Jazz Standards.com : Jazz Standards : Songs : History : Biographies
Home Overview Songs Biographies History Theory Search Bookstore About

I Can't Give You Anything but Love (1928)

Share your comments on this tune...

Origin and Chart Information
Mystery now surrounds the composition credits given to “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

- Chris Tyle

AKAI Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby
Rank 162
Music Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics Dorothy Fields

This song was sung by Aida Ward and Willard McLean in the Broadway musical comedy, Blackbirds of 1928. The show featured a cast consisting of some of the best African-American entertainers, including Florence Mills, Ethel Waters, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Blackbirds ran for 518 performances, and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” was the hit from the show.

The tune’s popularity can easily be determined from the chart information, especially from 1928. But the chart also establishes the tune’s continued popularity:

  • Cliff Edwards (1928, vocal, #1)
  • Ben Selvin and His Orchestra (1928, #2)
  • Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders (1928, Hal White, vocal, #4)
  • Segar Ellis (1928, vocal, #19)
  • Gene Austin (1929, vocal, #12)
  • Nat Shilkret Rhyth-Melodists (1929, #12)
  • Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra (1936, Billie Holiday, vocal, #5)
  • Rose Murphy (1948, vocal, #13)

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

Mystery now surrounds the composition credits given to “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” The melody, reputedly written by Jimmy McHugh, made its first appearance as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Lindy,” a dedication to transatlantic flyer Charles Lindberg which was slated for the show Harry Delmar’s Revels. The tune was pulled from the production and reappeared, with new lyrics credited to Dorothy Fields, in Blackbirds. But a number of sources, most notably Barry Singer’s book, Black and Blue: The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf, bring the tune’s authorship into question.


More on Dorothy Fields at JazzBiographies.com

More on Jimmy McHugh at JazzBiographies.com

Razaf biographer Singer recounts a 1929 New York Post profile of pianist and composer Thomas “Fats” Waller in which Waller mentions that one of his compositions was purchased by a white songwriter who subsequently placed it in a show. As part of a “musical comedy” it became the major hit, netting royalties of $17,500 for its “composer” who had purchased the tune from Fats for $500. A number of Fats’ colleagues admitted that Fats did make a practice of selling compositions to white songwriters, often for as little as $10.


More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

More on Andy Razaf at JazzBiographies.com

Indirectly supporting the rumors is a document on the Rutgers-Newark Online website regarding their Dana Library Institute of Jazz Studies collection of Waller memorabilia, including a tune called “Spreadin’ the Rhythm Around”:

[The collection] includes several drafts of music in Waller’s hand. These are basically early attempts (first versions or rough sketches) of songs Waller was writing, made in pencil on music manuscript paper ...the collection includes some instrumental parts in Waller’s handwriting (for “Walkin’ The Floor” and “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around”).

Though the 1935 copyright of “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” attributes the music to Jimmy McHugh, the fact that these parts are in Waller’s handwriting argues strongly that he, not McHugh, was the original composer of the song (see Machlin, “Fats Waller Composes,” Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7, 1994-95, pp. 1-24).

Biographer Singer adds more grist to the mill by recounting another story directly involving Razaf. Gladys Redman, widow of saxophonist/arranger/bandleader Don Redman, visited Razaf in the hospital in the early 1970s. Mrs. Redman asked Razaf to sing the favorite of all his lyrics, and to her amazement he complied with a whispered chorus of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Despite the controversy over the tune, no one has come forth over the years to question the authorship of the other Fields/McHugh tunes from the show, which are excellent and occasionally resurface in jazz versions: “Digga Digga Doo,” “I Must Have That Man,” and “Doin’ the New Lowdown.”

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 relates anecdotes and analyzes the lyric.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Benny Goodman
The Benny Goodman Sextet Featuring Charlie Christian: 1939-1941
Original recording 1940

This relaxed, swinging performance features excellent playing by Cootie Williams on trumpet, Georgie Auld on saxophone, Charlie Christian on guitar and Goodman himself on clarinet.

Lester Young, Oscar Peterson Trio
Lester Young with Oscar Peterson Trio

Accompanied by Oscar Peterson’s group, saxophonist Young interprets the melody wonderfully at a swinging medium-slow tempo. He also contributes a fabulous solo, as do Peterson and guitarist Barney Kessel.

Red Garland
Red Garland's Piano (Reis)
Original recording 1957

Pianist Red Garland could swing hard, and this trio performance is a stellar example of that. Bassist Paul Chambers gets an extended solo and drummer Arthur Taylor offers up great brushes throughout.

Sarah Vaughan
Benny Carter Sessions
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1962

Vaughan’s nickname of “Sassy” is very appropriate on this slyly-swinging performance. Benny Carter’s big band arrangement features some slick ensemble passages with Vaughan scatting, along with a nice vibraphone solo by Larry Bunker.


- Noah Baerman

Diana Krall
When I Look In Your Eyes
1999 Impulse! 304
Original recording 1999
It’s not hard to understand why this album won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, and this song stands out as one of the best. The pianist/singer teams with guitarist Russell Malone for an up-tempo rendition that makes the song sound as if it were written yesterday.
Martin Taylor
2000 Linn Records 90
Original recording 2000
British guitarist Taylor gives the song the Django treatment on this wonderful gypsy swing reading. Taylor’s performance is the perfect combination of lively abandon and meticulous technique.
Ellis Marsalis
Heart of Gold
1992 Columbia 47509
Original recording 1992
This is an elegant, introspective offering from the Marsalis patriarch. Drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Ray Brown join the pianist, and all play with a dignified restraint that contains flashes of pure brilliance.
Don Shirley
...Plays Birdland Lullabies/Show Tunes
2001 Collectables 2790
Original Recording 1955
In duo with bassist Richard Davis, classically trained pianist Shirley creates a full rhythmic setting for his swinging version of the McHugh/Fields standard.

- Ben Maycock

Copyright 2005-2015 - JazzStandards.com - All Rights Reserved      Permission & contact information

Home | Overview | Songs | Biographies | History | Theory | Search | Bookstore | About