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The Melody Lingers On: I Can't Give You Anything But Love

Tony Thornton pays tribute to Dorothy Fields, the First Lady of popular song. Tony's marvelously musical series about the greatest of the great song writers will set your feet a-tapping and put many a fabulous song in your heart. Click on The Melody Lingers On in the menu on this page - and go venturing down melody lane.

This year is the centenary of Dorothy Fields. For 50 years until the 1970s, she wrote some of the most enduring lyrics of the golden age of the American popular song. In 1971, she became the first woman inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 1926, Dorothy sent some of her work to Jimmy McHugh, a staff writer at Mills Music. He was impressed and suggested they write songs together. The result was enormous hits such as On The Sunny Side of the Street and I’m in the Mood For Love.

In 1927, Dorothy Fields wrote lyrics for the music by McHugh to provide a number for Delmar's Revels. She said she overheard a poor black couple gazing at the jewellery in Tiffany’s window. Apparently the man said: ‘Gee honey, I can't give you anything but love’.

Harry Delmar hated the song and insisted it be removed from the show after the first night! One critic called it ‘a sickly, puerile song’. But its detractors were vastly outnumbered by its admirers. Cliff Edwards made the massive hit recording in 1928. The first verse is included and his distinctive earnest voice is just right for the song.

Gee, but it’s tough to be broke, kid.
It’s not a joke, kid, it’s a curse.
My luck is changing, it’s gotten,
From something rotten,
To something worse.
Who knows some day I will win too.
I’ll begin to reach my prime.
Now though, I see what our end is.
All I can spend is just my time.

We then launch into that familiar refrain with its charming use of colloquialisms – everyday speech set perfectly to music. Words and phrases like: ‘you know darned well’, and ‘Gee, I’d like to see you looking swell, baby’ flow beautifully, communicating directly with the listener.

I can’t give you anything but love, baby.
That’s the only thing I’ve plenty of, baby.
Dream a while. Scheme a while. We’re sure to find,
Happiness, and I guess
All those things you’ve always pined for.

Gee I’d like to see you looking swell, baby
Diamond bracelets Woolworth’s doesn’t sell, baby.
Till that lucky day you know darn well, baby.
I can’t give you anything but love.

Dorothy Fields’ son, David Lahm: “I don’t believe there’s a more beloved song. I have played this song many times to those in their 80s and 90s and it’s as if this song has given validation and confirmation to many memories – or taken the place of memories of when they were young, optimistic and the light of someone’s life. It’s as if someone understands what it’s like to look back in search of what they once were. I think that person who understands is my mother.”

In 1966, her musical Sweet Charity was a big hit. Songs such as Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now proved that Dorothy Fields, despite her advancing age, had not lost her knack for up-to-the-minute slang and phraseology.

She died from a heart attack in New York on 28 March 1974, after attending a rehearsal for one of her shows. She was 69 years old and still on top.

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