It’s the wrong month, November, but I was walking our dog Ginny in Oakfrith Wood (near #Urchfont, #Wiltshire) recently and the autumn leaves were falling all around me, and were also scattered beautifully all over the ground, so I found myself walking along singing …
“The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember?
Last September, in the rain.”
I found that I had to sing the song all the way through because it’s just so lovely.
You can see Dinah Washington’s beautiful version of this (1937) composition here … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk-jh3xocd0
All the versions I’ve found online treat it in quite a sprightly fashion, but as I wandered through the woods I found I had to sing it much more slowly.
Inevitably, that got me thinking about September Songs and why September is (I’m certain) the most popular month in song lyrics.
Sure, it’s convenient that it rhymes with ‘remember’ but that can’t be the only reason. As I wandered on, I started to think of more September Songs. The first one I recall hearing as a teenager was September Song (1938) in the Nat King Cole Version. (You can hear it here … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDHVCBFCf6Y)
In the 50s there was See You In September (1959) (find it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05k9sufTOcs); in the 60 Carole King delivered It Might As Well Rain Until September (1962) and then in 1974 we got the awesome September Gurls by Big Star.
I’m not going to deal with September by Earth Wind And Fire (1978) in this piece because, as far as I can make out it’s essentially just a dance groove whose lyric happens to feature the word September. It doesn’t seem to me to ascribe any particular significance to the month itself. The songs I’m interested in for this piece are those which use September as some kind of metaphor.
So … September In The Rain. I love this song because it evokes the month so beautifully. Dinah Washington’s vocal just oozes autumnal hues throughout, the inclusion of ‘rain’ adds to the atmosphere as does the image of the sun going out ‘just like a dying ember’. If those weren’t enough, the haunting string arrangement which begins at 00.30 secs plays against the jaunty bass and piano lines, almost like a suggestion that the season is changing from carefree summer days to something more reflective.
I also love the fact that the lyric is almost devoid of details about the relationship it documents. We really don’t even know if it’s a break up song or a make up song or just a song about a particularly poignant moment in the relationship. So anyone can interpret it however they might wish.
(No marks, by the way, to Annie Lennox whose version asserts that “The sun came out just like a dying ember.” How does that work, Annie? You’re a fantastic vocalist but you clearly weren’t paying attention to the sense of the lyric of this song. Nor was your producer or anybody else in the studio when you recorded it. Dying embers are, er, dying. When the sun comes out it is just coming to life. It’s a tiny detail but that misunderstanding ruins your version for me.)
September Song, of course, is among the most definitive of metaphorical songs. It treats the months of the year as a metaphor for the stages of life. “The days grow short when you reach September”. This is, of course, a reference to late middle age, when we start to become more aware of our own mortality, and how time is leaving us behind. “The days dwindle down to a precious few” is so relevant to those of us who have reached (and probably passed) our September. “These few precious days I’ll spend with you” means so much to those of us who have been fortunate enough to have found a love that lasted through the years. Yes, I do know that the original version included verses which were more specific about the physical effects of ageing, but I happened to come across the song via the abridged Nat King Cole version, and I believe that the lyric edits made it a better song.
See You In September is another which has been covered by many artists, but the best known is the doo-woppy treatment by The Happenings from 1966. Again, the song treats September as a month with its own special significance, in this case because it brings summer holidays from school to an end, so young lovers who have pined for each other can finally get back together. The treatment is very much a clone of The Four Seasons’ style and, to be honest, I’d still love to find a less fussy version, because I think the lyric is very touching and deserves a more sensitive arrangement. The 1959 original by The Tempos gets closer to the way I’d like to hear it, but it’s a tad too cheesy for my tastes.
It Might As Well Rain Until September. This Carole King composed classic takes a similar stance to See You In September – treating September as the month when lovestruck teens can get back together again – but the lyric is a much more yearning affair. Also like, September In The Rain , it couples those two ideas beautifully.
September Gurls. It’s amazing to me that the idea of setting a September song to a Byrdsy jangle didn’t happen sooner than 1974. The suggestion here is that there’s something special about September Gurls. Whether that means girls born in September or girls met in September I’m still not 100% sure, but I’m inclined to think it’s an astrological thing, because as the song progresses we learn that “December Boy’s got it bad” Once again, September is presented as a month just dripping with emotion. “I loved you, well, never mind, I’ve been crying all the time”. Alex Chilton’s straining, breaking voice beautifully conveys the feeling, and the guitar parts are the perfect icing on the cake.
If I’ve missed your personal favourite September Song, please accept my apologies. One obvious candidate is Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day. I’ve no real excuse for missing it. Sorry.