YouTube Discoveries: “The Sidewalks of New York”

YouTube is such a wonderful site. I’m on it several times a day, at least, doing research mostly, or just looking up things that come to mind out of nowhere.

In YouTube Discoveries, I’ll share some of my favorites, beginning with a timely double-play.

The day after The Preakness I traditionally begin my three-week rant about how horrible it is that New York, back in the Giuliani days, changed its traditional Belmont theme from “Sidewalks of New York”—a poignantly sentimental 1894 copyright by lyricist James W. Blake and vaudeville actor/composer Charles B. Lawlor that is also known as “East Side, West Side” (the first words of the chorus)—to the “New York, New York” title song sung by Frank Sinatra from the 1977 Scorsese movie.

Then to add insult to injury, the New York Racing Association in 2010 went with the awful Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hip-hop ballad “Empire State of Mind”—though just for that one year. It was back to the “New York, New York” the following year.

It’s like if the Kentucky Derby changed its theme song from “My Old Kentucky Home” to “Kentucky Woman,” or the Preakness switched from “Maryland, My Maryland” to the Bobby Bare country hit “Streets of Baltimore.” Not that either of those are bad songs—and “New York, New York” is fine for a movie song—but these Triple Crown races are steeped in tradition, and for New York to turn its back on it is a disgrace.

Apparently, though, it’s also bad for horses. I saw on Wikipedia how it’s believed that horses who have won the Derby and the Preakness have been cursed because of the change in song from “Sidewalks of New York.” Sure enough, in the years after Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner by beating Alydar at the Belmont in 1978, there were four dual winners who failed to complete the cycle between 1979 and 1996; in the years following the switch to “New York, New York” in 1997, eight horses have fallen short.

“It is said that the ghost of Mamie O’Rourke will never let another Triple Crown winner emerge unless and until ‘The Sidewalks of New York’ is reinstated as the post parade song for The Belmont Stakes,” it says in Wikipedia—Mamie O’Rourke being the one who taught lyricist Blake how to “trip the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.”

Well, I like California Chrome, and I’m not taking any chances. So here are two versions of “The Sidewalks of New York,” the first a lovely take by the great Nat King Cole, the second a history of the song and the scene: