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I Concentrate on You (1939)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘I Concentrate on You’ exudes melodic verve, harmonic chic, and rather unusual form....”

- Charles Schwartz

Rank 290
Words and Music Cole Porter

The film Broadway Melody of 1940 introduced “I Concentrate on You” which was sung by Douglas McPhail. In his book The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music, 1900-1950, William G. Hyland says, “[The song] had an exotic flavor and in the film was used as a ballet for Eleanor Powell, dancing on a darkened stage with only a spotlight on her, while the melody was sung by a masked harlequin; then she is joined by Fred Astaire for the remainder of the number.”

The film also featured George Murphy as Astaire’s dancing partner who, through a mix-up, gets the role of Powell’s dancing partner. The thin plot is simply an excuse for a musical extravaganza, and in true Hollywood fashion, Astaire and Powell end up together as partners in dance and in love. Astaire and Powell are also featured in a memorable dance to another Porter tune, “Begin the Beguine.”


More on Cole Porter at JazzBiographies.com

“I Concentrate on You” charted twice in 1940: the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with Anita Boyer on vocals took it to number 20, and the rendition by Eddy Duchin and His Orchestra with vocalist Stanley Worth reached number 25.


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

The pleasant theme of the lyric is that the singer can banish unhappiness and tribulation by simply thinking of his loved one: “Whenever the blues become my only song, I concentrate on you.”

In his book The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists Philip Furia discusses Porter’s manipulation of vowel sounds in “I Concentrate on You”: “The on and en diphthongs...echo through the chorus--‘strong,’ ‘song,’ and ‘wrong’...then ‘tender,’ ‘surrender,’ ‘when,’ and ‘men.’” Furia goes on to say, “Porter also manipulates his vowels as skillfully as [Irving] Berlin, pairing off i and a in a sequence of balanced phrases--‘skies look gray to me,’ ‘cries ‘nay, nay, to me,’ and wise men say to me.’”

Alec Wilder in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 praises “I Concentrate on You” for its opulent and sophisticated style. “[Porter] employs his affection for chromatic steps throughout. He also uses a minimal number of notes.” William Zinsser in Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs calls the song “sinuous, fully developed, and deeply felt.”

Author Charles Schwartz in Cole Porter: A Biography says, “‘I Concentrate on You’ exudes melodic verve, harmonic chic, and rather unusual form.... The song’s text is also an example of prime Porter versification and has often been cited for its relatively complicated rhyming scheme in which several levels of rhymes are operative throughout the tune.”

Evil Under the Sun (1981), an Agatha Christie murder mystery starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, features a lushly orchestrated score of Porter tunes which prominently features “I Concentrate on You.”

Frank Sinatra recorded the tune with Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Chris Connor waxed an uuforgettable version in 1954. Astaire, a favorite of the major songwriters for his pure delivery of their words and music, recorded it with a stellar jazz group on his Steppin’ Out album. It has also been recorded by drummer Max Roach, vibraphonist Cal Tjader, the duo of saxophonist Lee Konitz and bassist Red Mitchell, vocalists Johnny Hartman, Sheila Jordan and Jon Hendricks, and bandleaders as diverse as Gerald Wilson and Tito Puente.

Contemporary musicians still find gold to mine in this Porter tune. “I Concentrate on You” has been recorded by organist Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Renee Rosnes, guitarist Russell Malone, vocalists Stacey Kent and Kitty Margolis, saxophonists Gary Foster and Scott Hamilton, trombonist Jiggs Whigham, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and drummer Akira Tana.

More information on this tune...

Charles Schwartz
Cole Porter: A Biography
Da Capo Press; 1st Pbk edition
Paperback: 365 pages

(Schwartz analyzes the lyric in his biography of the songwriter.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Sandra Burlingame

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