The 1940 Broadway show Higher and Higher, which ran for 108 performances, introduced the Rodgers and Hart tune, “It Never Entered My Mind.” The moderately successful show was a variation on the Cinderella story and starred Shirley Ross, who introduced the song and recorded it with the Larry Clinton Orchestra. Hollywood later made a film of Higher and Higher, starring Michele Morgan and singers Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme, but it featured a new score by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.
In American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 Alec Wilder says, “‘It Never Entered My Mind’ employs a very strange and effective harmonic device I’ve heard only one other time in popular music, in Cole Porter‘s ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.’ For six measures it moves back and forth every half measure from F major to A minor. The melody in these measures is very simple and somber.”
Philip Furia in The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists calls the song title an “alcoholic catch-phrase” and finds the phrase “you have what I lack myself” a “vaguely Freudian” observation.
But in reality Hart’s lyric is a heartfelt expression of loneliness. The woman who sings the verse is suffering the consequences of not having heeded the advice of her former lover. She confesses now to loneliness and a loss of interest in her appearance. This is a woman who once was desired and loved but who was a coquette who took love for granted. She tells in the refrain how she dismissed her lover’s predictions as to where her conduct would lead:
Once I laughed when I heard you saying
That I’d be playing solitaire
Uneasy in my easy chair
It never entered my mind.
Rather than a Freudian allusion, her words “you have what I lack myself” seem to be an admission that she has finally realized the value of devotion and feels remorse for her inability to reciprocate because “...now I even have to scratch my back myself,” a sad allusion to the lack of love and intimacy in her life.
Generations of instrumentalists have covered the song, including Miles Davis in a memorable version on his 1952 recording Workin’, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Cal Tjader, and contemporary bassists John Patitucci and Charlie Haden. But in what amounts to a tribute to memorable and poignant lyrics, it is the vocalists who continue to keep this tune at the top of the jazz standards list with recordings by Annie Ross, Julie London, Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, Holly Cole, Eden Atwood, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jay Clayton, Dennis Rowland, Susannah McCorkle, Janis Mann, Stacey Kent, Jane Monheit, and Tierney Sutton.