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You Go to My Head (1938)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Vocalist Reeves delivers a crisp, romantic reading of the song...”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 42
Music J. Fred Coots
Lyrics Haven Gillespie

The introduction of “You Go to My Head” is almost universally credited to Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra. A recording by Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra, however, was a hit eight weeks before Gray’s.

On the pop charts the song appeared by:

  • Teddy Wilson (1938, Nan Wynn, vocal, #20) (charted on June 18)
  • Larry Clinton and His Orchestra (1938, Bea Wain, vocal, #3) (charted on July 23)
  • Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra (1938, Kenny Sargent, vocal, #9) (charted on August 13)

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

From 1935 to 1938 the Teddy Wilson Orchestra enjoyed dozens of successful recordings, but “You Go to My Head” would be their last major hit before the band broke up in 1940. In his book The Big Bands, George T. Simon suggests “Perhaps the band remained too polite...” Wilson continued his career, working with small groups.


More on Nan Wynn at JazzBiographies.com

More on Teddy Wilson at JazzBiographies.com

Critics marvel over “You Go to My Head.” Praise for its composer, J. Fred Coots, is not as complimentary, most often characterizing him as a one-hit wonder. William Zinsser in Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs includes “You Go to My Head” in a group of songs he calls “...the great shots that came from out of nowhere.”American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 author Alec Wilder calls the song “a minor masterpiece.” When discussing the song “Gone With the Wind,” Wilder comments that Allie Wrubel “...never wrote a song nearly like it, any more than J. Fred Coots ever wrote another song like “You Go to My Head.” And Wilder goes on further to express surprise that “You Go to My Head” was written by a “competent but unexceptional” writer such as Coots.

What then is the attraction of this song that has the critics relegating poor Coots to a goose that laid one golden egg? It certainly is not mass appeal; Coots had bigger hits, including (with Gillespie) “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” a song that easily outranks “You Go to My Head” in sales and popularity. It is, instead, the harmonic composition, which is surprisingly sophisticated for a “pop” song. And those harmonies are showcased by a melody with an alarming number of repeated notes.


More on J. Fred Coots at JazzBiographies.com

The song’s level of compositional sophistication is rare for the “pop” genre, that is, songs written outside the spheres of jazz or theater. Though Coots is usually associated with his Tin Pan Alley hits, his background was also in vaudeville and the theater where he worked under contract for the Shubert Organization, a theatrical production company where he co-composed with Sigmund Romberg.


More on Haven Gillespie at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

Philip Furia
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 336 pages

(Author/educator Furia devotes two pages to the song’s history and an analysis of the lyric.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Stan Kenton
City of Glass: Stan Kenton Plays Bob Graettinger
1994 Blue Note 32084
Original recording 1952
Bob Graettinger was one of the most forward-looking composer/arrangers in the history of large jazz ensemble writing. His arrangement of “You Go To My Head”’ is brilliant, haunting, even disturbing at times, and yet somehow remains true to the song.
Lennie Tristano
Lennie Tristano/The New Lennie Tristano
1994, Rhino 71595
Original recording, 1955, Atlantic
Tristano’s live recording of “You Go To My Head”’ features the alto saxophone of Lee Konitz. Konitz recorded this tune numerous times and developed a strong relationship with it.
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson
1997 Verve 539060
Original recording 1957
There is no better way to begin learning this song than by studying this recording. With sensitive accompaniment by Peterson and his group, Louis Armstrong gives a faithful reading of the melody on the trumpet, followed by an irresistible vocal chorus.
Bill Evans
Original Recording 1962
This recording went a long way towards displaying the potential for “You Go To My Head”’ to go beyond ballad interpretations. This high-energy performance features brilliant solos by Evans, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, guitarist Jim Hall and drummer “Philly”’ Joe Jones.
Lee Morgan
The Gigolo
2006 Blue Note 37762
Original recording 1965
Trumpeter Morgan lets loose with a wonderful, funky performance that revolves around an infectious vamp played intermittently throughout the tune. His stellar supporting cast includes tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Bob Cranshaw, pianist Harold Mabern and drummer Billy Higgins.

- Noah Baerman

Lee Konitz
The Real Lee Konitz
32 Jazz Records
Original recording, 1961, Collectables
You can hear a pin drop on this live recording. The alto saxophonist mesmerizes the audience with his sensitivity and originality.
Roy Hargrove
Moment to Moment
2000 Verve 314543540
Original recording 2000
Hargrove kicks off this album with a superbly romantic version of the ballad. Backed by strings, the trumpeter weaves hypnotically through this lush arrangement.
Harry James and His Orchestra
The Uncollected Harry James and His Orchestra 1943-1946
1994, Hindsight Records102

This is a great orchestra rendition, featuring some sparkling James trumpet runs and the exquisite vocals of Helen Forrest.

- Ben Maycock

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