|"The Sheik of Araby"|
|song by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler|
Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler
|The Sheik of Araby
"The Sheik of Araby" is a song that was written in 1921 by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, with music by Ted Snyder. It was composed in response to the popularity of the Rudolph Valentino feature film The Sheik.
"The Sheik of Araby" was a Tin Pan Alley hit, and was also adopted by early jazz bands, especially in New Orleans, making it a jazz standard. It was a well recognized part of popular culture. A verse also appears in the novel The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1926, Fleischer Studios released a cartoon with this song, recorded in Phonofilm, as part of their Song Car-Tunes series, and a live action short with this title was filmed in Phonofilm in the UK, directed by Miles Mander.
The "Araby" in the title refers to Arabia or the Arabian Peninsula. The appeal to New Orleans bands may have lain in "Araby" sharing the same pronunciation as Arabi, Louisiana, a town downriver from New Orleans' 9th Ward and a center for gambling just outside city limits until the early 1950s.
In 1925, composer Ted Snyder said that the song's original title was "The Rose of Araby". The Indianapolis Star reported,
"A friend of Mr. Snyder's, hearing the oriental melody and recalling the popularity of the book The Sheik, held out for the masculine title, but Mr. Snyder said that a sheik meant but little or nothing in the lives of most people, whereas "The Rose of Araby" — ah, there you had romance, and everything. Then he saw the advance posters of Rudolf Valentino in the picture and gave in. So "The Sheik of Araby" came into its own — though Mr. Snyder said he whistled it around his office for some six months without anyone getting excited over it."
Notable recordings and performances
- Recordings by Ray Miller and the Club Royal Orchestra charted, each peaking at #3 in 1922
- Eddie Cantor performed it in his revue Make It Snappy in April 1922
- In November 1936, Don Albert's band recorded the first version with the chant "with no pants on" between the lines of lyrics.
- Alice Faye and Betty Grable performed the song in the 1940 film Tin Pan Alley
- Spike Jones
- The Everly Brothers recorded the song in 1961
- The Beatles covered this song in 1962 at their unsuccessful Decca audition with George Harrison as the lead singer and Pete Best on the drums. This track can be found on Anthology 1
- Leon Redbone's recording was featured in an episode of Boardwalk Empire
- Tim Armstrong in June 2013 for his project Tim Timebomb and Friends
- Jean Shepherd frequently sang along with, spoke over, or played kazoo and Jew's harp to the song as one of his many musical interludes during his WOR radio show days
- The song was featured in Heaven Can Wait (1943) and in Valentino (1977) with words of parody by Ken Russell, performed by Chris Ellis
- In 1926, to go with the film The Son of the Sheik, Ted Snyder worked parts of the melody into "That Night in Araby", a related song with words by Billy Rose.