Old Shanghai
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

  1. Old Shanghai
    Available on Song Reader.
Old Shanghai [Version (a)]:

When you're walking in old Shanghai
Lanterns under the night sky
See the moon begin to rise
Just like it did back home

Old men smoking in cafes
Junk boats floating in the bay
Think of me while you're away
In old Shanghai

With no ties, with no plan
Your last dollar in your hands
Take a picture and send it back
To someone you used to know

Things will always find their way
From the backroads to the bay
There's more to do than there is to say
In old Shanghai

Things will always find their way
From the backroads to the bay
There's more to life than you or I will ever say
In old Shanghai
The Song:

"Old Shanghai" is one of the main songs from Beck's book Song Reader. It was the first "single" of sorts from the project, as a PDF of the sheet music was released online prior to the book's release. This has led to many more versions of the song out there than normal!

You can listen to the song here.

Beck uses the phrase "old Shanghai" and writes a song about an exotic location (a pretty common sheet music topic). There does not seem to be much more to it than that. The melody he came up with was a constant among many of the covers too -- unlike some others which had more flexibility, the "Old Shanghai" melody was so subtle and beautiful, that most interpreters stuck with it.

A lot of Song Reader borrowed a lot from older sheet music, like public domain art, old song titles, advertisements, etc. "Old Shanghai" doesn't seem to be any sort of exact reference, though the language of the phrase "old Shanghai" would be appropriate to the early 1900s. To wit:

There was a racist sheet music song called "Since Tommy Atkins Taught The Chinese How To Charleston! (Out In Old Shanghai"):

Beck often used references like these as a bit of a songwriting exercise. Like "Rough On Rats" with the name of a famous rat poison, he probably saw references to "Old Shanghai" and wrote to the title.