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Oh Susannah

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Last year Neil Young released two albums Americana and Psychadelic Pill, both with Crazy Horse. This song – Oh Susannah – opens the Americana album.

American - Oh Susannah

It was written by Stephen Fosterhis first success. First published in 1848 it is one of the best known of all American songs … and not only in America, I certainly recall singing it in either infants or primary school. In fact, besides Oh Susannah, there are 4 other songs on Amercana that would almost certainly have been known by pre-teens in 20th century Australia – Clementine, Tom Dula (Tom Dooley), Jesus’s Chariot (She’ll Be Coming ’round The Mountain), and God Save The Queen.

Over the years the song has changed considerably. The original lyric and the way it was performed (black-faced minstrels) showed the embedded racism in American culture at that time. The song’s evolution has rendered it quite benign and most of its earlier meaning lost and forgotten.

In the early sixties, Tim Rose wrote a new arrangement of Oh Susannah. It was released in 1963 as The Banjo Song by The Big 3. The three member of The Big 3 were Tim Rose, Jim Hendricks, and Mama Cass Elliot.

Here is The Banjo Song by The Big 3:

In 1969 The Banjo Song reemerged as a new song with new lyrics composed by Robbie van Leeuwin. Robbie was the guitarist for Dutch band Shocking Blue – the song was Venus. It was a hit in 1969 and in 1986 it again went to the top of the charts for Bananarama.

This Tim Rose arrangement has been used by Neil Young here, he has reverted back to the lyric known universally.

(It was Tim Rose’s arrangement of Hey Joe that Jimi Hendrix used and was the trigger for his meteoric rise.)

What connects Oh Susannah to Days Of 49?

The gold rush!

Soon after Oh Susannah’s debut in Pittsburgh, the song swept through the United States and became a favourite of the forty-niners – the thousands who made their way to California seeking their fortune.

As well, one of Neil Young’s earlier albums was After The Goldrush.


Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.

* Explore Oh Susanna at Shmoop, an excellent educational website. This exploration examines all aspects of the song, its history and context.

* Arthur Fields’ 1925 recording containing the original lyrics.

* Bridge School Benefit Concert 2011Neil Young, Dave Matthews, & Tim Reynolds perform an acoustic version of Oh Susannah at this annual benefit started by Young & his wife Pegi.

* The transformation: The Banjo Song to Venus to Oh Susannah … The Big 3, Shocking Blue, Bananarama, a German reality TV group, Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

And the next road takes us to?

North:  Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
East:     Old Dan Tucker by Bruce Springsteen
South:  Days of 49 – they’ve passed us by.
West:   Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix Eexperience

Crossroad 14