Tin Pan Alley, Leon Redbone and “Shine On Harvest Moon”

Since discovering that all full moons have a name (given to them by the Native Americans who kept track of the months by the lunar calendar), I have written about each one as they appear in our skies. To accompany the post I always include one of the numerous songs that have been written about the moon and its many foibles.

Well, I thought I was done with “moon posts” as I had kind of run out of familiar moon-related songs, but we had a beautiful Harvest Moon in our skies this last weekend and it made me want to revisit this series. I wrote about the Harvest Moon last year and shared the Neil Young song of the same name (link here) but I have discovered another relevant song, which I think, deserves to be featured.

ofa_full_moons

First of all a bit of trivia – The Harvest Moon can occur in either September or October, as it’s the name given to the full moon that lands closest to the autumnal equinox. This year we shall reach the equinox, that pivot point in the year after which we can expect more hours of darkness than light in our days, on Monday the 23rd Sept. If it hadn’t landed that way, the full moon would have been called the Corn Moon. A second foible of this month’s full moon was that it was at apogee, the most distant point in its elliptical orbit around Earth, so was called a “mini moon”.  Apparently it should have seemed a bit dimmer than usual, but when I looked out the back door on Saturday night it seemed anything but. Here is my own picture taken quickly on my phone, so not a brilliant image, but if you were lucky enough to see it in person you will probably agree it was a bobby-dazzler!

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The Harvest Moon

But back to the song, after doing a bit of googling and YouTubing (another new verb), I found this great clip where Leon Redbone, who sadly died earlier on this year, performs Shine On Harvest Moon. Mr Redbone was a new find for me, but I do love his quirky delivery and very unique style. He specialised in jazz, blues and Tin Pan Alley classics such as this one, and his signature style was the panama hat, dark glasses and black tie. Of Armenian origin, he was born in Cyprus but then moved with his family first to London and then Canada where he began performing in public at Toronto nightclubs and folk festivals. After a mention from Bob Dylan in an early ’70s interview, he was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, a full year before he had a recording contract. He died in May this year at the very young (from where I’m sitting) sounding age of 69.

Shine On Harvest Moon by Leon Redbone:

The song Shine On Harvest Moon was written way back in the early 1900s and credited to the married vaudeville team of Nora Hayes and Jack Norworth. It was one of a series of moon-related Tin Pan Alley songs from the era and debuted in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 to great acclaim, later becoming a popular standard.

It occurred to me that although I have often heard the term Tin Pan Alley used, I have never really taken the time to investigate whether it is/was an actual place. It seems it was, although not called that in reality, but simply the section of West 28th Street in Manhattan, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where a number of music publishers set up shop from 1885 onward. Once the phonograph, radio, and motion pictures took over from sheet music as the driving force behind American popular music, Tin Pan Alley lost out in importance, and with the rise of rock & roll, the Brill Building became the new home for music industry offices and studios. Some of the most popular American songs of the late ’50s/early ’60s were written in the Brill Building and it is considered to have been the centre of the American music industry at that time.

So, “What’s It All About?” – Didn’t think I’d return with another “moon-post” but still some new things to discover about our only satellite and still a Corn Moon to write about at some point as that’s the only one to date that has been omitted entirely – All down to the timing of the Autumnal Equinox it seems. With a lunar cycle that is shorter than the average calendar month though, I’ll get there in the end.

As for Leon Redbone, what a fine new discovery to have made, but such a shame it had to be just after his death.

RIP Leon.

Shine On Harvest Moon Lyrics
(Song by Nora Bayes/Jack Norworth)

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see, cause the moon refused to shine
There’s a couple sittin ‘neath the willow tree, for love, they pine
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness, so she said I think I’ll go
Boy began to sigh, looked up in the sky and told the moon his little tale of woe, oh

Shine on, shine on harvest moon up in the sky
I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June, or July
Snow time ain’t no time to sit outdoors and spoon
Shine on, shine on harvest moon for me ‘n’ my gal

Shine on harvest moon way up there in the sky
I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June, AND July? Now, looka
Snow Time ain’t time no time to stay outdoors and spoon
So shine on Harvest moon

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see, cause the moon refused to shine
There’s a couple sittin ‘neath the willow tree, for love, they pine
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness, so she said I think I’ll go
Boy began to sigh, looked up in the sky and told the moon his little tale of woe, oh

Shine on, shine on harvest moon(shine on, shine on) Up in the sky?
I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June, or July
Snow Time ain’t no time to stay outdoors and spoon
So shine on, shine on harvest moon for me ‘n’ my gal, for me ‘n my gal

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

21 thoughts on “Tin Pan Alley, Leon Redbone and “Shine On Harvest Moon””

  1. Great song choice, Alyson. I only own a couple of Leon Redbone albums but they include the one with this song, Double Time. He was always one of those peripheral artists who people seemed to know about but no one I knew actually owned any of his records. I picked up both of the ones I own just a few years ago. He appeared on early Saturday Night Live episodes, which is where I first heard/saw him, and now he’s probably best known as the voice (and visual inspiration) for the snowman character in the movie Elf, whose name was Leon. I was sorry to hear when he died earlier this year, and also surprised that he was only 69. Even back in the ’70s he came across as an old soul, even though he was only in his 20s.

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    1. If anyone was likely to own some of his albums it was you with your 10,000+ collection! He could only have been 28 when the Double Time album was released and probably only in his 30s in this clip but as you say, an old soul.

      Everyone loves the film Elf but wouldn’t have clicked that he was the voice of the snowman character – Next time it appears on telly (at Christmas time no doubt), I will think of him.

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  2. Great version of “Shine On Harvest Moon” which was also covered by Laurel & Hardy in their 1939 film “Flying Deuces”. One of my favourite Leon Redbone songs is “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” which explains how marriage can change a man for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it is – I saw that clip of Laurel and Hardy on YouTube too but liked the Leon one best. Will have to investigate the Big Bad Bill song but my other half already knows that marriage can change a man for the better!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No I wasn’t familiar with the names of the writers either and these early Tin Pan Alley songs are just from so long ago now but glad Shine On has survived – Very apt for the beautiful moon in the skies on Saturday night.

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  3. I was at a concert by John Illsley (former bassist with Dire Straits) last night; he has turned 70 recently. He played some Dire Straits songs, some old solo songs, and some new solo songs. One of the new ones was called “Double Tme”, about the perception that time speeds up as one goes older. (At https://www.johnillsley.com/ one can read “This website features free streaming of all John’s solo albums”.) Some links led me to a poster about Dire Straits at Live Aid, where a certain Guy Fletcher played with them. I’m wondering if it is the same Guy Fletcher I’ve seen in Little Johnny England and Trad.Arr.

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    1. Hope you enjoyed the concert and yes time definitively appears to speed up as you get older but of course an illusion, just as the moon seems bigger on the horizon as opposed to high in the sky.

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    1. As in Shine On Harvey Moon? I could have done but would have added a whole other section and although I knew of the show, I didn’t actually watch it at the time, so no personal memories.

      Leon had some voice and seems to have sounded like that when still a very young man. Quite a unique look but I didn’t know of him before checking out more Harvest Moon songs.

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  4. I always enjoy your moon posts. As in your photo, it was very bright here too, certainly not dimmer than usual as far as I could tell!
    That Brill Building IS brill – and I love how certain streets become so symbolic and their names (or nicknames) just become part of the vocabulary; ‘Tin Pan Alley’ is so evocative. Perhaps we should have taken a little detour down to London’s own version of Tin Pan Alley when we met up there – Denmark Street – although I’m not sure how much remains to remind us of who lived and worked there in the past. (Interesting article here https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2015/jan/20/london-music-scene-denmark-street-tin-pan-alley )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by – Hopefully that means you’ve found a little respite from all the hard work of late.

      Yes, I thought it was a beautiful full moon and it looked pretty bright to me but apparently about 30,000 miles further away than at other times – Who knew? It was just the perfect ending to a wonderful day as DD had come home for the weekend and it was the first time we’d seen her in months. Lots of quality family time was spent together and then that moon popped up in the sky.

      Isn’t the Brill building fantastic and as for Tin Pan Alley, there were so many pianos plonking away all over the place that it sounded like tin pans apparently, thus the nickname. Yes, after finding out about Tin Pan Alley I too found an article about Denmark Street but as you say not much left now. I went to see the Rocketman film about Elton John when it came out and it was there that he was introduced to Bernie Taupin and the rest as they say is history – Where Bernie sat on the roof and kicked off the moss (in Your Song). A definite possibility of somewhere to visit next time I come down though – so much to see and so little time. Next June?

      Will go and read that article now – thanks.

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      1. “about 30,000 miles further away than at other times”

        The Moon’s orbit is elliptic, and the orientation also shifts, so the distance of the Moon varies with time, and also the distance of the Moon at a given phase (such as full). The distance is about 240,000 miles, so we are talking about a difference of 1/8 of the total distance. This is not a difference which is immediately perceptible (which is also why all the hype about a “super Moon” is bullshit).

        All the planets have elliptic orbits around the Sun, and these also precess (but more slowly). As such, the distance between two planets, such as Earth and Mars, varies enormously, essentially between the sum of their distances from the Sun and the difference of their distances from the Sun. The distance at closest approach also varies, not that much compared to the size of the orbits, but by a lot compared to the average distance. So, an extra-close approach of Mars is a big deal. In 2018, the distance was about half of what the maximum distance at closest approach is. Mars is then noticeably brighter in the sky, and noticeably larger when viewed through a telescope or (actually better for the casual planetgazer) in binoculars.

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        1. You are right – supermoon or mini-moon, they all look the same to me. As for the rest of it, a complex subject which I struggle to comprehend – Suffice to say, I believe you!

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  5. Nice way of honoring the changing season and Redbone’s passing. A pleasant surprise since I was half expecting Neil Young. A reviewer on Rate Your Music said “Redbone’s sleepy voice is always welcome ’round these parts”, I like that description.

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    1. This is the second year I’ve been writing about full moons so managed to use Neil Young’s Harvest Moon last year. Covered most of the songs I wanted to feature now but whenever I discover something new it’s good to return to the series. Also some new trivia here about the mini-moon which was at “apogee”.

      Yes it is a sleepy kind of voice isn’t it – Became quite smitten by him and felt sad when I heard he died earlier this year.

      Liked by 1 person

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