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Mean to Me (1929)

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Origin and Chart Information
Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, with vocalist Billie Holiday, saw their rendition on the charts for four weeks. Their version can be heard on Musical Romance (Billie Holiday and Lester Young).

- JW

Rank 75
Words and Music Fred Ahlert
Roy Turk

Ruth Etting introduced this Ahlert/Turk torch song in 1929. “Mean to Me” had on its flip side the B.G. DeSylva/Lew Brown song “Button Up Your Overcoat” (from the 1929 Broadway musical comedy about championship golf, Follow Through).


More on Ruth Etting at JazzBiographies.com

More on Fred Ahlert at JazzBiographies.com

More on Roy Turk at JazzBiographies.com

The record sold over a million copies and both songs hit the charts: “Mean to Me” rising to number three and “Button Up Your Overcoat” peaking at number fifteen. Also in 1929, Helen Morgan’s recording reached number eleven, and in 1937 Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, with vocalist Billie Holiday, saw their rendition rise to number seven for four weeks. Their version can be heard on The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol. 4 or on the compilation CD, Musical Romance (Billie Holiday and Lester Young).


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

Diana Ross sang this and other standards in the film Lady Sings the Blues (1972), and, according to Clive Hirschhorn in Hollywood Musicals, she sounded “more like Motown than Harlem.”

While Ross’s version of the song may have sounded less than genuine to some, “Mean to Me” is far more convincing coming from the person to whom Lady Sings the Blues is a tribute, namely Billie Holiday. It was a staple of Holiday’s repertoire and came to symbolize the personal relationships which she brought to the song.

More information on this tune...

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

(In his encyclopedia of American song Hischak discusses the style of “Mean to Me” and lists the performers and the films in which the song has appeared.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi
Original recording 1950
This was a landmark recording session for Vaughan. The slyly swinging performance of "Mean to Me"' features some tasty trumpet work by Miles Davis behind the vocals. The primary instrumental soloist is the terrific Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone.

- Noah Baerman

Helen Humes
Songs I Like to Sing!
1991 OJC 171
Original recording 1961
The singers' singer could sing any style of music and did. She had perfect intonation and personalized phrasing that has been examined closely by many great singers. Here she is featured with Art Pepper, Ben Webster, and Jack Sheldon, to just skim the surface, and an equally prestigious rhythm section with arrangements by Marty Paich.
Nat Adderley
Work Song
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 363
Original recording, 1960
This is one of those classic albums that belongs in every jazz lover's collection. Cornetist Adderley and guitarist Wes Montgomery work their way through nine selections with alternating personnel. On this gently swinging number they are joined by Keter Betts on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.
Betty Carter
I Can't Help It
Grp Records

A young Betty displays the idiosyncratic style which she refused to compromise and on which she built her reputation. This is a creative version of "Mean to Me,"' and the CD is a great introduction to the vocalist.
Curtis Counce
You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce
1991 Original Jazz Classics 159
Original recording 1957
Bassist Counce and his ultra-swinging West Coast quintet offer a delightful performance of "Mean to Me,"' with a much brighter tempo than is typically associated with the tune.
Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, Shelly Manne
The Poll Winners
Contemporary 7535
Original recording 1957
Guitarist Kessel, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Shelly Manne all placed first on their instruments in the three major jazz polls in 1956. Here they cover eight standards and one Kessel composition, and the performances are perfection.

- Ben Maycock

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