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I Surrender Dear (1931)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Monk invests the music with an emotional depth far beyond what may be described as a simple torch song....”

- Jeremy Wilson

Rank 95
Music Harry Barris
Lyrics Gordon Clifford

“I Surrender Dear” was Bing Crosby’s first solo hit, and, although it came about by circuitous circumstances, it played a large part in the beginning of his singing and film success.

Known as The Rhythm Boys, Bing Crosby, Harry Barris, and Al Rinker were a popular trio who performed with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. In 1930, Bing Crosby was arrested on a drunk driving charge, an event that led to Paul Whiteman’s releasing the trio. The Rhythm Boys then joined Gus Arnheim and His Orchestra. It was with Gus Arnheim that Crosby recorded the Harry Barris/Gordon Clifford composition.


More on Bing Crosby at JazzBiographies.com

More on Harry Barris at JazzBiographies.com

More on Gordon Clifford at JazzBiographies.com

Climbing the charts to third place in early 1931, this recording resulted in Crosby signing with CBS for his first radio show. Also that year, Crosby was asked by Max Sennett to do a short, musical film entitled, I Surrender Dear. Its success led to the production of more 2-reel films.


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

As Crosby’s solo career advanced, his commitment to The Rhythm Boys receded, resulting in their dissolution later in the year. This left Harry Barris free to pursue his career as a pianist, vocalist, bandleader, and even as supporting actor in a handful of movies.

“I Surrender Dear” also charted in 1931 for one week with Earl Burtnett and His Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra (vocalist Don Dewey) and peaked at number eighteen. In 1935 it charted for one week with Red Norvo and His Orchestra, rising to number twenty.

Usually performed at a relaxed tempo, “I Surrender Dear” has been called “haunting” and “lonely” and even “slow and creepy.” This does not mean that it is dreary or distasteful. It is better characterized as “emotionally powerful,” a comment made regarding the arrangement on Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners. Monk invests the music with an emotional depth far beyond what might be described as a simple torch song, given a cursory glance at the lyrics.

More information on this tune...

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

(Hischak gives the history of the song and lists the performers and the films which feature it.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “I Surrender Dear”

Original Key C major
Form A - A - B - A
Tonality There is a great deal of tension between major and minor before resolving to C major at the end of the “A” sections.
Movement Primarily thirds in “A” sections, ascending for four measures, then cascading back down in measure 5. “B” moves step-wise over the range of a minor 3rd before a final downward leap of a fifth and subsequent bounce back up a fourth, returning to “A”.

Comments     (assumed background)

If one takes the practice of chord substitution into consideration, the opening harmonic progression of this song is similar to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Cheerful Little Earful.” It is basically a ii7-V7-I-VI7, with a iii substituting for “I.” This gives the song an unsettled feeling, reflecting the tortured emotions of the singer. Although the harmony returns to “I” in measure 5, this is not the true resolution, which is delayed until the final (and title) line of the chorus, “I surrender, dear.”

In “B”, the progression jumps up to III7 as if there were to be a false key change to A minor, but–keeping with the spirit of the lyric–never quite makes it there, instead reaching up to the IV chord (in the original key, E7-F), then slipping back, only to reach again – and slip back. Eventually, it finally does resolve to vi, leading to the II7-V7 progression that should logically return to I but doesn’t until the final measures of the song.

It is also worth noting that the melody ends, not on the tonic note, but on the fifth, thus strengthening the impression of unresolved feelings and inner conflict. This is not a difficult piece since it stays within the range of a ninth. Performers should listen carefully to their rhythm section, keeping in mind that virtually every harmonic resolution is a delayed one.

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
“I Surrender Dear” was included in these films:
  • I Surrender Dear (1931, Bing Crosby)
  • The Tip-Off (1931)
  • The Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989, Madonna and Jennifer Grey sing a duet)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "I Surrender Dear" may be found in:

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.)
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Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Reading & Research

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

Jazz History Notes

Louis Armstrong is aptly credited as being the first jazz vocalist. In some manner he influenced almost every jazz (and pop vocalist) of the twentieth century. His version of “I Surrender Dear” from 1931 exhibits every aspect of his ingenious vocal style. In one chorus, he improvises not only melodically but with the lyrics, even adding a brief bit of scat singing.

The tune became a jam session favorite, especially with swing players like Roy Eldridge and Chu Berry, whose 1940 version under the band name “Chocolate Dandies” is a wonderful example of these seminal players stretching out. Also from 1940 is a memorable version by Benny Goodman’s sextet featuring young lion Charlie Christian on electric guitar.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra: 1930-1931
Classics 547

Chocolate Dandies
EPM Musique 157982

Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “I Surrender Dear.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

If looking for a definitive vocal performance of this tune, one should begin with Louis Armstrong’s 1931 recording (Louis Armstrong 1930-1931). Many subsequent interpretations of the tune have been influenced by Armstrong’s playing and singing here. On the instrumental end, Thelonious Monk’s 1956 performance is a stunning reading of the tune and is also very significant as the lone standard on what may have been the most important album of his career, Brilliant Corners.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Lennie Tristano
Out On A Limb
1998 Indigo 98
Original recording 1946
Tristano’s revolutionary approach to improvisation is perhaps most dramatically evident on his early recordings of standards in a trio with guitarist Billy Bauer. This compilation provides multiple takes of “I Surrender Dear,” which offers a fascinating source of study and comparison.
Django Reinhardt
Django in Rome 1949-1950
Jsp Records
Original Recording 1949
These sessions marked the end of guitarist Reinhardt’s relationship with violinist Stephane Grappelli. This performance, alongside a group of Italian musicians, is full of the lyricism, energy and interplay that Reinhardt and Grappelli spent fifteen years developing.
Paul Gonsalves
Gettin' Together
1991 Original Jazz Classics 203
Original recording 1960
Tenor saxophonist Gonsalves is heard here accompanied by the sympathetic rhythm section of pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The interpretation is slow, sultry and achingly lyrical.
Benny Goodman
Sextet Featuring Charlie Christian
Sbme Special Mkts.

See history notes above.

- Noah Baerman

Howard Alden & George Van Eps
Seven and Seven
1993, Concord 4584

Two seven-string guitar masters, here in a duo setting, update “I Surrender Dear”’ in a gentle reading. Their technical brilliance and insightful interpretations are applied to several other top standards on the CD as well.

- Sandra Burlingame

Thelonious Monk
Brilliant Corners
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 26
Original recording, 1956
The pianist gives "I Surrender Dear"' a quirky reading in this, one of his most important recordings.
Billy Eckstine
Love Songs
2004, Savoy Jazz
Original recording, 1954
The voice of Mr. B is like no other--deep, rich, warm, and seemingly effortless. This is a great collection of songs delivered in his inimitable manner.

- Ben Maycock

Julie London
Time for Love: The Best of Julie London
1991, Rhino 70737
An excellent version by the sultry vocalist.

- Jon Luthro

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

Harry Barris and Gordon Clifford

Year Rank Title
1931 95 I Surrender Dear

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