That Old Bilbao Moon


Do you remember Andy Williams singing a pop song in the 60’s with that title? I do, and heard it again last night on the senior’s radio station…and it started me out on a trail of investigation. A trail that turned up a couple of dead ends until I scrolled down the page…

I always misunderstood the lyrics to be ” That Old Bill Bauer Moon” and apparently so did other people. It is not Mr. Williams’ fault – he enunciated it clearly enough – it was just that as a child I had never given a thought to Bilbao in Spain. I had no consonant understanding of it.

Well, the tune and lyrics came and went and as they celebrated a big moon, summer celebrations, and some place known as ” Tony’s Beach Saloon” we assumed it was just a seasonal hit song like the ones pumped out by Nat Cole or Pat Boone.

Then last night it struck me that perhaps Mr. Williams was singing about a real place that he remembered. If it had a Beach Saloon and Andy came from the USA, it had to be on one of the coasts – Atlantic, Gulf, or Pacific or on the Great lakes. You don’t have a beach on a river in English terminology, even if the bit where you go swimming or prawning or whatever is very beach-like. Okay.

Now if there is a Bilbao on a beach in the USA, then did Andy go there as a young man? Nope. There does not seem to be a Bilbao, USA. You can get a London, Moscow, or Paris there and make of it what you will, but Bilbao is anchored in Spain. Andy was from Iowa.

Howthehell did he get the song…I scrolled down. All became clear when I saw the original lyrics translated into English from their native German. It was a Kurt Weill song about the red light taverns of the Spanish seaport – very Weillean – and had been sung by Lotte Lenya in Europe. To make it usable in North America it had to go through a revamp by Johnny Mercer to become the pop ballad. And very nice it turned out, if you disregard the confusion it engendered.

Now I am determined to go back and solve another musical mystery of my childhood. I have puzzled for 5 decades about why Roy Orbison should sing the phrase ” Phoney Baloney “*…I’ll bet there is a European involved somewhere there. Probably Edith Piaf, though I daresay she isn’t sorry about it…

  • Your earworm for February. You’re welcome.

2 thoughts on “That Old Bilbao Moon

  1. While listening to Dee Dee Bridgewater sing a version of this song, I finally decided to research the actual name of this tune by checking the radio station’s programming archives. Ha, I finally discovered that “Bilbao” is what everyone has been singing about for all of these decades. I just knew that “Bill Bower” couldn’t have been correct, but, I I just had no clue. Glad to know that I wasn’t the only child/adult mis-hearing these lyrics. Thanks for your added insight, Dick!


    1. I find that there are some singers and some songs that have stylised themselves past the point of the language…and once heard, the particular point can never be approached or heard without trepidation. I have a symphonic LP from a European orchestra ( and that’ll tell you how old it is…) that gets it wrong in the last few bars of the final movement. Either the technology did not exist to correct it or the musician responsible was taken out and shot, but they kept it in. And every time I play it I wait for the approaching train wreck…


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