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"Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to Do a Few Tunes between Homicides" - January 3, 1935, headline in the New York Herald Tribune announcing the arrival of Leadbelly

Author Topic: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World  (Read 1828 times)

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Offline joebanjo

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #15 on: December 22, 2015, 02:42:57 AM »
Thanks to Waxwing for the thorough and thoughtful post! Also, to Frankie for charting out those two versions.

I just wanted to chime in and point out that Willie McTell's "Cold Winter Day" is obviously in the same tune family, and clearly bears close relation to the other Georgia bluesmen's versions of this song:


Offline JRO

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #16 on: December 22, 2015, 06:32:34 AM »
Here is Carter Familys version of . It's 12. song on the list and starts 18.35 min.

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #17 on: December 22, 2015, 11:40:54 AM »
Hi all,
Frank anticipated me in talking about the structure of "Sittin' On Top of the World", though I'd parse it a bit differently than he did.  The song is a chorus blues, and would be an 8-bar chorus blues, were it not for the fact that its chorus takes three bars to sing rather than two bars, as is more often the case.  The portion of the lyric that changes in each verse is that which is sung over the first four bars of the form, four brief interjections that are phrased in front of the beat, like so, showing how the first verse is phrased.  Each of these vocal phrases enters on "+ 4 +" preceding the downbeat of the measure.  Here's how it sits:

  Was all the Summer            and all the Fall            just tryin' to find my           little all-in-all             but now she's
     +   4   +  |1    +    2    3    +   4   +  | 1   2    3    +    4      +| 1    +   2    3   +    4  +|1   2     3    +   4      +    |
                  gone                   I don't     worry                  I'm  sittin' on         top of the world  (Instrument)    (vocal)
                  | 1         2       3   + 4        | 1  +   2   3    4    +  |   1     +    2     3   +  4    +     | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 + 4 + |

Chordally, Walter Vinson gives the song an unusual twist by changing to the IV chord half-way through the second bar, so that the chords backing the singing and fiddle end up like so:

   |           G            |      G        C        |             C          |          G            |
   |           G            |           D             |    C      G/Bb      |          G            |            G            |
I don't know of any version of the song other than the Sheiks' original version that copies Vinson's changing to the IV chord halfway through the second bar.  Apart from Walter Vinson's unusual chord change halfway through the second bar, though, the real innovation here looks to be the three-bar vocal refrain, with the vocal pick-ups starting at the end of the fourth bar.  I had been under the impression that the various "tune family" songs that were posted as being similar to "Sittin' on Top of the World" were all actually conventional 8-bar chorus blues, but was surprised to find, upon re-listening, that Charlie Patton's "Some Summer Day", Blind Blake's "Depression Gone From Me Blues", Big Bill Broonzy's "Worryin' You Off My Mind", Tampa Red's "Things 'Bout Comin' My Way", The Sheiks' "I'll be Gone, Long Gone" and Robert Johnson's "Come On In my Kitchen" all share the 9-bar chorus blues format and melody of "Sittin' On Top of the World".  I think all of these songs, with the possible exception of Patton's, may fairly be said to be covers of "Sittin' On Top of the World", but with new lyrics, since they ape both the melody and the form of the song.

It seems likely that Walter Vinson got the melody for "Sittin' On Top of the World" from Leroy Carr's "You've Got Reap What You Sow", though the long refrain seems like it was Vinson's own innovation.  Incidentally, I don't hear the Jazz Gillum version of "You've Got To Reap What You Sow" as being related to "Sittin' On Top of the World" at all, since it is a 12-bar blues, with an altogether different form and melody.

Tampa Red introduced an element in his versions of "You've Got To Reap what You Sow" and "Things 'Bout Comin' My Way" that was picked up by a lot of later artists, most notably going to the IV minor chord in the fourth bar of the form.  Howlin' Wolf goes to the IV minor chord in the same place in his versions of the song.

Walter Vinson really hit a home run when he came up with this song.  It's strength shows in its adaptability to so many different kinds of treatments, and to the strong songs that it inspired, using the same form and melody.  It's a great one.

All best,
Johnm   
   
   
« Last Edit: December 22, 2015, 03:27:00 PM by Johnm »

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #18 on: December 27, 2015, 05:22:12 AM »
Wow, what a great thread!!!!

I just cant have enough of this tune!

Thank you Wax and all!

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #19 on: December 27, 2015, 06:43:10 PM »
Great work Wax, and to everyone who posted follow ups, that really built on the excellent foundation. Like the rest of the world I've always loved the tune, and now I have a better idea of why it's so great.

Offline bnemerov

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #20 on: December 28, 2015, 03:56:54 PM »
Rivers, Wax and all,
There's this piece from "All Things Considered" of a few years ago with some additional context.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6697365
Disclaimer: It wasn't my idea; I was asked to contribute a musical item to a series of essays and I just happened to pick this song. Smallish world, innit?
best,
bruce

Offline iantonionni

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #21 on: December 29, 2015, 02:15:03 AM »
Here is an excellent addition to the song's legacy, Worst Enemy, by Joe Filisko. It appears on Joe Filisko and Eric Noden's cd 'On The Move". Here it is played in Brighton with Joe accompanied by Adam Franklin.

Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #22 on: December 29, 2015, 05:01:30 PM »
"I'll Overcome Someday" was brought to my attention in one of the comments to a youtube post. It would have had to have been recorded REALLY early in 1930 to have been earlier than the Sheiks (17-Feb-1930), but it's very interesting...  kind of a square version of "Sitting On Top Of The World" in that it's a fairly conventional 8-bar blues. He's also accompanied (to my ear) by Charlie McCoy, which seems to suggest a connection to the Mississippi Sheiks as well...  It could be simply a squared-up cover of "Sitting On Top Of The World" but it's also a remotely possible antecedent...  Anyone know the exact recording dates of the song? 


Offline waxwing

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #23 on: December 29, 2015, 09:12:01 PM »
Not until December, 1930, Frank. In fact I posted the topic one day late for the 85th anniversary of Caldwell Bracey's "I'll Overcome Someday" session. At eight bars and missing the final vocal phrase this seems more in the family of the Carr/Blackwell and Tampa Red recordings of "You Got to Reap What You Sow" from August, 1928 and June, 1929 respectively.

Thanks all for the many versions and variations posted so far. This topic took off a lot more than I thought it would.

Wax
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Offline JRO

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #24 on: December 31, 2015, 05:48:19 AM »
Here is pair of versions I think belong to same songfamily.

Big Maceo Merriwater: Some sweet day. I supposie both has influences of Worried life blues also.

Fred McDowell:

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #25 on: January 04, 2016, 01:42:39 AM »
This one also fits right in!



« Last Edit: January 04, 2016, 01:47:34 AM by Zoharbareket »

Offline evan

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #26 on: May 06, 2016, 06:45:07 PM »

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #27 on: August 25, 2016, 07:58:27 AM »
Just stumbled across another recording by Louisiana fiddler Wayne Perry from John and Alan Lomax's 1934 trip.

http://www.lomax1934.com/sitting-on-top-of-the-world.html

(Also worth checking out on that site: the complete recordings of Wilson "Stavin' Chain" Jones)

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #28 on: September 18, 2016, 11:45:25 AM »
Hi all,
Here's one from Buddy Moss, "You Need A Woman", from 1941, that I just realized yesterday is a cover of "Sitting On Top of the World", at least in its form and phrasing.  Here's the song:



All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 18, 2016, 09:38:53 PM by Johnm »

Offline Mark Miller

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #29 on: October 03, 2016, 10:58:33 AM »
Thanks everybody.  What a great song, with so many great versions.  But special thanks to waxwing and frankie for the diddly-bow and file versions.  It's great to see the folk music tradition being kept alive in this way, and those are both haunting and beautiful examples of it.

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