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It Could Happen to You (1944)

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Origin and Chart Information
“What might be a mere buzz in lesser hands becomes restrained passion and detailed expression...”

- Stuart Broomer on Davis’s
“It Could Happen to You”

Rank 60
Music Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics Johnny Burke

In 1944 Dorothy Lamour and Fred MacMurray introduced “It Could Happen to You” in the Paramount musical comedy, And the Angels Sing.


More on Dorothy Lamour at JazzBiographies.com

More on Fred MacMurray at JazzBiographies.com

The film tells the story of the Angel sisters, a quartet played by Lamour, Betty Hutton, Diana Lynn and Mimi Chandler, and their adventures with a bandleader played by Fred MacMurray. Other songs in the Van Heusen/Burke score include, “His Rocking Horse Ran Away,” “Bluebirds in My Belfry,” “For the Next Hundred Years,” “Knocking on Your Own Front Door,” “My Heart’s Wrapped Up in Gingham,” “When Stanislaus Got Married,” and “How Does Your Garden Grow?” Diana Lynn’s vocals were dubbed by Julie Gibson.

The first hit recording of “It Could Happen to You” was by Jo Stafford with Paul Weston and His Orchestra and entered the pop charts in July, 1944, rising to number ten. Two months later Bing Crosby’s rendition, with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra, climbed the charts to number eighteen. Crosby’s recording was the B-side of another Van Heusen/Burke movie hit, “The Day after Forever,” from Going My Way, also 1944.


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

Jimmy Van Heusen’s use of a chromatically ascending bass line as a main theme produces a bright feeling, and, together with the relaxed melody, “It Could Happen to You” becomes a perfect vehicle for a casual, hip delivery.


More on Jimmy Van Heusen at JazzBiographies.com

More on Johnny Burke at JazzBiographies.com

Underscoring Van Heusen’s breezy mood, Johnny Burke’s phrases avoid sentimentality, warning those who might be easily seduced by love and referring to love only as “it.”

Hide your heart ...
Lock your dreams ...
It could happen to you

But Burke ends the song on a softer note, moving from direct advice to a supporting example,

All I did was wonder how your arms could be,
Then it happened to me.

More information on this tune...

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

(Pianist/educator Halberstadt devotes six pages to an analysis of the music and includes the sheet music.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “It Could Happen to You”

Original Key Eb major
Form A – B1 – A – B2
Tonality Primarily major
Movement Scale-wise ascending, followed by skips; generally rising one octave before descending back to the tonic with short upward skips on the way down

Comments     (assumed background)

This is a laid-back song with a narrow range. The harmonic progression is reminiscent of “Memories Of You” for the first five measures (Van Heusen substitutes Gø7 and C7(b9) for E˚7 and Aø7 and B7 forGb˚7). The next three measures follow up with I – IV – III7 – VI7, leading to the ii (Fm in the original key) that starts out the first “B” section. The first four measures of Section “B” are ii7 – V7(sus4) – I, although Van Heusen substitutes bVII7 (Db7) for the V7. In all likelihood this was for coloristic reasons, because this era (mid-to-late 1940s) marked a period of harmonic experimentation on the part of jazz and pop music artists. The initial ii7 – V7 – I is followed by vi – ii7 – V7 in the last four measures of the first “B” section, returning the song to the tonic at the beginning of the second “A” section. The last six measures of the song use an extended variation of I – VI7 – ii7 – V7 – I, in which the composer inserts a coloristic iii7(b5) between the initial I and VI7, increasing the tension before the final resolution and ending of the song.
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
“It Could Happen to You” was included in these films:
  • And the Angels Sing (1944, Dorothy Lamour)
  • Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, Dick Hyman)
  • New York Stories (1989) Segment 1: Life Lessons
  • Michael (1996)
  • The Hurricane (1999, Dinah Washington)
  • Anything Else (2003, Diana Krall)
  • How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (2003)
  • The Prince & Me (2004)
And on stage:
  • Swinging on a Star: The Johnny Burke Musical (1995) Broadway musical
Reading and Research
Additional information for "It Could Happen to You" may be found in:

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

(1 page including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Film Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 536 pages

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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

(6 pages including the following types of information: music analysis and sheet music.)
Also on This Page...

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

Vocalist and pianist Nat “King” Cole, under contract to Capitol Records in 1950 along with the big band of Stan Kenton, takes credit for one of the first jazz recordings of this tune, as does Erroll Garner with his version from the same year. The next year, pianist Bud Powell and his trio recorded their rendition for Blue Note.

Although Miles Davis’ 1956 album with this tune is his first commercially recorded effort with it, there is a broadcast of Davis doing the number in 1952, which ranks among the first recorded jazz versions of this tune and makes an interesting comparison to the later version.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Nat "King"' Cole
Nat "King"' Cole
Capitol 99777

Erroll Garner
Erroll Garner 1950
Classics 1240

Bud Powell
Bud Powell 1951-1953
Classics 1373

Miles Davis
Miles Davis: The Complete Birdland Recordings
Definitive Classics 11165

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

The influential Miles Davis Quintet of the 1950s provided one of the classic versions of “It Could Happen to You” in 1956 (Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet). Davis, John Coltrane and Red Garland all play delightful solos and the rhythm section of Garland, Paul Chambers and “Philly” Joe Jones is restrained but infectiously swinging. Jones also appears on Chet Baker’s version from two years later (Chet Baker Sings It Could Happen to You). This is a definitive vocal performance for Baker, with a great interpretation of the melody and a skillful scat solo.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Chet Baker
Chet Baker Sings It Could Happen to You
Original recording 1958
This influential performance documents the early days of Baker’s relationship with the Riverside label and, as a result, with the East Coast players associated with that label. His all-star accompanists here include pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Sam Jones and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones. In addition to definitively interpreting the melody, Baker takes a brilliant scat solo that shows the almost eerie similarity between his scatting and his trumpet soloing.

- Noah Baerman

Miles Davis
Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 190
Original recording, 1956, Prestige
This important album contains a snappy, upbeat version of the song. Davis, on muted trumpet, and John Coltrane, on tenor saxophone, are joined by the incomparable rhythm section of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones for one of a series of songs that would define the refined cool jazz sound
Dinah Washington
What a Difference a Day Makes
2000, Polygram
Original recording, 1959
Vocalist Dinah Washington delivers the cautionary tale with elegance. Sweeping violins and a touch of doo-wop in the background vocals give the song added poignancy.
Sonny Rollins
The Sound of Sonny
1991 Original Jazz Classics 29
Original recording 1957
Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins strips the song right down for one of his trademark solo runs. The sound is big and raw and powerful and fills every corner of the studio.
Shirley Horn
Close Enough for Love
1990 Polygram Records 37933
Original recording 1989
Horn’s infectious interpretation of “It Could Happen To You” features some wonderful interplay with tenor saxophonist Buck Hill.
Chick Corea
Origin: Live At The Blue Note
1998 Stretch 9018

This long, exploratory performance is a feature for Corea’s sextet, Origin. Each member of the group is given solo space and each of them shines.
Nicholas Payton
From This Moment
1995, Polygram 527073

Nicholas Payton’s version of the song has a wonderful, old-school feel, but the quick-fingered trumpeter accents it with more than a few original sparks.

- Ben Maycock

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

Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen

Year Rank Title
1944 60 It Could Happen to You
1940 79 Polka Dots and Moonbeams
1953 100 Here's That Rainy Day
1947 133 But Beautiful
1944 147 Like Someone in Love
1939 178 Imagination
1939 783 Oh You Crazy Moon
1942 907 Moonlight Becomes You

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