I've just taken possession of a record I've been looking for for many years, and upon receiving it, was amazed to find that it wasn't the version I've known for almost a decade, but that it contains an alternate version, with new lyrics! And I wanted to share it with as many people as possible! To start from the beginning:
Back in 2003, in what turned out to be one of the last (if not the very last) new posts to the wondrous, late and lamented Oddball Auditorium, curator John Fitzpatrick offered up several records with song-poem connections, the most endearing and memorable of which, to me, was Harold Duncan's "Be American". This is not a song poem - it's a vanity record found as an acetate on a song-poem/vanity hybrid label, and is as curious as any song-poem record could hope to be.
Over acoustic backing, driven by some nice ukulele playing, Mr. Duncan offers up his paean to America and Her People. The lyrics are just odd enough to never quite make it quite clear if Mr. Duncan is an all-around patriot ("faithful and true to the red, white and blue"), a rabid isolationist ("let the foreigners fight - stay in the USA") or just a crank ("live American, talk American").
Here, with great thanks to Mr. Fitzpatrick (and apology for reposting), here is that original acetate version:
Now just try to get that song out of your head!
As I said, I've looked for this record since perhaps two minutes after I heard it for the first time. Finally, last month, an opportunity came to own my own copy (and dirt cheap, too - I'd have paid 50 times what I got it for!). Wonder of wonder, it's on a real record label, has the same performance on both sides of the record, and it's a different vocal, with a few key phrases changed. He even talked over the "doodle-doodle-do" section (although that wordless vocal is still there, too).
Now, instead of letting the foreigners fight, Mr. Duncan mentions our "power and might", and later, where the line would have been again, he has decided that "if we have to, we'll fight", although he then immediately adds "stay in your own back yard" - is he talking to Americans or the foreigners? Actually, the lyrical changes leave me just as confused as to his politics as the first version.
Here, then, is the alternate version of "Be American":
So who was Harold Duncan? Damned if I know. But I can tell you that he also wrote both sides of a 45 on the Key West Record label for an act called Houston & Dorsey, a comedy duo who released several records on another song-poem/vanity hybrid label, Carellen, one which was associated with National Songwriters Guild, the label on which the acetate version of "Be American" appeared. "Key West Music" is also the publisher of "Be American". If I can find my copy of that record, I'll post it here next time around. And although it's unrelated, I'll just throw in that Carellen Records (Houston and Dorsey's regular label) also released a 45, the provenance of which is unclear, but if it is a song-poem, is by far the best song-poem I've ever heard.
(Incidentally, I know that these two versions (which clearly have the same backing track) are in slightly different keys and speeds. I know that my version played as calibrated at 45 RPM. The acetate version may have been mastered slower than on my version or may have been recorded from a turntable that was running a bit slowly.)