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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Karen Help: The Unfortunate Rake (116* d) RE: Help: The Unfortunate Rake 01 Jul 18


Your point about the gender anomaly is similar to one made by A L Lloyd. Lloyd believes it arose because early songs had either one gender or the other. My explanation is based on the idea that the disease the girl died of is contagious. If she died of it, then so will he (Kevin also sees this). I also suspect that the recorded versions were cleaned up versions of live versions, which may have been more explicit. I also believe that the 'lock hospital' versions do have two deaths in, since these are late 19th century (or so the Bodleian seems to believe) and this was the era of Victorian Lock Hospital Building, institutions where women (not men) were detained compulsorily if believed to be prostitutes. When the character 'passes by' the lock hospital, it is 'code' for 'my partner has been detained under the Acts, she must have the disease, oh dear, I will have it too'. There is no hospital in the earliest known version, Buck's Lament. Hospitals appeared in the song, it seems to me, just when they were appearing in England and Ireland. Just my idea; I've no problems with people not accepting it.

I agree that where the floating searching the world over verse is concerned, there are versions incorporating it that 'make more sense' on paper. I agree about the interpretation in the Fess Williams. If you listen to Armstrong's 'asides' in his 2nd, slower version, he is aware of the issue here. He says 'bragging' at one point and giggles. If you look at the Cab Calloway version as well, then the idea that some performers of this eventually decided he was a 'pimp', and not a very nice character, to deal with what they themselves felt to be a potential issue, or maybe because that was how they had understood it all the time, makes sense. Calloway is not singing this as 'himself' but as a character.

Kevin: I don't think anybody is claiming that Porter Grainger invented this song from scratch (though he may well have composed the tune, and arrangement from scratch). I'm not. I'm just dead certain that Blind Willie McTell's version derives from one of the Porter Grainger ones and not the other way around. I am happy that he knew of the tradition and made use of it in a song contextualised for the prohibitionist roaring twenties, with its speakeasies and gangsters.

For me, musically and in terms of the specific lyrics, Grainger's work has all the hallmarks of a Tin Pan Alley piece. It has more than one 'strain', the melody line doesn't sound at all folky, you get diminished chords in it etc. And it has the bluesy inflection that was all the rage at the time. Whereas St James' Infirmary seems to have been more of a dance tune initially. Fox Trot.

I am quite happy that jazzy versions were in circulation in the early 20s and possibly a bit before. This is clear from Harwood's book. I am not sure off the top of my head whether he copyrighted it as an arrangement of a traditional song (which was permissible, hence somebody copyrighted the version of 12 days of Xmas), or as entirely original. If Harwood is right, Joe Primrose copyrighted 'St James Infirmary' as an original title, which is a bit of a cheek. But nobody could find any documentary evidence that the precise words 'St James Infirmary' had been used before. So Primrose & co won the battle, which was, Harwood says, more like a trademark battle.

Another musician/arranger who doesn't get credit is Don Redman, about whom Harwood's blog will provide you with more information.

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