25. Rum and Coca-Cola – Lord Invader – 1943

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Lord Invader

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Rum and Coca-Cola” is the title of a popular calypso. Originally composed by Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco, it was copyrighted in the United States by entertainer Morey Amsterdam and became a huge hit in 1945 for the Andrews Sisters, spending ten weeks at the top of Billboard‘s U.S. Pop Singles chart.

Although the song was published in the United States with Amsterdam listed as the lyricist and Jeri Sullavan and Paul Baron as musical composers, the melody had been previously published as the work of Trinidadian calypso composer Lionel Belasco on a song titled “L’Année Passée,” which was in turn based on a folksong from Martinique. The original lyrics to “Rum and Coca-Cola” were written by Rupert Grant, another calypso musician from Trinidad who went by the stage name of Lord Invader. (The true credits for music and lyrics were restored in a plagiarism lawsuit won by attorneyLouis Nizer, the account of which can be read in his book, My Life in Court.)

Trivia

  • During World War II, around 20,000 US GIs were stationed in Trinidad, ostensibly to deter any invasion. Unhappy with the situation, a local musician using the stage name Lord Invader commented on this ‘American social invasion’ in his calypso.
  • The song is a ribald expose of the informal prostitution that took place (Both mother and daughter / Workin’ for the Yankee dollar’).
  • ‘Rum and Coca-Cola’ was both the servicemen’s preferred tipple and a metaphor for the mixing of the two cultures.
  • The song was the top single of 1945 in the United States. Despite its popularity, it was controversial and was banned by network radio stations because it mentioned an alcoholic beverage. The fact that it mentioned a commercial product by name also meant that it could be construed as free advertising when broadcast.
  • After the release of the Andrews Sisters’ version of “Rum and Coca-Cola”, Belasco and Lord Invader sued for copyright infringement of the song’s music and lyrics, respectively. In 1948, after years of litigation, both plaintiffs won their cases, with Lord Invader receiving an award of $150,000 in owed royalties.
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2 responses »

  1. I’ve only heard the Andrews Sisters’ version before, I liked this much better. I had no idea it was a protest song. It’s interesting though, even though the Andrews Sisters’ version watered down the lyrics somewhat, they still kept in the line “Both mother and daughter, working for the Yankee dollar”, which is about prostitution, but what caused controversy was the mentioning of rum (alcohol) and Coca-cola (brand name). 😀

  2. Yeah this is a first for me too, just as with several of the previous Prometheus versions of subsequent smash hits, this one is looser, with more folk influence and social commentary. While the Andrew’s Sisters version charges along with razor sharp harmonies, this sort of lurches and churns with substantial dynamic variation, just like you were in a night club where you can imagine the drunks (or bordello patrons) joining in. Again, very interesting listen!

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