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I Thought About You (1939)

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Origin and Chart Information

”The original sheet music to ‘I Thought About You’ shows a drawing of the streamliner..., undoubtedly the train Johnny Mercer took from Denver to Chicago when he wrote the tune’s lyrics.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 108
Music Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics Johnny Mercer

Four top big bands recorded this tune: Will Bradley, Bob Chester, Bob Crosby, and Benny Goodman. Goodman’s 1939 rendition with vocalist Mildred Bailey was the only version to make the charts, rising to #17 in 1940.


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

“I Thought About You” was among the first tunes that lyricist Johnny Mercer collaborated on with composer Jimmy Van Heusen. Mercer had just become a partner with Edwin H. Morris and formed Mercer-Morris. In Gene Lees’ biography, Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer, the author relates Mercer’s tale of writing the tune. Van Heusen played the melody for Mercer, who was leaving that evening for Chicago to appear on a radio program with Benny Goodman. Unable to sleep, Mercer found inspiration for the song from the train trip, seeing the little towns, the moon and landscape along the way. Mercer admitted his writing style was to paint pictures with lyrics, to “transport people to someplace they don’t know.” The story is a marvelous example of how a fine lyricist like Mercer could find inspiration in something many would consider mundane, a train trip.


More on Johnny Mercer at JazzBiographies.com

More on Jimmy Van Heusen at JazzBiographies.com

There’s a bit of serendipity that vocalist Mildred Bailey had a hit with “I Thought About You.” In 1933 Mercer’s first big hit was “Lazybones,” a collaboration with Hoagy Carmichael. Although the number was recorded by a number of artists, it was Bailey’s recording that became the big hit. From that, Mercer got a gig with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, with whom Mildred had been singing. Mercer considered this a huge stepping-stone in his career.

The original sheet music to “I Thought About You” shows a drawing of the streamliner, the Burlington Route’s Denver Zephyr, undoubtedly the train Johnny Mercer took from Denver to Chicago when he wrote the tune’s lyrics. The short verse (eight bars) is rarely performed, but the lyric is an especially nice set-up to the chorus, telling that the saying “out-of-sight is out-of-mind” doesn’t ring true with a loved one. The chorus tells about a train trip and all the things that remind us of the special person left behind, especially romantic scenes like “shadowy lanes under the stars.”

More information on this tune...

Philip Furia
Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer
St. Martin's Press; 1st edition
Hardcover: 320 pages

(Mercer biographer Furia devotes two pages to anecdotes and an analysis of the lyric.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “I Thought About You”

Original KeyEb major
FormA - B1 - A - B2
TonalityPrimarily major
MovementArpeggiated ascent followed by chromatic descent during “A”; gradual stepwise descent followed by upward skips during “B.”

Comments     (assumed background)

A beautiful, soaring melody with well-constructed arcs. Good balance of moving passages and sustained notes. The chord progression contains few surprises; although Van Heusen uses some embellishing ii7 chords before secondary dominants, all cadences resolve in the manner one’s ear would expect.
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

I think about this song every time I get off the train at Hoboken and head down into the PATH to go into the city. Something about the way that station feels; the architecture, the fruit stand, the cafes, etc. “With every stop that we made, I thought about you.” Anyone that’s ever left a gig and had to take a late night train home to Brooklyn, Jersey, wherever; we’ve all had that going through our heads, about someone. It’s one of these collaborations (Van Heusen/Mercer) where the lyric and melody seem to have been written by the same person, because the relationship between the sentiment of the melody and the intimacy of the lyric is so seamless.

Jeff Taylor, vocalist

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Reading and Research
Additional information for "I Thought About You" may be found in:

Philip Furia
Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer
St. Martin's Press; 1st edition
Hardcover: 320 pages

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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Hardcover: 736 pages

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

Gene Lees
Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer
Hal Leonard

(Includes anecdote on how the lyric was written.)
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

Guitarist Johnny Smith, a highly-regarded and influential performer for decades, recorded a number of albums for Roost in the 1950s which have now been reissued by Mosaic Records, an independent label dedicated to releasing classic jazz performances. The set is jam-packed with standards, including a first-rate “I Thought about You” (The Complete Roost Johnny Smith Small Group Sessions).

Growing up in rural Mississippi (the land of the Delta Blues), pianist/vocalist Mose Allison’s performances reflect his early roots, although his piano playing shows the influence of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. On his first solo outing in 1957 he included a bluesy, sparse version of “I Thought about You.”

Trumpeter Miles Davis recorded a studio version of the tune for Columbia in March, 1961 (Someday My Prince Will Come. Sony/Columbia Legacy 65919). Then a month later the label recorded his group live at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. Davis’ version from that session was unissued by Columbia until it appeared in a 2003 Sony set.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Mose Allison
Back Country Suite. Prestige/OJC 75

Miles Davis
In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Complete
Original recording 1961
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “I Thought About You.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Benny Goodman’s group was responsible for an early classic version of “I Thought About You,” (The Essential Benny Goodman) featuring the vocals of Mildred Bailey and a lightly swinging groove. Nearly fifty years later, Shirley Horn recorded another important and brilliant vocal performance of the tune (I Thought About You), this time taken at a much slower tempo. The instrumental version that has had the greatest influence would be the classic 1961 recording by Shirley Horn’s friend Miles Davis and his quintet (Someday My Prince Will Come).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Benny Goodman
Essential Benny Goodman
Original Recording 1938

Technically, this was not the first jazz recording of “I Thought About You,” barely missing out on that distinction. However, this could be deemed its first classic recording. Goodman’s band swings gently and Mildred Bailey delivers a delightful vocal performance.

Miles Davis
Someday My Prince Will Come
Original Recording 1961

Miles Davis had a remarkable knack for producing definitive versions of standard ballads, and “I Thought About You” is no different. Davis offers a poignant reading of the melody and a lyrical inventive solo before the rhythm section subtly picks up the pace for a solo by tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley.

Shirley Horn
I Thought About You
Polygram Records
Original recording 1987

Pianist and vocalist Horn certainly had a way with ballads. This achingly lyrical performance, the title track of her 1987 “comeback” album, is one of the standout examples of her ballad mastery.

Nancy Wilson
But Beautiful
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1969

Wilson’s singing is sly and confident on this lightly swinging take on “I Thought About You.” The infectious groove is provided by the rhythm section of guitarist Gene Bertoncini, pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Grady Tate.

Keith Jarrett Trio
Bye Bye Blackbird
Ecm Records
Original recording 1991

Jarrett recorded this album as a tribute to Miles Davis, his former employer who had passed away less than two weeks earlier. Drummer Jack DeJohnette, also an alumnus of Davis’ band, and bassist Gary Peacock are their usual interactive selves, helping Jarrett produce a soulful and lyrical take on “I Thought About You.”

Carmen McRae
The Great American Songbook
Atlantic / Wea
Original recording 1971

This 1971 live recording shows McRae to be in top form. Her singing is assured and nuanced and she engages in some playful and creative interplay with pianist Jimmie Rowles.


- Noah Baerman

Ray Brown Trio
Some of My Best Friends are... the Trumpet Players
2000 Telarc 83495
Original recording 2000
Guest trumpeter James Morrison joins bassist Ray Brown’s trio for a superb, lyrical reading of the tune. This mellow and eloquent version allows for some engaging dialogue between Brown and Morrison.
Kenny Burrell/Coleman Hawkins
Bluesy Burrell
1997 Original Jazz Classics 926
Original recording 1963
The come hither quality of Burrell’s guitar is matched by the breathy romance of Hawkins’ saxophone runs. Moody and heavy-hearted but a delight for the ear.
Diane Schuur
Love Songs
1993 GRP Records 9713
Original recording 1993
Sincerely wistful at one point, flirtatious the next, pianist/singer Schuur makes the most of the song to showcase her impressive vocal and emotional range. As a result the song swings with giddy apprehension.
Johnny Hartman
And I Thought About You
1997 Blue Note Records 57456
Original recording 1959
In considering the enormous talent of vocalist Johnny Hartman, it is a shame that he was so under-recorded. But his rich, warm voice is heard to advantage on this fine collection of love songs. He delivers the title cut with touching intimacy.

- Ben Maycock

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

Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen

Year Rank Title
1939 108 I Thought About You

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