Poet Ogden Nash wrote the lyrics for the 1943 musical, “One Touch of Venus,” collaborating with composer Kurt Weill. One of their songs, “Speak Low,” became well known. But the musical also included a song about the Garden State, “Way Out West in Jersey,” that seems to have been pretty much forgotten.
The play is set in New York, and the song is sung at a bus station at which Rodney, a barber, is picking up his girlfriend, Gloria, and her mother, Mrs. Kramer, who are returning from a vacation in Spring Lake. The joke is that these characters view New Jersey like the Wild West.
Nash seems to be working with a list of New Jersey town names, picking names for no other reason than that they make for clever rhymes.
Mrs. Kramer mocks the way New Jerseyans talk: “By the time I reached Weehawken/With my banjo on my knee … I heard the natives talkin’/And I knowed that it wasn’t me.”
Gloria mocks the uncouth ways of New Jersey men: “The cowboys in Ho-Ho-Kus/Haven’t seen a woman in a year … when their minds begin to focus/They have got only one idea/Oh, I met with one in Rahway/He said courtin’ was sublime/But I found that his way wasn’t my way … and I shot him just in time.”
Rodney, meanwhile, has some unkind things to say about New Jersey women: “From Neptune up to Nutley/From Cape May to Deal and Hackensack … the Jersey cowgirls woo you subtly/But there’s something they seem to lack/Oh, the sheriff, he went a-swimmin’/One fine evening after dark … before he got one limb in/He’d been chosen Miss Asbury Park.”
Mary Martin starred in the original Broadway production (though her character is not featured in this song). Ava Gardner, Robert Walker and Eve Arden were in the 1948 film version. “One Touch of Venus” has not been revived very often since then.
Check out “Way Out West in Jersey” below.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday last year. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we are marking the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, for almost a year — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. We started in September 2014, and will keep going until late in the summer.
If you would like to suggest any songs to be included, please let me know in the comments section underneath the video. And if you want to see the entire list, either alphabetically or in the order the songs were selected, click here.