Begin the Beguine

Today’s song is especially for my Mum who celebrates her birthday today – I hope you like my song choice, Mum!

Begin the Beguine is a fantastic song by Cole Porter, dating from 1935. He wrote the song aboard a Cunard Pacific cruise between Indonesia and Fiji in 1935 and it was introduced in the musical Jubilee which opened on Broadway later that year. One of the things I like most about this song is its irregular structure. Most popular songs of the era would have two or three 8-bar segments arranged in A-A-B-A. However this song is structured as A-A-B-A-C1-C2, with the first five segments having 16 bars, and the last having 28. As a result it’s pretty difficult to remember the structure unless (like I was!) you are following the music. In his book about American Popular Song, musicologist Alec Wilder described it as “a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music … about the sixtieth measure I find myself muttering another title, End the Beguine.

It was probably the version by Julio Iglesias which reached No.1 in the UK in 1981 which first brought this song to my attention, and when researching the song for today I discovered that Japanese author Haruki Murakami wrote a short story entitled Julio Iglesias in which his recording of Begin the Beguine became unbearable to a group of sea turtles! My favourite reference, however, to the song is when Sebastian in the Disney version of The Little Mermaid sings “Under the sea, under the sea, when the sardine begin the beguine it’s music to me”.

To hear more August songs, click here. If it’s your first time on the site, find out more about why I’m trying to record a piano tune every day here.