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Don't Blame Me (1932)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Guest vocalist Cassandra Wilson starts this one off smoky and sensual, but as the song progresses, so does the tempo.”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 38
Music Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics Dorothy Fields

During the 1932 musical revue, Clowns in Clover, Walter Woolf King introduced “Don’t Blame Me” at Chicago’s Apollo Theater. Originally opening in 1927 at the Adelphi Theater in London, Clowns in Clover starred the husband and wife musical comedy team of Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. The London engagement enjoyed great success and ran for 500 performances. While Noel Gay wrote the original score for Clowns in Clover, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh added songs such as “Don’t Blame Me” for the Chicago run.

 

More on Walter Woolf King at JazzBiographies.com
 

The year after its Chicago debut Fields and McHugh recycled “Don’t Blame Me” into the score of the popular 1933 film Dinner at Eight. As a result, that film is often credited as the composition’s origin. The songwriting team also wrote a promotional title song for the film that was sung by Frances Langford at the premier and became a hit for Ben Selvin and His Orchestra with vocalist Helen Rowland.

 

More on Dorothy Fields at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Jimmy McHugh at JazzBiographies.com
 

Guy Lombardo was the first to have a hit recording with “Don’t Blame Me,” entering the pop charts in July of 1932 and rising to number nine. The best remembered recording of that era, however, was by Ethel Waters, accompanied by members of the Dorsey Brothers orchestra.

All told, the major hit recordings of “Don’t Blame Me” were:

 

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

“Don’t Blame Me” has long been a favorite of musicians and music fans, jazz or otherwise. Paul McCartney says of John Lennon,

One of John’s favorite songs was “Don’t Blame Me.” People think of John Lennon as a peacenik, or a crazy man, or a great man, but they never associate him with the kinds of songs his mum taught him. His mum was a musical lady. She taught him banjo chords. I had to change him to guitar chords. We used to love “Little White Lies” and “Don’t Blame Me.”

And Leslie Uggams says,

[It was] on the movie set of Two Weeks in Another Town. The movie starred Kirk Douglas; I sang his favorite song in it. The song was “Don’t Blame Me.” Liza got me the movie. Her dad, Vincent Minnelli, directed it. What a friend!

Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh wrote “Don’t Blame Me” during their transition from Broadway shows to Hollywood films. Their stage contributions produced such hits as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (1929), “Diga Diga Doo” (1928), “In A Great Big Way” (1929), “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (1930), “Exactly Like You” (1930), and “Blue Again” (1931). Fields and McHugh’s success continued with Hollywood scores producing “I Feel A Song Coming On,” “I’m in the Mood for Love,” and “Hooray for Love,” all in 1935.

More information on this tune...

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


(In his definitive book on American popular song, Wilder offers a short musical analysis of “Don’t Blame Me.”)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

“Don’t Blame Me” is written in A1-A2-B-A2 form, and the title phrase is used to open the song and close the A sections. Putting a twist on the phrase “Don’t Blame Me,” Fields’ lyrics profess love and passion, saying in short, “Don’t blame me for falling in love with you”; instead, “blame all your charms that melt in my arms.”

In his book The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, Philip Furia comments on the lyrics of “Don’t Blame Me,” saying the song “… marks the shift to a more languorously erotic style.” He goes on to say that each of the three words in the phrase, “Don’t Blame Me” offers “…a different open vowel — o, a, e, — to provide a perfect vehicle for the torchiest of singers.” -JW

Musical analysis of “Don’t Blame Me”

Original Key C major
Form A1 – A2 – B – A2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement “A” consists of upward skips alternating with step-wise descents. “B” rises chromatically before a skip upward; the downward leap of a seventh then arpeggiates up before a final chromatic descent into the last “A”.

Comments     (assumed background)

A number of chord substitutions and delayed resolutions keep this tune interesting. Many of the melody tones are the “color” tones or harmonic extensions of the underlying chords. Of special interest are the chromatic “lower neighbor tones” occurring in the first two measures of “B”. In the first measure of this section, this seemingly creates tension between the minor iv and its parallel major. Functionally, however, the entire measure is really major. If the clashing between the minor third of the melody and the major third of the chord causes confusion, the accompanist might consider using common-tone diminished chords on beats one and three in the measure (or omit the third). The second measure of “B” is different; the melody alternates between the flatted and the natural fifth. In this context, the flatted fifth (Bb) cannot be anything other than a color tone. The bass should be confined to the root and third here.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Soundtrack information
“Don't Blame Me” was included in these films:
  • Dinner at Eight (1933)
  • Freddie Steps Out (1946, Freddie Steward) Freddy Slack, Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra
  • The Big City (1948, Betty Garrett, George Murphy)
  • The Strip (1951, Vic Damone)
  • The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, conflicting information)
  • Bring Your Smile Along (1955, Constance Towers)
  • Two Weeks in Another Town (1962, Leslie Uggams)
  • Shoot the Moon (1982, Helen Slayton-Hughes)
  • Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser (1989, Thelonious Monk)
  • The Tic Code (1999, Thelonious Monk)
And on stage:
  • Clowns in Clover (1933, Jeanette Loff) Chicago revue
  • Sugar Babies (1979, Ann Miller) Broadway
  • Clue: The Musical (1997, Cast) Off-Broadway
  • Lucky in the Rain (1997) Connecticut
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Don't Blame Me" may be found in:

David Ewen
American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary
H. W. Wilson
Hardcover: 489 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history.)

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


(3 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Pianist Teddy Wilson’s 1937 solo version resurrected this 1933 tune. It was recorded during a busy time in his career when he was working with the Benny Goodman Trio and leading recording sessions backing Billie Holiday.

Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, not to be outdone by his “protege” Ben Webster, made his version just months after Webster’s and is accompanied by a group which includes Teddy Wilson.

Another Goodman alumnus, pianist Mel Powell, was a member of Major Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force band in Europe during World War II. In Paris, just days after VE Day in May 1945, he made a solo version, no doubt as tribute to Wilson. Powell went on to compose and teach in the classical field.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson 1937-1938
Classics 548

Coleman Hawkins
1944
Classic 842

Mel Powell
Piano Prodigy
Ocium 31

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Don't Blame Me.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Nat “King” Cole recorded “Don’t Blame Me” as an instrumental with his trio several times, but it was his trio recording from 1944 with vocals (For Sentimental Reasons: 25 Early Vocal Classics) that would eventually become a hit when reissued four years later and which is an all-time classic among vocal versions of the tune. Among modern jazz fans and musicians Charlie Parker’s 1947 performance of “Don’t Blame Me” (Complete Dial Sessions Master Takes) is a definitive version of the tune. People wanting to explore Parker’s ballad style will find this to be an excellent starting point.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Charlie Parker
Complete Dial Sessions Master Takes
Definitive/Disconforme SL
Original recording 1947
Bird’s tender interpretation of “Don’t Blame Me” is one of the definitive recordings of the tune and is a prime example of his ballad style.
Ahmad Jamal
The Legendary Okeh and Epic Recordings
2005 Sony 93580
Original recording 1955
Out of print for years before its 2005 reissue, this classic performance swings elegantly and is a wonderful showcase for the influential work of Jamal’s drummer-less trio with Ray Crawford and Israel Crosby.
Art Tatum
20th Century Piano Genius
1996 Polygram 31763
Original recording 1955
Tatum offers a relaxed interpretation of “Don’t Blame Me” that relies more on his rhythmic self-assurance than on his usual dazzling displays of technique.
iTunes
Jackie McLean
Capuchin Swing
2002 Blue Note 40033
Original recording 1960
McLean plays wonderfully on the rest of this album, but “Don’t Blame Me” is a tight, swinging trio feature for the rhythm section of Walter Bishop, Jr., Paul Chambers and Art Taylor.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Thelonious Monk
Criss-Cross
2003, Sony
Original recording, 1963, Legacy
Monk is alone at his piano on this passionate reading of “Don’t Blame Me.”’ The mood is somber, and the playing dissonant, and Monk compellingly takes possession of yet another standard.
iTunes
Ben Webster
1944-1946
1999, Melodie Jazz Classics 1017

The tone is warm and relaxed on this great, mid-tempo reading of “Don’t Blame Me”’ with saxophonist Webster taking a meandering, full-bodied solo.
Nat "King" Cole
For Sentimental Reasons: 25 Early Vocal Classics
ASV Living Era 5236
Original recording 1947
With his trio, featuring the brilliant Oscar Moore on guitar, Cole offers an infectious performance of “Don’t Blame Me,” showcasing both his voice and his piano.
Terence Blanchard
Let's Get Lost
2001 Sony 89607
Original recording 2001
Guest vocalist Cassandra Wilson starts this one off smoky and sensual, but as the song progresses, so does the tempo. Blanchard’s red-hot trumpet fills all the space with some fantastic runs.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh

Year Rank Title
1932 38 Don't Blame Me
1930 55 On the Sunny Side of the Street
1930 113 Exactly Like You
1928 162 I Can't Give You Anything but Love
1935 195 I'm in the Mood for Love
1928 564 I Must Have That Man

Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Jerome Kern and Jimmy McHugh

Year Rank Title
1935 999 I Won't Dance

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