
    I Like Beer – Tom T. Hall
    The More I Drink – Blake Shelton
    Misery And Gin – Merle Haggard, and of course…
    If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will).- George Jones .

    • Thanks, Roger. I always enjoy your comments! My audiences don’t care for country music, but some of the best drinking songs — with the most humorous titles — do show up in that genre 🙂 I remember when I was a kid we had a record of Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug” at home and listened to it often. And I forgot about “One Mint Julep,” a good R&B song that I’m going to add to my sheet music collection…

  2. Sharie Van Gilder says:

    Another enjoyable program. Thanx

  3. June ritchie says:

    How about I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy ,a good old country song

  4. Jessa says:

    Diana Krall also sings ‘A Case of You’ which is a nice piece. 🙂

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