Saturday 13 April 2013

The Sheik Of Araby

Composer: Harry B.Smith / Francis Wheeler / Ted Snyder

George Harrison lead guitar (Gretsch Duo Jet guitar), Lead Vocal
Paul McCartney bass (Hofner 500/1 bass), Backing Vocal
John Lennon rhythm guitar (Rickenbacker 325 guitar), Backing Vocal
Pete Best drums (blue Premier kit with 26" kick drum)

Mike Smith: Producer
Peter Attwood: Engineer

Recorded: Monday 1 January 1962, Decca Studios, 165 Broadhurst Gardens, London
Recording Medium: Two Track

UK Release: December 1979 (LP: The Decca Tapes [Circuit Records LK 4438-1])
US Release: August 1977 (A Single / September In The Rain [Deccagone PRO-1101])

Running Time:
  • Mono Mix: 1:41

Available on:
(Source: Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald, Vintage 2005, and Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments from Stage to Studio, Andy Babuick, Backbeat Books 2002)
Trying to display their versatility, The Beatles fourth song of the Decca audition was The Sheik of Araby, a vaudeville song written in 1921 by Harry B.Smith and Francis Wheeler, with music by Ted Snyder. Written in response to the 1921 Rudolf Valentino film, The Sheik, it was first released by The California Ramblers in 1921, on the Vocalion label. It was included in the 1922 Broadway revue show Make It Snappy, quickly becoming a jazz standard. A verse from the song was included in F.Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby.

The Beatles version is allegedly based on a 1961 recording by Joe Brown and the Bruvvers. But Brown's version was recorded in Stockton-on-Trees in early 1963 and released later that year, on his album, Joe Brown - Live! It is possible that The Beatles had heard Brown perform it on the radio or TV, although as a jazz standard, it was probably known to McCartney's father Jim (who played in ragtime and jazz bands around Liverpool), and consequently to McCartney himself. It's rock and roll credibility would have come from Fat's Domino's 1960 recording.

Pete Best: "The Sheik of Araby was a very popular number and we nearly did it on the BBC shows because of the demand. George loved those kind of numbers"
(Source: Drummed Out: The Sacking of Pete Best Spencer Leigh, Northdown Publishing Ltd (August 1998) )

Although The Beatles had included the song in their live set in both Liverpool and Hamburg, and it was a popular number, the studio version does not do it justice.  Harrison's performance is frequently out of key, and the comedic interjections by Lennon and McCartney wear thin very quickly.