Neil Young's new release ""World Record" w/ Crazy Horse is now available for pre-order. Order here
(Please shop locally & independently. But if you can't, we appreciate your supporting Thrasher's Wheat by clicking this link or YOUR COUNTRY's FLAG. Thank you!!!)
<-Older Posts Blog Home Newer Posts->

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Oh! Susanna": The Story Behind The Song Continues


Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

One of the bigger surprises from Bridge 2011 weekend was the pairing of Dave Matthews & Neil Young on "Oh! Susanna". For many, this was a concert highlight. Above is the video for The Big 3's "The Banjo Song (Oh Suzanna!)" from 1963. As we mentioned recently, with all of the anticipation for the upcoming album Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, there's been a lot of focus on the song "Oh! Susannah".

Yesterday, we posted the campy Bananarama cover of "Venus" which is a cult classic YouTube video by Shocking Blue which is based off of the Americana tune "Oh! Susannah" and its riffs. "Venus" was written by Robbie van Leeuwen and originally recorded by Shocking Blue for their 1969 album, "At Home".

And just as we were reminded about The Byrds version of "Oh Susanna" and James Taylor with Johnny Cash's version of "Oh Susanna" along comes another "Oh Susanna" version. And as the legacy and history of "Oh! Susanna" continues to flap around on The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Americana", here's a comment by Matt & Jes Wedding:

First off, no one is snickering at Neil. Nor are they snickering at James Taylor because he didn't give a 15 minute lecture on "the history of the song Oh! Suzanna" before he played it live. Song meanings change over time. The original intent and malice that the song was written with and for is no longer present in the current incarnation of the song in our collective "Americana." Is it interesting to see where the song originally came from and how it has changed over time? Yes. But if this song has become "illegal" to reproduce in your mind because an old version of the song (which is not what Neil is playing) was racist, then there are a whole lot of other things that should be "illegal" as well. As I stated, song meanings change over time. This one has had 150 years to churn away in the collective American psyche, and in the mid-60s was reborn as a different song with a different know, the version that EVERYONE knows. Not the original version that NO ONE knows. In a much more recent example of song meanings and change over time, think about Eddie Vedder and the song "Alive." Here is Ed recounting how the song has changed during VH1 storytellers, from Ed retells the story of “Alive” saying “it’s a song about someone I know very well (laughs) … Ok, it’s about me” and goes on to say how the chorus is sung by fans with exuberance and it has trancended from being a song about a curse, to being an uplifting song. He concludes with “you changed the meaning of the song, you lifted the curse” And it only took 15 years to completely reverse and change the meaning of the entire song. Different circumstances, sure, but same idea. So snicker away if that helps you. I just don't see the point in living life stuck in 1830.
More on "Oh! Susanna": The Story Behind The Song

Set for a June 5th release, you can now pre-Order "Americana" on (Thanks! You'll be helping to support us.)

Labels: ,


At 4/29/2012 08:47:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

I like Matt and Jess Weddings' comment. Of course it's entirely up to the artist which songs he will or will not perform, and while I can understand and to a degree sympathize with the desire not to play "Oh Susanna" in a general context, it also well established as part of part of the musical fabric of Americana, which is what it seems Neil wishes to present with this new album. 'Oh Susanna' has a valid and noteworthy place in our musical history, and although it is a product of its times, like many folk songs, its racist origins--although they should not be forgotten--are not why it stays with us today.

True to the folk process, it has evolved beyond and arguably transcended for many its original role as a piece of the crude and unbecoming minstrelsy tradition. Its lyrics have changed over time, eliminating the original bigoted language and distasteful racist lyrics (and in Neil's new version, even, apparently the original tune). From the version I first heard as a kid, which is still published in most folk music collections I've seen, one would probably never associate the song with racism if one did not know of its origins. I simply don't think that's what it means to most people anymore. If anyone cares, I can post a link to webpage posting the original and revised lyrics side by side. In Stephen Foster's 1847 original, the lyrics are full of the same irritating "colloquialisms" used by white songwriters in other folk songs to present demeaning caricatures of black people, along with a verse depicting gross violence upon black people, which was since been thankfully excised.

The original song was certainly a product of its times, as Stephen Foster (who also wrote many far better songs in my opinion) was a man of his times. But for most people, it has far transcended that meaning since then, and certainly has an important place when it comes to an overview of American folk music. Although I've yet to hear the album, I tend to think Neil is including it on this album to present a more complete panorama of American folk music and Americana, and it remains to be seen just how conceptual his use of the song may be.

At 5/01/2012 11:51:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...


It's also noteworthy that Stephen Foster himself turned away from writing the minstrel songs he began his career with, and may have even tried to make up for it by writing one or two songs later on in his career that project a more favorable image of black folk, at least within the context of his time.

Nellie was a Lady apparently describes a black woman in a way that, according to a friend of mine who studied Foster for some time, appears to attempt to compensate, or in a way apologize, for the minstrel songs he wrote, which he may have come to view in an unfavorable light as he grew older.

I don't know how relevant it is to the nature of the song itself that the author may have come to see the great wrong in it over time, much how we as a society have also changed our own perspective on it as well.

Re-imagining the song in the 60's and stripping it of its racism as an attempt to mold it to reflect more modern values is one way we challenge the fearful ignorance of past attitudes, and I believe that, if what I said about Stephen Foster is correct, he likely would approve.

At 5/02/2012 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Arthur said...

It's not too surprising to me that no one has mentioned that the woman in "The Big Three" is Mama Cass Elliot.
After all, she did introduce the "Fab Three" to each other, which later became the "American Fab Four".

It's my bet that Stephen Foster heard this song from some black musician, morphed it into his own, and through the ages up to and beyond "The Big Three" version, is what a lot of musicians do. They nick riffs from others and turn it into their own "version".
The Beatles did it and so does Neil. In fact, Neil does it to himself. I remember back in'92, Neil started the song "You and Me" and some dude in the audience was blown away it wasn't "Old Man". Hey, it's all one song.

At 5/08/2012 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Arthur - Very good points. Interesting thing about Mama Cass too. I hadn't thought of the angle of the song being stolen from a black musician.

Very true about the "borrowed tune" aspect of music. It just came to light for me that Led Zeppelin made a living at it without even acknowledging the contributions of the original authors whose tunes they reworked into their own "originals".


Post a Comment

<< Home

<-Older Posts Blog Home Newer Posts->

Willie for a Nobel!

Willie Nelson for Nobel Peace Prize
for Farm Aid and his work on
alternative fuels, and world peace initiatives.

Farm Aid

Go Farmers Markets!

"In the >field< of opportunity
It's plowin' time again."

Silverline Communications

(Home of the FarmAidians)
Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada
(519) 737-7979

This blog supports free speech!

Demand justice for Aaron:
Support "Aaron's Law" and inquiry into his prosecution

(... he didn't kill himself either...) #AaronDidntKillHimself

Induct Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Please Help Support Independent Media &
Non-Corporate Advertising
This Blog's For You!

The Hypocrisy of the Mainstream Media

It's Been Called The
"Missing Link" in the Ditch Trilogy


Sign the Release "Time Fades Away" Petition
Join The 10,000+ Who Have Already Signed


Neil Young Appreciation Society

Sugar Mountain

Neil Young Setlists
Rust Radio


Bands Covering Neil Young songs


Official Neil Young News Site

The Bridge School

The Bridge School Concerts
25th Anniversary Edition

**100% of Proceeds to Benefit Bridge School***

The Essential Neil Young

Fans Favorite Neil Albums

Top 50 MP3
Neil Young Song Downloads

Top 10 Best Selling Neil Albums Today
Support Thrasher's Wheat
via Purchases from:
United States - us.gif
Canada - canada.gif
United Kingdom - gb.gif
Germany - de.gif

Neil Young Songbook Project

In the fields of wheat

"Children of Destiny" will NOT be harvested
However, the chaff will be burned by unquenchable fire

Neil Young + Promise of the Real

Europe 2016 Tour Dates

2015 Rebel Content Tour

Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Alchemy Concert Tour Reviews

Fall 2012 N. America Tour
Spring 2013 Australia/New Zealand Tour
Summer 2013 Europe Tour

Europe Summer 2014 Concert Tour
Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Thrasher's Wheat Radio Supporters Go To Europe

Neil Young Films

2010 MusiCares Honors Neil Young

Features Elvis Costello, Crosby Stills & Nash, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, Ben Harper, Elton John, Norah Jones, Lady Antebellum, Dave Matthews, James Taylor, Keith Urban, and others.
Proceeds from sales go to MusiCares,
which helps musicians in need of
financial and medical assistance.


"There's more to the picture
Than meets the eye"



Neil Young FAQ:
Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker
"an indispensable reference"

Paul McCartney and Neil Young


"You can make a difference
If you really a try"

John Lennon and Neil Young

"hailed by fans as a wonderful read"

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:
The Supergroup of the 20th Century

Director Jonathan Demme's Exquisite film "Heart of Gold"

eddie & neil
Eddie Vedder and Neil Young

Revisiting The Significance of
The Buffalo Springfield

"The revolution will not be televised"
... it will be blogged, streamed,
tweeted, shared and liked
The Embarrassment of Mainstream Media

Turn Off Your TV & Have A Life

"Everything Is Bullshit" +
"Turn Off The News"
Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)

Neil Young 2016 Year in Review:
The Year of The Wheat

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain and Neil Young

Neil Young's Feedback:
An Acquired Taste?

Young Neil: The Sugar Mountain Years
by Rustie Sharry "Keepin' Jive Alive in T.O." Wilson

"the definitive source of Neil Young's formative childhood years in Canada"

neil & joni
Joni Mitchell & Neil Young

europe 1987.jpg

Bob and Neil

So Who Really Was "The Godfather of Grunge"?

Four Dead in Ohio
kent state
So What Really Happened at Kent State?

The Four Dead in Ohio

May The FOUR Be With You #MayThe4thBeWithYou


dissent is not treason
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism

Rockin' In The Free World

Sing Truth to Power!
When Neil Young Speaks Truth To Power,
The World Listens

Emmylou Harris and Neil Young

Wilco and Neil Young


Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young


Elton John and Neil Young

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young


The Meaning of "Sweet Home Alabama" Lyrics

Neil Young Nation -
"The definitive Neil Young fan book"

What does the song mean?

Random Neil Young Link of the Moment

Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young

I'm Proud to Be A Union Man


When Neil Young is Playing,
You Shut the Fuck Up

Class War:
They Started It and We'll Finish It...

A battle raged on the open page...
No Fear, No Surrender. Courage

"What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees?"
Full Disclousre Now

"I've Got The Revolution Blues"

Willie Nelson & Neil Young
Willie Nelson for Nobel Peace Prize

John Mellencamp:
Why Willie Deserves a Nobel



Love and Only Love

"Thinking about what a friend had said,
I was hoping it was a lie"

We're All On
A Journey Through the Past

Neil Young's Moon Songs
Tell Us The F'n TRUTH
(we can handle it... try us)

Does Anything Else Really Matter?

"Nobody's free until everybody's free."
~~ Fannie Lou Hamer

Here Comes "The Big Shift"

Maybe everything you think you know is wrong? NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS
"It's all illusion anyway."

Propaganda = Mind Control
Guess what?
"Symbols Rule the World, not Words or Laws."
... and symbolism will be their downfall...

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge
Be The Rain, Be The Change

the truth will set you free
This Machine Kills Fascists

"Children of Destiny" - THE Part of THE Solution

(Frame from Official Music Video)

war is not the answer
yet we are
Still Living With War

"greed is NOT good"
Hey Big Brother!
Stop Spying On Us!
Civic Duty Is Not Terrorism

The Achilles Heel
Orwell (and Grandpa) Was Right
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”
~~ Bob Marley

The Essence of "The Doubters"

Yes, There's Definitely A Hole in The Sky

Even Though The Music Died 50+ Years Ago
Open Up the "Tired Eyes" & Wake up!
"consciousness is near"
What's So Funny About
Peace, Love, & Understanding & Music?


Show Me A Sign

"Who is John Galt?"
To ask the question is to know the answer

"Whosoever shall give up his liberty for a temporary security
deserves neither liberty nor safety."

~~ Benjamin Franklin


(Between the lines of age)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

~~ John & Paul

the zen of neil
the power of rust
the karma of the wheat