A ukulele player's look at jazz and popular songs of the early 20th Century



One of the joys of learning the ukulele is discovering the wonderful songs of long ago--the beautiful melodies and lyrics that deserve to be remembered and revived. Thankfully, vintage sheet music abounds on the internet, and so I've had a great time tracking down lots of the old songs, transcribing them to chord/lyric sheets--in a good key for my voice--and then learning them on the uke. If you would like to receive my chord/lyric sheet for any of the songs featured here, email me and I will be happy to share them.


Have a listen to Van and Schenk, a popular Vaudeville duo:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)"

Although this well-known tune was written in the 1930s, to me it always feels much more recent, regardless of who I hear singing it. Perhaps that’s because it has been recorded by prominent vocalists ever since its debut in 1939 in the Gene Autry western, SOUTH OF THE BORDER.
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In 1953, Frank Sinatra gave it the swing treatment, with no apparent dismay over the loss of his Mexican love. (“The mission bells told me--ding dong--that I must not stay--stay south of the border, down Mexico way.”) On the other hand, Patsy Cline’s 1961 recording imbues it with all the drama it deserves, though she does do away with the autobiographical perspective by giving it the third-person treatment (“The mission bells told him that he mustn’t stay…”) Marty Robbins chose to omit the second verse entirely in his 1995 recording, and perhaps accidentally changed “wander” to “wonder”, rendering it a disappointment considering how perfectly the song suits him. A year later, Chris Isaak released an excellent understated recording, diminished only by his substitution of “and love had its day” in place of the quaint “and we were so gay”. I particularly like his addition of “goodbye, goodbye” after the “ay-yi-yi-yi’s” at the end--an embellishment I've adopted in my video below.
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Lyricist Jimmy Kennedy (1902-1983) was an Irish songwriter whose lengthy career produced some 2000 songs, of which over 200 became worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time classics. Among those are “My Prayer”, “Harbor Lights” and “Red Sails in the Sunset”. Composer Michael Carr (1905?-1968?) did not have as prominent a career, though he did produce a great quantity of songs, many of which were written for stage, screen or television.
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This song is well-suited to the use of the fan stroke, which adds additional Mexican flavor to the instrumentation. I play it in the key of A.

1 comment:

  1. Marty Robbins died in December 1982. I've heard his fine treatment of the song, but I don't know when he recorded it. I've only come across it on compilation albums.