"Misirlou" (Greek: Μισιρλού< Turkish: Mısırlı 'Egyptian' < Arabic: مصر Miṣr 'Egypt') is a traditional song from the Eastern Mediterranean region. The earliest known recording of the song is a 1927 Greek rebetiko / tsifteteli composition influenced by Middle Eastern music. There are also traditional Arabic (belly dancing), Armenian, Persian, Indian, and Turkish versions of the song. This song was very popular from the 1920s in the ethnic Greek and Armenian communities of the Ottoman empire diaspora who settled in the United States of America.
The song was a hit in 1946 for Jan August, an American pianist and xylophonist nicknamed "the one man piano duet." It gained worldwide popularity through Dick Dale's 1962 American surf rock version, originally titled "Miserlou", which popularized the song in Western popular culture. Various versions have since been recorded, including other surf and rock versions by bands such as the Beach Boys, the Ventures, Consider the Source, and the Trashmen as well as international orchestral easy listening (exotica) versions by musicians such as Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Dale's surf rock version later gained renewed popularity when director Quentin Tarantino used it in his 1994 film Pulp Fiction and again when it was sampled in the Black Eyed Peas song "Pump It" (2006) and the Season 2 episode of Mad Men, "The Jet Set". A cover of Dale's surf rock version was included on the Guitar Hero II video game released in 2006.
Misirlou (Μισιρλού) is the feminine form of Misirlis (Μισιρλής) which comes from the Turkish word Mısırlı, which is formed by combining Mısır ("Egypt" in Turkish, borrowed from Arabic مِصر Miṣr) with the Turkish -lı suffix, literally meaning "Egyptian".
While the exact folk origin of the song is not well established, it is thought to have originated somewhere in Egypt or Asia Minor. The earliest recording of the song is uncertain.
The first known early recording of the song was by the rebetiko musician, Tetos Demetriades, in 1927. Theodotos ("Tetos") Demetriades (Greek: Θεόδοτος ("Τέτος") Δημητριάδης), an Ottoman Greek, was born in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, in 1897, and he resided there until he moved to the United States in 1921, toward the end of the Turkish–Greek conflict during the last phase of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and establishment of modern Turkey. It is likely that he was familiar with the song as a folk song before he moved to the United States. Later, in 1930, Michalis Patrinos, another Ottoman Greek from Izmir, Ottoman Empire, and his rebetiko band recorded a cover version in Athens, Greece. As with almost all early rebetika songs (a style that originated with the Greek refugees from Asia Minor in Turkey), the song's actual composer has never been identified, and its ownership rested with the band leader. Demetriades, who lived in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, until he moved to the United States in 1921 at the age of 23, named the song "Misirlou" in his original 1927 Columbia label, which is a regional pronunciation of "Egyptian" in Turkish ("Mısırlı"), as opposed to the corresponding word for "Egyptian" in Greek, which is Αιγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi).
Initially, the song was composed as a Greek tsifteteli dance, in the rebetiko style of music, at a slower tempo and a different key than the orientalized performances that most are familiar with today. This was the style of recording by Michalis Patrinos in Greece, circa 1930, which was circulated in the United States by the Orthophonic label; another recording was made by Patrinos in New York City in 1931 as well.
The song's oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morocco to Iraq, claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, in the realm of Middle Eastern music, the song is a very simplistic one, since it is little more than going up and down the Hijaz Kar or double harmonic scale (E-F-G#-A-B-C-D#). It still remains a well known Greek, Klezmer, and Arab folk song.
Later versions Edit
In 1941, Nick Roubanis, a Greek-American music instructor, released a jazz instrumental arrangement of the song, crediting himself as the composer. Since his claim was never legally challenged, he is still officially credited as the composer today worldwide, except in Greece where credit is variably given to either Roubanis or Patrinos. Subsequently, Bob Russell, Fred Wise and Milton Leeds wrote English lyrics to the song. Roubanis is also credited with fine-tuning the key and the melody, giving it the Oriental sound that it is associated with today. The song soon became an "exotica" standard among the light swing (lounge) bands of the day.
Harry James recorded and released Misirlou in 1941 on Columbia 36390, and the song peaked at #22 on the U.S. chart.
In 1941, Woody Herman and His Orchestra released the song with the English lyrics written by Russell, Wise and Leeds on Decca Records (4024 A, DLA-2735).
In 1943, Miriam Kressyn wrote Yiddish lyrics to the song. In 1944, Lebanese musician Clovis el-Hajj performed this song and called it "Amal". This was thought to be the only known Arabic language version of the song to date. However, Arab American musician Anton Abdelhad recorded and released "Miserlou" on Alkawakeb records (102A, 7019 ACA) and his own Abdelahad records (7019) with Philip Solomon on accompanying violin in the late 1940s.
In 1946, pianist Jan August recorded a version of the song on Diamond Records (Diamond 2009), which reached #7 on the Billboard Jockey charts in the U.S. This is the highest charting American version to date, although the later version by Dick Dale is far better known today.
Korla Pandit, the purported Indian pianist and organist, performed "Miserlou" in his acts during the 1950s; for example, he performed the song on a Snader Telescriptions' clip from 1951. He recorded it for his 1958 album Plays Music Of The Exotic East, released by Fantasy Records (3272/8013).
In 1958, Arthur Lyman arranged and recorded the song on the album Taboo.
In 1962 Dick Dale rearranged the song as a solo instrumental rock guitar piece. During a performance, Dale was bet by a young fan that he could not play a song on only one string of his guitar. Dale's father and uncles were Lebanese-American musicians, and Dale remembered seeing his uncle play "Misirlou" on one string of the oud. He vastly increased the song's tempo to make it into rock and roll. It was Dale's surf rock version that introduced "Misirlou" to a wider audience in the United States.
The Beach Boys recorded a Dale-inspired "Misirlou" for the 1963 album Surfin' U.S.A., solidifying "Misirlou" as a staple of American pop culture. A wealth of surf and rockbands soon recorded versions of the song, including the Ventures, the Astronauts, the Surfaris, the Trashmen and the Bobby Fuller Four. Hundreds of recordings have been made to date, by artists as diverse as Agent Orange and Connie Francis (1965).
Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida recorded a bossa-nova version on his album Acapulco '22 (1963).
In 1967, the Devil's Anvil, a group of Middle Eastern folk musicians based in New York and featuring Felix Pappalardi, later bass guitarist for the heavy rock band Mountain, released a version of 'Misirlou'. It had lyrics in English by Pappalardi's wife, Gail Collins, and was included on their Columbia Records LP called Hard Rock from the Middle East.
"Missirlù" was a 1967 Italian single, sung by Gino (Cudsi) and Dorine.
The song was sung by the Turkish singer Zeki Müren in 1971 as "Yaralı Gönül", with lyrics by Suat Sayın, a Turkish singer and composer.
In 1972, Serbian singer Staniša Stošić recorded a version of the song "Lela Vranjanka" with different lyrics. Subsequently, it has become the most well-known version of "Misirlou" in Serbia.
The Russian dobro player Eugene Nemov recorded an instrumental version in Moscow in 2006.
Phil Woods plays a clarinet on "Misirlou" on the album Into the Woods.
The song was sung by the Armenian singer Paul Baghdadlian as "Anoush Yar".
Hawaiian artists Honoka and Azita created a ukelele version.
In 1945, a Pittsburgh women's musical organization asked Professor Brunhilde E. Dorsch to organize an international dance group at Duquesne University to honor America's World War II allies. She contacted Mercine Nesotas, who taught several Greek dances, including Syrtos Haniotikos (from Crete), which she called Kritikos, but for which they had no music. Because Pittsburgh's Greek-American community did not know Cretan music, Pat Mandros Kazalas, a music student, suggested the tune "Misirlou", although slower, might fit the dance.
The dance was first performed at a program to honor America's allies of World War II at Stephen Foster Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh on March 6, 1945. Thereafter, this new dance, which had been created by putting the Syrtos Kritikos to the slower "Misirlou" music, was known as Misirlou and spread among the Greek-American community, as well as among non-Greek U.S. folk-dance enthusiasts.
It has been a staple for decades of dances held at Serbian Orthodox churches across the U.S., performed as a kolo or circle dance. The dance is also performed to instrumental versions of "Never on Sunday" by Manos Hadjidakis – though in the Serbian-American community, "Never on Sunday" was popularly enjoyed as a couple's dance and actually sung in English. "Never on Sunday" was often one of only two songs performed in English at these dances, the other song being "Spanish Eyes" (formerly "Moon Over Naples") also internationally popular in its time.
The Misirlou dance also found its way into the Armenian-American community who, like the Greeks, were fond of line dancing, and occasionally adopted Greek dances. The first Armenian version of "Misirlou" was recorded by Reuben Sarkisian in Fresno the early 1950s. Sarkisian wrote the Armenian lyrics to "Misirlou" which are still sung today, however he wrote the song as "Akh, Anoushes" ("Ah, My Sweet") while later Armenian singers would change it to "Ah Anoush Yar" ("Ah, Sweet Lover"; Yar meaning sweetheart or lover, from Turkish).
Rayman Raving Rabbids Edit
An Instrumental version appears as a playable soundtrack for Rayman Raving Rabbids.