Browsing 45Cat’s database for 1966 singles associated with Allen Toussaint, my eyes were immediately drawn to an A-side entitled “Omar Khayyam” by The Rubaiyats, issued on Toussaint’s own Sansu label. As it turns out, the band’s name is inspired by the term for “a collection of Ruba’i” (as in the Persian poetry form), with the best known example likely being the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
The Rubaiyats (1966)
The Rubaiyats are, in actual fact, Allen Toussaint and Willie Harper. Toussaint would write both sides of their only single. “Omar Khayyam” was a B-side upon initial release in the US in September, 1966 although the two sides would flip (so says 45Cat) with the single’s 1968 release in the UK.
Houghton Mifflin & Company
First edition, 1884
(image courtesy of Book Graphics)
“Omar Khayyam” would make Offbeat‘s “Ten Buried Allen Toussaint Treasures” list.
As further proof of the song’s viability, Vintage Vinyl is offering a special 7-inch release, “Omar Khayyam” b/w “Do Me Like You Do Me” by John Williams & the Tick Tocks – $13.99 (“two collectible Sansu sides back-to-back for the first time … of huge interest to Northern Soul collectors, Mod and R&B fans worldwide.”) Vintage Vinyl provides the UK history related to this song:
First played at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel on the UK Action label but originally recorded for US label Sansu in 1966. This hard-to-find original became a Mod and rare soul classic and has, in recent times, enjoyed a revival on the Northern Soul circuit.
£45 paid for this 45 in 2010.
Check out this art nouveau-inspired 3rd edition published by Bernard Quaritch in London in 1872 – bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe of London (tip of the hat to Dartmouth for image below).
Did you know of the cursed special “Sangorski Edition” of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — on Business Pundits‘ list of 15 Weird and Mysterious Books?
Is it possible for a book to be as cursed as the Hope Diamond? If so, the Sangorski special edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is. This book is a work of art in and of itself: the cover is bound in leather, features a jewel-encrusted peacock on the front, and is emblazoned with gold leaf. Its designer, Francis Sangorski, spent months designing it, and two years to finish its creation. It’s a legendary book, both because of the elevated artistry of the book, and the tragedies that seemed to follow it.
Sangorski’s original copy sank with the Titanic. Before he could recreate it, Francis Sangorski drowned, six weeks after the ship — with the book — foundered in the Atlantic. Stanley Bray, Sangorski’s partner, spent six years recreating the second copy of the book from Sangorski’s original drawings. The book was then destroyed in the London Blitz. It took Bray another 40 years to finish the next copy, which was donated to the British Library after his death.
The ‘cursed’ Sangorski special edition
“Omar Khayyam” is part of the 2011 CD compilation, Allen Toussaint: The Lost Sessions.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is an enormously influential literary work (650 different editions, translated into over 70 languages, illustrations by 150 artists) whose reach extends into literature, cinema, music. computer games, and television (e.g., 6-episode story arc in The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show about the “Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam“).
Important to keep in mind, though, that Edward Fitzgerald (as the UK’s Telegraph points out) is, in his English translations, “deliberately altering, combining and developing the verses of Omar Khayyam, a 12th-century poet who is remembered as a talented astronomer-mathematician, but not as a great Persian poet like Sadi or Hafiz. Many of the quatrains attributed to him have been falsely ascribed.”
Edmund J. Sullivan‘s 1913 illustration to verse 26 of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam would be famously appropriated by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse for a poster advertising a 1966 Grateful Dead concert at the Avalon that, from that point forward, would be known as (though not strictly) “Skull & Roses.”