I've been featuring this song throughout the month on my show, and while I haven't posted every single version that I've played on the air, most of the better ones are here. Nothing beats the James Brown version from his 1970 LP Soul on Top, on which he was backed up by the Louis Bellson Big Band, with arrangements by Oliver Nelson.
September Song was written by Weill (with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson) for the 1938 musical Knickerbocker Holiday. Walter Huston (father of John, Granddad of Angelica) introduced the song when he played Pieter Stuyvesant in the original production, and scored a hit with the 78 version of it while the show was still in its first run. In the play, the peg-legged Stuyvesant sings the song to Tina, the lovely Town Councilor's daughter, in the hope of rushing her into marriage against her better judgment. Peg-leg Pete uses the shortening days of September and the onset of winter to convince Tina to give herself to him and not to his rival, Brom Broeck. (Tina marries Broek in the end.)
Another irony of the song that's been lost in it's many years as an American pop standard is that it's sung by a villain. In Knickerbocker Holiday, Stuyvesant is a stand-in for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who the pacifist/anarchist Maxwell Anderson saw as an exponent of American fascism.
The John Lennon track above is actually a work in progress called Dear John, reportedly one of the last songs Lennon was working on before his death. It's included here only because his melody and lyrics stumble into September Song mid-way through the tune, eliciting a chuckle from Lennon.
Many thanks to all the WFMU staffers and listeners who tracked down versions for my show and this post: Spazz, Charlie, Vicki, Jelbogen, Monica, Jake, Lewis, BT, Joe B, Liz, Clinton, Thelma, Ira, Sara, and last but not least, Listener Dave, who submitted this remarkably cheesy version and animation of September Song: link.
More on Knickerbocker Holiday from the wikipedia entry:
Knickerbocker Holiday is both a romantic comedy and a thinly veiled allegory equating the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (whose ancestor is one of the characters on the corrupt town council) with fascism. As is apparent from the preface he wrote for the play, as well as the play and the songs themselves, Maxwell Anderson was a pacifist and an individualist anarchist. He saw the New Deal as another example of the corporatism and concentration of political power which had given rise to Nazism and Stalinism. His animus toward the state is more soberly revealed in one of his two tragedies about the Sacco and Vanzetti execution, Winterset. This play, coincidentally, starred Burgess Meredith, the same actor who was originally to star in Knickerbocker Holiday (Burgess, a friend of Weill's, who was to play the romantic young lead Brom Broek, left when he saw the villainous Stuyvesant character growing into a more a more lovable and important role, upstaging him). The setting of the musical is New Amsterdam. It is narrated by character Washington Irving, who wrote the source material for the musical, Father Knickerbocker's Stories. It begins shortly before the arrival of the new Governor, Peter Stuyvesant (played by Walter Huston in the Broadway show). Broek, an American individualist, can't take orders because of the wild corn he ate in the forest. If ever anyone gives him an order, he assaults them. This has made it difficult to court his beloved, Tina Tienhoven, the daughter of the head of the town council.
Stuyvesant arrives just in time to rescue Broek from a hanging engineered by his beloved's father, in order to get the impoverished ne'er do well to make way for the wealthy and powerful Stuyvesant himself as a suitor for the fair Tina. Naturally Broek is grateful: until Stuyvesant quickly asserts what is for all intents and purposes a fascist dictatorship.
And here's a synopsis the action in Act One, leading up to September Song from The Guide to Musical Theater:
In New Amsterdam in 1647, Brom, a young man, falls in love with the Town Councilor's daughter, Tina. The Town Councilor, however, is furious and tries to have him hanged but the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant, the new Governor, saves Brom's neck. Stuyvesant reveals himself as a dictator, and Brom, protesting, is carted off to jail. Stuyvesant then announces that the country shall go to war, as a peaceful country is a stagnant one. This is stopped when it is pointed out that he had better change his ways if he is going to be remembered kindly in history and all ends happily with Brom and Tina getting married.
Washington Irving, the great American historian, is sitting idly at his desk in 1809 and starts to relate the story of the Dutch founding fathers of New York (then New Amsterdam) in 1647. Suddenly the Council is with us: Van Tienhoven, Van Rensselaer, Roosevelt, De Vries, Vanderbilt - all fat, self-important, corrupt (Hush-Hush) - and faintly ridiculous! They have a problem: the Governor is arriving by ship and they want a public hanging to impress him, but all the prisoners have jumped jail! The Council picks on young handsome Brom Bröck, back after an absence to see his sweetheart, Van Tienhoven's daughter Tina (It Never Was You) -he had to keep away because his aversion to taking orders from anyone always leads to trouble. Washington living, who acts like a narrator, agrees with Brom that this makes him the first fully-fledged American citizen (How Can You Tell an American?). Brom reminds Van Tienhoven of his lawbreaking, but that counts as "making accusations against the Council", which is a hanging matter, so he must be strung up. The crowd is furious, and threatens the Councilors, but Brom convinces the Councilors that the modern way to hang is by the stomach, and when the new Governor, Peter Stuyvesant, discovers him swinging by a rope around his waist, he is delighted at Brom's cheek and pardons him. He explains his idea of an idyllic existence for all, with him as absolute dictator, and enlists Van Tienhoven as his henchman in illicit arms and liquor trade with the Indians (The One Indispensable Man). Brom and Tina seek Stuyvesant's permission to marry, but are shattered to find that Van Tienhoven has promised her to Stuyvesant who, horror of horrors, has a silver leg! Stuyvesant tries to persuade her to marry him immediately, not to wait - "the days grow short when you reach September" (September Song) - the disheartened Brom complains loudly about the dictatorial Governor and gets marched off to jail for hanging later, while Stuyvesant exhorts everyone to hymn him (All Hail the Political Honeymoon).