Mene Mene Tekel (1939)

The song, “Mene, Mene, Tekel,” takes its name and its chorus from the original, long proverbial, “writing on the wall” (Dan 5:25):

MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN
מְנֵא מְנֵא, תְּקֵל וּפַרְסִין

Harold Rome (1908 – 1993) wrote the song for the long-running musical revue, Pins and Needles, 1937-1940. The song was added to the revue in July 1939.

Joe Glazer (1918-2006) included the song in his repertoire, with slightly altered lyrics. For more on the song and Glazer’s recording see “Babylon an the Writing on the Wall.”

Here is Rome’s 1962 25th Anniversary recording of “Mene, Mene, Tekel” —

“Mene, Mene, Tekel” Lyrics
Glazer version [with Rome’s original in brackets, where differing]

Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin

Now the king of Babylon, Old Belshazzar
sat feasting on his golden piazza
with his court and his concubines
a-stuffing in the chicken and the fancy wines
[Rome’s king is never “old”;
Rome: “…fried chicken and imported wine”]

He sat there at that banquet board
drinking from the vessels of the Lord
big swells from the neighborhood
praising gods of gold and silver, iron and wood

Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin

Well that King of Babylon, Old Belshazzar
He was a mean old razzle-dazzl-ar
He never paid no income taxes
The big shot of the Babylon-Jerusalem Axis

He was a tyrant, took delight in
starting wars and doing fightin’
Sons of Israel he called called scamps
He set them all to making bricks in concentration camps

Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
[Rome: “Says so in the bible
Right there in the bible”
replaces repetition]

Well, the tribes of Judah from below
heard the saxophones and trumpets blow
sore and weary they laid them down
for Belshazzar’s party kept a-going to town

The joint was jumping, the horns were blowin’
lord, how the beer and the gin was flowin’
All of a sudden all was still
and everyone was frozen to the floor with chill
[Rome: “guests were shagging, horns were blowin'”
chorus repeats here, very softly]

Through the plaster, through the brick
over by the candlestick
In Belshazzar’s banquet hall
a hand was writing, slowly writing on the wall

The king grew pale where he was sittin’
The fingers wrote and having written
vanished slowly overhead
this is what the writing of the good Lord said

Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin

Well, the king called all his counsel table
to read the letters, but they weren’t able
all his wise men, old and grey
couldn’t tell him what the letters had to say

Belshazzar offered jewels and gold
if the meaning of the words were told
In came Daniel, spurned them all
and for nothing told the meaning of the letters on the wall
[Rome: “…told the bad news on the wall”]

King stop your frolicking, stop your flauntin’
you’ve been weighed and you’re found wantin’
all your days are numbered days
the Lord don’t like dictators or dictators ways
[Rome: “King, them words say, stop…days is…”]

Belshazzar cried out, “Man, you’re lying!”
But there was no use denying
for he saw those words divine
a-shining out just like a cafeteria sign

Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin

Belshazzar’s idols have turned to rust
crumbled are his kingdom and his powers to dust
Old Belshazzar, he was slain
but the children of the children of the Lord remain
but the children of the children of the Lord remain
[Rome: “Now, the king of Babylon was slain
But the children of the Lord remain
All his idols turned to rust
crumbled are his kingdom and his power to dust”]

Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin
Mene mene tekel, tekel, tekel
Mene mene tekel upharsin

— lyrics and music, Harold Rome, 1939
from Rome, Harold, Barbra Streisand, Rose M. Jun, Jack Carroll, and Stan Freeman. Pins and Needles: 25th Anniversary Edition of the Hit Musical Revue. New York: Columbia, 1962. Sound recording

— Joe Glazer’s version, The Jewish Immigrant Experience in America.
Collector Records (originally cassette; now MP3, CD)

I could find (as of 11/8/17) no full set of lyrics for discussion on any lyrics archives; I plan to eventually add my transcription to the partial set currently on MetroLyrics. Anyone so motivated should feel free to post them anywhere helpful, noting Rome and/or Glazer as authors.

NOTE

Dates
Not all sources acknowledge that new material is often added to such productions over time, so some sources cite the date of this song as 1937, the launch of the revue. This matches neither the song list for the show’s opening nor the historical background of the lyrics, with its mention of concentration camps.

See Internet Broadway Database
See also: Zimmers, Tighe E. Lyrical Satirical Harold Rome. Jefferson, NY (McFarland & Company 2014), p.23
The revue closed June 22, 1940.
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