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The Melody Lingers On: I Get Along Without You Very Well

Tony Thornton tells the story of what he considers to be the saddest song ever written.

Tony’s wonderful articles about the hit songs of yesteryear carry you back to a more tuneful age. For a feast of hum-along pleasure step aboard Tony’s magical musical time machine by clicking on The Melody Lingers On in the menu on this page

In 1939, Hoagy Carmichael composed a melody to a poem called I Get Along Without You Very Well. Several years earlier he had been handed this poem by a student at Indiana University. It was signed only J.B. So the song was published with the note: Words inspired by a poem written by J.B.

But the song was not introduced until 1952 when it was sung by Hoagy Carmichael and Jane Russell in the film Las Vegas Story.

Carmichael made a national plea for the author to step forward, even enlisting the help of top newspaper columnist and radio personality Walter Winchell, but only impostors turned up. Finally, the author was located in Philadelphia – Mrs Jane Brown Thompson. Sadly, Mrs Brown passed away the night before Dick Powell introduced the song on national radio.

Rosemary Clooney recorded it in 1960 and it remains for me the saddest song ever written. Sad because Jane Brown intentionally conveys the opposite of what she says. You know from the first line (without hearing another word) that she is not getting along very well. Even when she says: ‘Of course I do’, we know she doesn’t. This is why it’s so sad. She is not trying to fool us. She wants us to know the truth. She comes clean with: ‘Except…’ which confirms what was plain to see.

Yet she ends the thought by insisting that she is getting along very well and begins again by telling us that she has forgotten you like she should. But there is no lie to see through, no pretence to question – she is torturing us and herself with grief.

The full title of the song is: I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes). The ‘excepts’ are moments of honesty where Mrs Brown has to recall the glory of the lost love, to tell you what it was like ‘to be sheltered in your arms’, to remind you (as you weep silently) of how once it felt when you were in her place.

The last ‘except’ makes us wonder what happened in spring – was it beauty or pain? We know only that it was immeasurably sad, and if your heart is not broken in two by now then it must be made of stone. I know mine is (broken that is, not made of stone).

I get along without you very well,
Of course I do,
Except when soft rains fall
And drip from leaves, then I recall
The thrill of being sheltered in your arms.
Of course, I do.
But I get along without you very well.

I've forgotten you just like I should,
Of course I have,
Except to hear your name,
Or someone’s laugh that is the same,
But I've forgotten you just like I should.

What a guy, what a fool am I.
To think my breaking heart could kid the moon.
What’s in store? Should I phone once more?
No, it’s best that I stick to my tune.

I get along without you very well,
Of course I do.
Except perhaps in spring.
But I should never think of spring,
For that would surely break my heart in two.

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