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Darn That Dream (1939)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘Darn That Dream has a very interesting and difficult melody in that its chromatic character makes the notes hard to find ... I’ve never heard a song quite like it.”

- Alec Wilder

Rank 70
Music Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics Eddie De Lange

“Darn That Dream” was introduced in the Broadway musical, Swingin’ the Dream, which opened November 29, 1939, at the Center Theater. The show closed shortly thereafter, on December 9th, after only thirteen performances. Lack of talent was not its downfall. Among those who sang “Darn That Dream” in the production were Louis Armstrong (as Bottom, pictured above), Maxine Sullivan (as Tatiana, Queen of the Pixies), Bill Bailey, Dorothy Dandridge, Vivian Dandridge, and Etta Jones, the latter three billing themselves as the Dandridge sisters (as three pixies). Note: Etta Jones of the Dandridge Sisters (born 1919) is not to be confused with Etta Jones the jazz/blues vocalist (born 1928).


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The show’s short run was a disappointment for all involved, especially the investors who lost nearly $100,000, one of the costliest failures of the time. For Benny Goodman, however, there was a residual bright spot. At the end of January “Darn That Dream,” featuring vocalist Mildred Bailey, became his first of three Top Ten pop-chart hits of 1940. “Darn That Dream” hit the charts two more times that year,


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

Besides “Darn That Dream,” Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie De Lange wrote five other songs for Swingin’ the Dream: “Swingin’ a Dream,” “Moonland,” “Peace, Brother,” “There’s Gotta Be a Weddin’,” and “Spring Song.” Benny Goodman shares credit for the music on the latter song. “Love’s a Riddle” also appeared in the show and was written by Alec Wilder, with Van Heusen and De Lange sharing credit for the lyrics. “Darn That Dream” would be the only hit from the score.


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Based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and billed as a “musical comedy extravaganza,” Swingin’ the Dream was set in New Orleans in 1890. The cast of 150, mostly African American actors, singers, and musicians, included, besides those mentioned above, Ruth Ford, Dorothy McGuire, Jackie “Moms” Babley, Butterfly McQueen, the Benny Goodman Sextet, Bud Freeman and His Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, and a full orchestra conducted by Don Voorhees. Agnes DeMille choreographed the dance numbers and Walt Disney did the artwork for the sets.

Swingin’ the Dream was panned by audiences and critics alike. The morning after opening night Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times said,

It would have been better to throw Shakespeare out of the window ...Every now and then a flare of dancing breaks through the professorial patter, and the Benny Goodman boys perform brilliantly on a piece of music. But the going is heavy through the long stretches of the evening.

In 1998, the title Swingin’ the Dream was recycled for the book, Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture by Lewis A. Erenberg. The book is unrelated to the play but makes an interesting case that the Big Band Era, 1935-1948, was as relevant as the subsequent Bebop era, the former being when American popular music rid itself of the constraints of European influence. Erenberg discusses how the collaboration of African Americans and second-generation immigrants changed American culture and society.

In his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Alec Wilder notes hundreds of jazz standards but in the case of “Darn That Dream” injects a bit of personal history. Asked to write an entire score for Swingin’ the Dream, which he did, Wilder then had to take it back “due to the duplicitous character of the producer.” For one reason or another, his composition “Love’s a Riddle” was kept in the show. Wilder comments that when he met Van Heusen, he was inclined to dislike him because of the circumstances. Regardless of his feelings at that time, Wilder shows a genuine appreciation for Van Heusen’s music, devoting to him nearly ten pages of mostly complimentary text in his chapter titled “The Great Craftsmen.”

More information on this tune...

Alec Wilder
American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Hardcover: 576 pages

(Wilder, in his definitive book on American popular song, analyzes the musical content of “Darn That Dream.”)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

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- Noah Baerman

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Vocalist Wilson gives this tune a gentle, lighthearted interpretation. The beauty of her singing is matched by her all-star band, which centers around pianist Hank Jones.
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Gordon is one of the most noteworthy interpreters of ballads that jazz has known, and his breathtakingly lyrical reading of “Darn That Dream” is definitive even by his lofty standards. This performance, recorded in Europe, features fellow expatriates Kenny Drew and Art Taylor along with Danish teenager Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.
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There is a quiet understanding on this duet from guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill Evans. The musicians manage to weave two very independent streams into one solitary voice.
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This live radio broadcast features a charming vocal turn by Helen Humes. If you listen closely, you can hear some wonderful playing by saxophonist Lester Young while Humes sings.
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This is one of the last recordings of alto saxophonist Art Pepper, fittingly done with his friend and regular band mate, pianist George Cables. The camaraderie is readily apparent and propels the song to a higher level.
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This album features two takes of the “Darn That Dream,”’ both straight-ahead readings. Dorham’s lyrical trumpet is crystalline and pure, and the emotion is palpable.
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Vocalist Reeves delivers a beautiful rendition of “Darn That Dream,” an elegant and dreamy effort with accompaniment by guitarist Romero Lubambo.

- Ben Maycock

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