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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

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Haven Gillespie’s urbane lyrics are well suited to the music, likening a romance to the effervescence of an alcoholic beverage. The song has an A1-A1-B-A2 form with a 10-bar extension. Gillespie starts out each A section with “You go to my head…” then describes through simile just how. Apparently Gillespie did not want to start or end the song with alcoholic comparisons so instead he sandwiches “bubbles in a glass of champagne,” “sparkling Burgundy brew,” and “kicker in a julep or two” between “haunting refrain” and “summer with a thousand Julys.” -JW

Musical analysis of “You Go to My Head”

Original Key Eb major; brief false key change to “G” at the end of the bridge
Form A1 – A1 – B – A2 – C
Tonality Primarily major
Movement After an opening upward octave leap, the “A” section descends mainly leap-wise. “B” starts with two upward leaps and an arpeggiated figure which outlines the notes of the harmony descending and ascending. This is followed by two measures of a repeated note that drops an octave to repeat for another eight beats before returning to the third “A.” “C” starts with a downward octave leap that ascends three steps and a skip before arpeggiating upwards to rest on the fifth scale degree where it remains until the end.

Comments     (assumed background)

The aural interest here lies not in the almost static melody but in the lush and exotic harmonic progression. Initially, this ascends I – ii – iii with one change per beat (not difficult at the traditional tempo of approximately 60 b.p.m.). Then, instead of IV, it lands on the minor “iv,” becoming a “ii7” of the bIII chord (Gb in the original key of Eb). Before the new tonality can become established, however, it drops a half step to form a II7 leading to the V7 of the original key. It resolves to the original tonic but in parallel minor. There is then an interesting i – vi – iib5 – V7+ sequence that returns to the major in resolution.

“B” starts in the “IV” key (Ab in the original), going through a very traditional IV - #iv˚7 – I6/4 (second inversion, fifth degree in the bass) and brief I – IV – I (or “amen”). It then changes to III (G major in the original) by means of a tri-tone jump to the #iv7(b5) where it settles until the end of the “B” section. In order to get back to the original key, the harmonic progression drops two half-steps to form the original ii7 chord (actually a m6 if the melody note is taken into consideration), leading to V7 – I.

Another traditional harmonic progression that gets turned on its head underlies the “C” section. A IV chord becomes minor, followed by the I which ascends diatonically to iii – biii˚7 – ii. This ii is briefly decorated by a lower, neighboring vii˚7 chord (in the original, Fm7 – E˚7 – Fm), then to V7. But final resolution to I is delayed when the bass line moves down to the flatted third scale degree (Gb in the original key), creating a bIII chord resolving to bVI (called an “augmented sixth” in theory books–B major in the key of Eb). Since the melody note at this point is the major seventh of the penultimate chord, it is “common” with the root tone of the V7 which follows, resolving at last back to I. (The melody, however, remains on the fifth degree.)

Generally, this is a complex and unusual, but lovely, harmonic progression that must be heard to be appreciated. It does not lend itself well to a casual “jam” or impromptu improvisation.

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).
Musicians' Comments

“You Go to My Head” has a dreamy movement that is complemented well by Haven Gillespie’s lyrics. I recorded it with a bolero beat to maximize this effect. Also, I enjoy the very evocative references to booze. I haven’t had a drink in more than 16 years, but I can sit at the bar and live vicariously through the song. Thank you, Mr. Gillespie. I’ll have a double.

Janis Mann, Jazz Vocalist

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Soundtrack information
“You Go to My Head” was included in these films:
  • Laura (1944, instrumental)
  • Swing Kids (1993)
  • Corrina, Corrina (1994, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson)
  • Playing by Heart (1999, Chet Baker)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "You Go to My Head" may be found in:

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

(2 pages including the following types of information: history and lyric analysis.)

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 and performers.)

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.)

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: history, lyric analysis, music analysis and performers.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

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

Although Teddy Wilson recorded this tune with his band in 1937, he revisited the tune in a solo piano version in 1945. The following year tenor saxophonist Don Byas, a master of up-tempo material and ballads, stretched his ballad “chops” on his recording. In 1947, the man whom many considered to be the “master” of the tenor sax, Coleman Hawkins, laid down his rendition with a band of future all-stars: Fats Navarro on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Milt Jackson on vibes, Hank Jones on piano, and Max Roach on drums.

To close out the decade, there were sides made by ex-Benny Goodman pianist Mel Powell (on solo piano) and young and upcoming tenor sax player Gene Ammons.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Teddy Wilson
Flawless Swing

Don Byas
Don Byas 1946
Classics 1009

Coleman Hawkins
Bean and the Boys
Prestige 24124
Original recording 1946
Mel Powell, Joe Sullivan and Mary Lou Williams
Two Cats and a Mouse: Piano solos by Mel Powell, Joe Sullivan and Mary Lou Williams

Gene Ammons
Gene Ammons 1949-1950

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

Coleman Hawkins recorded “You Go to My Head” in 1946 (Bean and the Boys) with a band featuring the piano of Hank Jones and the vibes of Milt Jackson. As with his landmark recording of “Body and Soul,” the melody is only referenced in passing, but the performance is a classic. Louis Armstrong recorded a wonderful version in 1957 with Oscar Peterson (Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson). The tune is approached faithfully, and Armstrong’s trumpet and vocals both shine. As for non-ballad performances of the tune, Lee Morgan’s version (The Gigolo) stands out. This 1965 version features fiery soloing from Morgan and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, all prodded by the irresistibly funky drumming of Billy Higgins.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
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

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

J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie

Year Rank Title
1938 42 You Go to My Head
1934 417 Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

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