Years ago when I used to listen to a cassette tape of a “bootleg” of the Decca sessions, “The Sheik of Araby” was one of my favorite song on those audition tapes. Naturally, I was glad that the song was included on Anthology 1 in 1995.
Before 1995, though, I went back to read my favorite novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, after not reading it for many years. I was shocked to read that Fitzgerald included lyrics from the song in his famed novel. This sparked my curiosity in the song.
The novel was published in 1925, but set in the summer of 1922 in New York City and Long Island. On page 78 of the novel, Fizgerald wrote, “The sun had gone down behind the tall apartments of the movie stars in the West Fifties, and the clear voices of the little girls, already gathered like critics on the grass, rose through the hot twilight:
I’m the Sheik of Araby
Your love belongs to me.
At night when you’re asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep
The song was composed in 1921 by Harry Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder. The song was written to capitalize on the furor created by Rudolph Valentino’s role in the hit movie The Sheik.
The song became a jazz favorite as well as a staple of pop culture in that time. While the song became a New Orleans jazz standard, “Araby” did not refer to the small town of Arabi, Louisiana, but rather the Arabian Peninsula.
The song has been recorded by countless artists. It was part of The Beatles’ stage act prior to their ill-fated audition for Decca records on New Year’s Day in 1962. It is probable that the band was influenced to cover “The Sheik of Araby” by Fats Domino’s 1961 rendition of the tune.
Kudos to George Harrison for brilliant lead vocals. Pete Best provides interesting drumming.
Here is a clip from YouTube:
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