A Tale of Two Hamlets, In Song

Written By: Mark  Chapman

What on earth can Quogue, the crown jewel of the Un-Hamptons, have in common with the rural backwater of Nutbush, TN ? What links the classic songwriting team of Jerome Kern and P. G. Wodehouse with R&B legends Ike and Tina Turner? Simple –  hit records about flyspecks on the map.


Major cities have always figured prominently in song titles, small towns are routinely referenced in C&W music, but for two such tiny hamlets (Quogue pop. 980; Nutbush pop. 260),  to be immortalized in wax is pretty remarkable.  I challenge all statistically-inclined musicologists to come up with anything comparable. (“Rocky Top” doesn’t count;  it’s a mountain, not a town.)


Ike and Tina’s record, a paean to her birthplace 70 miles NE of Memphis, was first recorded in 1973, popularized by Bob Seger in 1975, and re-recorded by Tina in 1991. Kristi Yamaguchi danced the jive to it on DWTS, in 2008. One of the few songs written by Tina, it describes “a quiet little community” with “twenty-five for the speed limit,” which brings Quogue and its hyper-vigilant police department vividly to mind.


We have to go back to 1918 for Quogue’s entry into the hit parade, quaintly titled “Let’s Build a Little Bungalow in Quogue.”  A duet by Gladys Rice and Billy Murray, it was released by Edison Records, and as far as I know it was never covered by Bob Seger, or featured on DWTS. But this could change.


Billy Murray, in his heyday known as “The Denver Nightingale,” was one of the most popular singers and best-selling recording artists in the United States during the phonograph era. As his career wound down in the 1930s, he became the voice of many “follow the bouncing ball” sing-a-long cartoons, which were still a staple of morning TV shows when I was a child. The karaoke of its time,  “Bungalow in Quogue” would fit perfectly in that genre.  Murray retired to Freeport, and died at Jones Beach of a heart attack in 1954, at the age of 77. Gladys Rice was a popular recording artist as well, a frequent duet partner with the major singers of her era.


The song itself is a jaunty, sing-songy number with a childishly simple melody and a tortuous rhyme scheme built around the never-mellifluous “og.” ( The rhyme with “Patchogue” in the chorus is particularly cringe-worthy.) To modern ears it is, well, either charmingly camp or just plain annoying.  It was written for the 1917 musical “The Riviera Girl,” and later interpolated into the 1975 revival of another Kern/Wodehouse musical, “Very Good Eddie.” From this one song, it is hard to imagine that Kern would go on to become a titan of American popular music, or that Wodehouse would achieve great literary fame as well.


Jerome Kern began by adapting or copying European operettas, and went on to revolutionize, and to a large degree create American musical theater. In 1917 he teamed up with P.G. (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse, a young British journalist living in New York City. They wrote a series of light comic musicals, before splitting up in 1918 over financial disputes.  None other than Richard Rodgers described Kern’s influence as “a deep and lasting one” and wrote that “before Larry (Lorenz) Hart, only P.G. Wodehouse had made any assault on the intelligence of the song-listening public.”

Closer to home, in a 1970 interview with Wodehouse, Jack Ellsworth related: “I told Mr. Wodehouse that one of Kern’s loveliest songs was “I’ve Told Every Little Star” from ‘Music in the Air.’ Bing Crosby said it was his favorite and that the melody was inspired by the song of a finch singing outside his window one morning while he was vacationing in Quogue.  Mr. Wodehouse chuckled, “that’s a delightful story, isn’t it?”


Wodehouse turned to prose, and during the next 50 years turned out about 93 books, both novels and plays.  Bertie Wooster, the ne’er do well aristocrat, and his valet Jeeves are his most famous characters. His plots, language and humor are addictive, although Wodehouse’s characters were anachronisms from the moment he created them. “His picture of English society had been formed before 1914,” George Orwell noted. “Bertie Wooster, if he ever existed, was killed round about 1915.”

In 1940 Wodehouse, living in a French seaside resort, was taken prisoner by the Germans. While interned he made a few comic, non-political radio broadcasts aimed as the as-yet neutral American audience.  When the war ended he was unfairly branded a collaborator, and banished from the UK.  In 1955 Wodehouse moved to Remsenburg, and never returned to his homeland.  His gravestone, behind the Remsenburg Community Church, reads “Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse” – he was knighted a few months before his death on Valentine’s Day, 1975.


Quogue itself remains a delightfully anachronistic village, in the best sense, so it is fitting that a P. G. Wodehouse lyric would put it on the pop music map. While “Bungalow in Quogue” has its faults, and a comically dated sound, it gives Quogue big bragging rights; in the nearly 100 years since its release, no other hit tune has appeared sporting the name of a Hamptons/East End town, be it North Fork or South. Chalk up one more distinction for the hamlet of Quogue, the often-overlooked but never over-shadowed Un-Hampton.


“Let’s Build a Little Bungalow in Quogue”


(Jerome Kern & P.G. Wodehouse)


Oh, let us fly without delay

Into the country far away,

Where, free from all this care and strife,

We’ll go and live the simple life.

How clear the voice of nature calls:

I’ll go and get some overalls,

Get a last year’s almanac

To read at night when things are slack:


Let’s build a little bungalow in Quogue

In Yaphank or in Hicksville or Patchogue.

Where we can sniff the scented breeze,

And pluck tomatoes from the trees,

Where there is room to exercise the dog.

How pleasant it will be through life to jog

With Bill the bull and Hildebrand the hog:

Each morn will waken from our doze,

When Reginald, the rooster, crows,

Down in our little bungalow in Quogue.


Let’s build a little bungalow in Quogue.

In Yaphank or in Hicksville or Patchogue.

If life should tend to be a bore,

We’ll call on Farmer Brown next door

And get an earful of his dialogue.

When winter comes and brings the snow and fog

We’ll fortify our systems with hot grog:

And listen, when the nights are still,

To Wilberforce the whippoorwill,

Down in our little bungalow in Quogue.