Misirlou (Greek: Μισιρλού, "Egyptian Girl"; from Turkish Mısırlı, "Egyptian"; from Arabic مصر, Miṣr, "Egypt"), is a popular Greek song with a cult-like popularity in five very diverse styles of music: Greek rebetiko, Middle-Eastern belly dancing, Jewish wedding music (Klezmer), American surf rock and international orchestral easy listening (Exotica).
The song was first performed by the Michalis Patrinos rebetiko band in Athens, Greece in 1927. As with almost all early rebetika songs (a style that originated with the Greek refugees from Turkey), the song's actual composer has never been identified, and its ownership rested with the band leader. The melody was most likely composed collaboratively by the group, as was often the case at the time; the initial lyrics were almost certainly written by Patrinos himself. Patrinos, being originally a Smyrniot (today İzmir, Turkey), pronounced the song's title [musurlu], similar to the Turkish pronunciation, [mɯsɯrlɯ].
The Greek word Misirlou refers specifically to a Muslim Egyptian woman (as opposed to a Christian Egyptiotissa); thus this song refers to a cross-faith, cross-race, relationship, a risqué subject at its time.
Initially, the song was composed as a Greek zeibekiko dance, in the rebetiko style of music, at a slower tempo and a different key than the orientalized performances that most are familiar with today. This was the style of the first known recording by Michalis Patrinos in Greece, circa 1930 (which was circulated in the United States by Titos Dimitriadis' Orthophonic label); a second recording was made by Patrinos in New York, in 1931.
In 1941, Nick Roubanis, a Greek-American music instructor, released a jazz instrumental arrangement of the song, crediting himself as the composer. Since his claim was never legally challenged, he is still officially credited as the composer today worldwide, except in Greece where credit is variably given to either Roubanis or Patrinos. Subsequently S. Russell, N. Wise, and M. Leeds wrote English lyrics to the song. Roubanis is also credited with fine-tuning the key and the melody, giving it the oriental sound that it is associated with today. The song soon became an "exotica" standard among the light swing (lounge) bands of the day.
In 1944 maestro Clovis el-Hajj, an Arabic Lebanese musician, performed this song and called it "amal." This is the only Arabic version of this song.
In 1945, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, women's musical organization asked Professor Brunhilde E. Dorsch to organize an international dance group at Duquesne University to honor America's World War II allies. She contacted Mercine Nesotas, who taught several Greek dances, including Syrtos Haniotikos (from Crete), which she called Kritikos, but for which they had no music. Because Pittsburgh's Greek-American community did not know Cretan music, Pat Mandros Kazalas, a music student, suggested the tune Misirlou, although slower, might fit the dance. The dance was first performed at a program to honor America's allies of World War II at Stephen Foster Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh on March 6, 1945. Thereafter, this new dance, which had been created by putting the Syrtos Kritikos to the slower Misirlou music, was known as "Misirlou" and spread among the Greek-American community, as well as among non-Greek U.S. folk-dance enthusiasts. The dance is also performed to instrumental versions of Never on Sunday by Manos Hadjidakis.
At the time, the 1940s and 1950s, there was a thriving Near-Eastern nightclub scene in New York and New England. Such restaurants or clubs, usually owned by Greeks, featured near-eastern style music played by Greeks, Armenians, and Arabs, and often belly dancers. The musicians played belly-dance music to accompany the dancers and also ethnic folk music to which the club's patrons, also usually Greeks, Armenians, and Arabs, would dance their traditional line dances. Eventually the Misirlou song and dance were introduced into this scene, and to the Armenian-American and Arab-American communities. This was not unusual as there were actually many new, American-made, "folk" songs and dances in this era. It became known to the Armenian-Americans as the "Snake Dance" due to its sinuous foot movements.
The song was rearranged as a solo instrumental guitar piece by Dick Dale in 1962. Dale's father and uncles were Lebanese-American musicians who were a part of the aforementioned ethnic nightclub scene. Although they were Arab, they, like other performers, played the music of all the main cultures which made up the nightclub patrons—that included Greek music and Misirlou. During a performance, Dale was bet by a young fan that he could not play a song on only one string of his guitar. Later that night, he remembered seeing his uncle play "Misirlou" on one string (actually a double string) of the oud. He tried to imitate that style on his guitar, but vastly increased the song's tempo to make it into rock'n'roll, and the result was the famous Dick Dale "Miserlou". It was Dale's version that introduced "Misirlou" to a wider audience in the United States as "Miserlou."
The song's oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morocco to Iraq, claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, in the realm of Middle Eastern music, the song is a very simplistic one, since it is little more than going up and down the Hijaz Kar or double harmonic scale (E-F-G#-A-B-C-D#).
The Beach Boys recorded a Dale-inspired "Miserlou" for the 1963 album Surfin' USA, forever making "Miserlou" a staple of American pop culture. Hundreds of recordings have been made to date, by performers as diverse as Agent Orange and Connie Francis.
In 1994, Dale's version of "Miserlou" was used on the soundtrack of the motion picture Pulp Fiction, thanks to a suggestion to Quentin Tarantino from his friend Boyd Rice. More recently, the song was selected by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee as one of the most influential Greek songs of all time, and was heard in venues and at the closing ceremony--it was performed by Anna Vissi. In March 2005, Q magazine placed Dale's version at number 89 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In 2006, his version once again found popularity, this time as the basis of The Black Eyed Peas' single "Pump It." Also in 2006, a cover of Dale's version was included as a playable song in the rhythm game Guitar Hero II.
Μισιρλού μου, η γλυκιά σου η ματιά
Misirloú mou, i glukiá so i matiá
My Misirlou (Egyptian girl), your sweet glance
Other notable recordings
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- The 1987 comedy film Back to the Beach features a surf-rock performance of Misirlou in front of wind machines by Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
- Ben Folds Five recorded a Piano/Bass/Drums/Strings song that interpolates the piece entitled "Theme from Dr. Pyser"
- There is a Ladino version of "Misirlou" by the Turkish-Jewish band Los Pasharos Sefaradis.
- In the late 1960s a recording of "Misirlou" was made by a group called The Devil's Anvil. Felix Pappalardi (who would go on to fame as producer for British super-group Cream, and as bassist for legendary guitarist Leslie West's hard rocking band Mountain) acted as producer on the album "Hard Rock from the Middle East" by the multi-cultural Devil's Anvil. Pappalardi, in fact, handled lead vocals on the track "Misirlou" according to the liner notes of a late 1990s re-release of the original album on CD. In 1967, the release of "Hard Rock from the Middle East", coincided almost exactly with the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. As a result of this unfortunate coincidence, radio stations, record stores and The Devil's Anvil's record label, Columbia Records, all allowed the album to quickly sink into obscurity.
- Turkish singer Zeki Müren sung the melody as 'Yaralı Gönül'.
- Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, founding fathers of Tiki and Exotica music, recorded two covers of the song.
- A Serbian version of this song titled Vranjanka (The Girl from Vranje) was created by Serbian singer Staniša Stošić. This version is widely sung across the territory of the former Yugoslavia; when Pulp Fiction appeared, to many it was a surprise to find out that the song was indeed Greek.
- The influential British Fingerstyle guitarist Davey Graham plays a fingerstyle guitar version on his albums Live at St Andrews' Folk Club 1966 and After Hours: Live at Hull University 1967. On the St Andrews' recording Graham introduces the song: 'I was in Greece last year, and I saw that the Greeks dance alone, which I thought was a bit queer at first; this is a tune, a song really, about a girl called Miserlou'.
- There is a Spanish version of "Misirlou" made by the Italian singer Caterina Valente with the Edmundo Ros Orchestra. This version appeared in the album called "Caterina Valente com Edmundo Ros", released in Brazil in 1961.
- French-Algerian rock star Rachid Taha recorded an Arabic, drum'n'bass-inspired version, titled "Jungle Fiction".
- Woody Herman and his Orchestra recorded a foxtrot version, published by Decca, which can be found as the b-side to "Blue Flame".
- British surf instrumental band The Thurston Lava Tube recorded a version on their 2006 album "The Thoughful Sounds of Bat Smuggling".
- The Greek garage rock band The Last Drive record an instrumental version of this song on its first album Underworld Shakedown (1986).
- American ethnomusicologist Harry Smith made several recordings of Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, a prominent Jewish orthodox rabbi who lived on New York's Lower East Side as he sang and told stories in Yiddish. On January 1, 2006, NPR presented a story on the efforts of his grandson Lionel Ziprin to preserve these recordings and played some of them in their story. One of the pieces sounds identical to the melody of "Misirlou". (The melody can be heard, beginning at 4:13.) NPR: A Grandson's Quest To Preserve His Jewish Heritage
- A version with Yiddish lyrics is often performed at weddings, and has been recorded by Klezmer Conservatory Band on their CD Dancing in the Aisles. The style is a hybrid of Ashkenazic Klezmer and Mizrahi (Jewish songs set to Arab melodies).
- NPR did a full report on the evolution and multiple versions of "Misirlou," which can be heard at .
- California Guitar Trio (with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto as special guests) covered Dale's version of the song on their album Rocks the West (2000).
- The song is featured in the opening sequence to the French film Taxi, released in 1998. The film, starring Samy Naceri, written by Luc Besson, and directed by Gérard Pirès forms part of one of the most successful French franchises ever. It also features in the sequel Taxi 3
- ECW in 1996 to 2001 used the "Misirlou" theme song for the promos at the end of each show along with the ending credits.
- The 2007 movie Ocean's Thirteen contains a version of the Misirlou melody.
- The Czech grindcore band Perversist recorded a cover for their album Machine Grind Surgery.
- The Kronos Quartet released a version of "Misirlou" on their album Caravan, called "Misirlou Twist."
- Fourplay often perform "Misirlou" during their live performances, using a Viola for the primary guitar. A recording of a live performance is in the first "Fourplay String Quartet" single.
- American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi included a live version of the song on his 1963 album In Person.
- The United States Library of Congress holds two recordings created in 1939, each sung a cappella by a different woman. 
- In 1997, the band The Red Elvises recorded a version of Misirlou, which they retitled "Surfing in Siberia." It is on their album, also titled "Surfing in Siberia."
- In 1945 the song was also recorded by Jan August and Carl Frederick Tandberg.
- Anita Darian, in 1960, released "Misirlou" on a self-titled album “Anita Darian” (later titled “East of the Sun”), Kapp Records KL-1168.
- Juan García Esquivel recorded "Misirlou" in 1959. It was rereleased on the compilation album "Watchamacallit!" in 2006.
- Harry Saroyan performed "Misirlou" on his album “Saroyan Sings 'Cairo'”, Saroyan Productions, Riverside, CA, 1994.
- Domino's Pizza, in 2000 used the song prominently in their television commercials; at one point featuring Dick Dale.
- Dale's version was also be used in the reggaeton song "Dame Un Kiss" by Franco "El Gorilla".
- Uruguayan surf rock band The Supersonicos released a medley of Misirlou and The Cure's Killing an Arab, in their album "Hola Estatica"; under the name "Killing An Arab/Miserlou".
- The Trashmen on their debut album, Surfin' Bird, in 1964
- A dance version of Misirlou was recorded in 1995 by Spaghetti Surfers. 
- Gallon Drunks 1992 version (on the album Tonite ... The Singles Bar) is utterly sick, depressed, both psychotic and pychedelic, actually anticipating Bohren & der Club of Gore's unique music style since the mid-90s.
- The song was sampled in the Black Eyed Peas song "Pump It."
Use in soundtracks
- In the opening scene of Pulp Fiction, a modified version of Misirlou was used.
- The Red Elvises' version "Surfing in Siberia" was featured in the surreal post-apocalyptic cult classic Six String Samurai.
- A version of the song was used in the opening scene of the French film Taxi
- "Misirlou" has been featured in Konami's Guitar Freaks and Drummania games.
- Guitar Hero II, released in 2006, features a cover of a Dale's alternate, faster rendition of Misirlou, also featured on Dale's Greatest Hits 1961-1976 album.
- "Misirlou" has also been featured as a song in Rayman Raving Rabbids in its rhythm mini-game, and in this game's advertising campaign.
- The sound track to the videogame Command & Conquer: Red Alert contains an homage as a secret track
- The Sega Saturn title Guardian Force features an homage to the Pulp Fiction rendition in level 3.
- A song similar in style to Dick Dale's version of "Misirlou" was featured in the PlayStation title JetMoto.
- The Xbox game Sega GT 2002 features a track similar to Dale's Misrilou
- The song in the first stage of Metal Slug 2 and Metal Slug X uses some portions of Misirlou.
- The character theme for Bowser Jr. in Mario Strikers Charged is a variation of Misirlou.
- The dutch band New Cool Collective played a bigband-version of the song.
- The Dick Dale version of the song appears in the game Rayman Raving Rabbids.
- The Dick Dale version appears in Space Jam.
- ↑ "Mısırlı". SesliSozluk Online Dictionary. Seslisozluk. http://seslisozluk.com/?word=M%C4%B1s%C4%B1rl%C4%B1&sbT=Search&ssQBy=0. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
- ↑ The Arabic verse in the song is badly mispronounced - "ya leli" would be correct. This is probably because (a) Patrinos and his audience did not speak Arabic and/or (b) "ah ya leh-leli" has exactly the 5 syllables needed to fill the verse. The same sentence is very frequently used in Greek rembetiko songs (orientalism is a frequent theme).
- ↑ "Bass Player Marking 11th Year at Ricky's". Pasadena Star-News. April 25, 1969. "Bass player Carl F. Tandberg is an 11-year man at Dick White's Rickey's Restaurant in Alhambra and a 42-year man in the music business. ... before recording "Miserlou" with Jan August in 1945."
- Original (MP3) versions of Greek Song Misirlou
- Dick Dale's Extensive Explanation (with guitar tabs and standard notation)
- Yiddish lyrics for Misirlou with English translation
- Misirlou, from Klezmer to Surf Guitar (NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, January 8, 2006). (It should be noted that the program makes some patently incorrect statements - Rembetiko is not "a slow circle dance"; it does not have origins in Thraki; the Jews of Constantinople were Sephardim, not Askenazi, etc.)
- Playlist of a KGNU broadcast listing 25 performances of Misirlou.
- U.S. Library of Congress recordings.la:Misirlu