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Exactly Like You (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“As with many standards, Louis Armstrong nabs the honor of making the first jazz version of this song in 1930....”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 113
Music Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics Dorothy Fields

Harry Richman and Gertrude Lawrence introduced “Exactly Like You” in Lew Leslie’s International Revue on February 25, 1930, at the Majestic Theater in New York City. After a run of 95 performances the show closed, but two Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh compositions, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Exactly Like You,” endured to become standards.


More on Gertrude Lawrence at JazzBiographies.com

Exactly Like You” made the charts several times:


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

Broadway was hard hit by the Great Depression, and many shows like the International Revue closed after short runs. Although well-funded and featuring a top-notch cast (Gertrude Lawrence, Harry Richman, Jack Pearl, Anton Dolin, and Argentinita) with choreography by master Busby Berkeley and songs by McHugh/Fields, the musical was poorly scripted, too long, and, in general, had little appeal for audiences or critics.


More on Dorothy Fields at JazzBiographies.com

More on Jimmy McHugh at JazzBiographies.com

The Depression hit the recording industry, too, and once the initial popularity of a tune wore off, the public was on to something new. As swing became progressively more popular, big band leaders resurrected a number of older hits. The Benny Goodman Trio’s version of “Exactly Like You” from August, 1936, was the first recorded vocal by vibraphonist/drummer Lionel Hampton, and the disc hit the charts, rekindling the momentum that would lead to it becoming a jazz standard.

Although this tune has been recorded by many jazz vocalists, its greater appeal over the decades has been as an instrumental. In fact, most jazz singers, beginning with Louis Armstrong’s 1930 recording, avoid singing the melody as written. For example, Armstrong, Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie’s band, and Lionel Hampton sang the opening melodic phrase on one note, rather than the descending fourths as written. Alec Wilder, in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, points out more challenges of this song: “For a pop song it’s very rangy, an octave and a fifth. This vocal demand is seldom found even in a theater song.” He also mentions the lack of a point to take a breath right before and after the bridge, necessitating a slight rhythmic adjustment by the performer.

A great deal of the tune’s charm is in the superb lyrics by Dorothy Fields. As Alec Wilder put it in his book, “Her lyrics often swung, and their deceptive ease gave a special luster to McHugh’s music.” The lyric describes “how grand” it is when you find the right person, “who seems to understand” one’s dreams and schemes.

More information on this tune...

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

(Author/composer Wilder analyzes the musical content of the song in his definitive book on American popular song.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
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Nat King Cole Trio
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1949

The King Cole Trio’s performance is a particularly infectious version of “Exactly Like You.” Irving Ashby capably fills the guitar seat in the place of Oscar Moore, and Jack Costanzo’s percussion adds a different color to the ensemble.

Dizzy Gillespie
Diz and Getz
Umvd Labels
Original recording 1953

This relaxed, swinging recording finds a perfect balance between creativity and reverence, and the band is the epitome of “all-star.” Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie are joined by Oscar Peterson’s trio and bebop drum innovator Max Roach, and the synergy among the musicians is remarkable.

Carmen Mcrae
The Best of Carmen McRae: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection

Carmen McRae is at her rhythmically creative best on this irresistible collaboration with Ray Bryant’s trio. On “Exactly Like You,” Bryant himself steps aside and lets McRae show off her underrated and seldom-heard skills at the piano.

Ray Brown Trio featuring Gene Harris
Soular Energy
Concord Records
Original recording 1984

Ray Brown’s infectious bass lines and assured soloing were for many years complemented by the swinging, soulful piano of Gene Harris, and their interpretation of “Exactly Like You” is a highlight of that partnership.


- Noah Baerman

Yusef Lateef
The Golden Flute
2004 Impulse! B000143502
Original recording 1966
Flautist Lateef takes a turn on the oboe for this jaunty, bright reading of the song. The arrangement is uncluttered and takes full advantage of Lateef’s dexterity and creativity.
Mark Murphy
Crazy Rhythm and His Debut Recordings
1999 GRP Records 670
Original recordings 1956-1957
Once you hear vocalist Murphy’s version of “Exactly Like You” you’ll understand why he owns the song. He retains its integrity while taking liberties with the dynamics and phrasing. Ralph Burns’ arrangement gives the nod to Basie with its easy swing.
Dianne Reeves
That Day...
1997 Blue Note 56973
Original recording 1997
In an elegant and very romantic version, Reeves keeps it uncharacteristically simple here and it works. Both she and pianist Mulgrew Miller manage to swing the song without forcing the tempo.

- Ben Maycock

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