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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 panel below for more references.

- Sandra Burlingame

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Reading and Research
Additional information for "I Concentrate on You" may be found in:

William G. Hyland
The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music, 1900-1950
American Philological Association
Hardcover: 336 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history.)

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


(4 paragraphs including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The American Musical Film Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 536 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: summary and performers.)

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


(1 page including the following types of information: lyric analysis and song lyrics.)

Robert Kimball, Brendan Gill
Cole: A Biographical Essay
Overlook Press
Hardcover: 283 pages


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

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


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

Although Fred Astaire starred in the motion picture that introduced Cole Porter’s composition, he didn’t sing the tune in the film. In 1953 Verve Records producer Norman Granz had Astaire record the tune, producing a beautiful, haunting version ably accompanied by a top-notch group that included mellow, muted trumpet by Charlie Shavers.

Arranger Johnny Richards contributed a superb arrangement of “I Concentrate on You” to Stan Kenton’s big band book. A 1959 live recording from the Tropicana in Las Vegas captures the band in fine form and some great solo work by Lennie Niehaus on alto saxophone and Jack Sheldon on trumpet.

Accomplished trombonists J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding collaborated on a number of excellent recordings. Their version of Porter’s tune from 1960 is first-class and so is their accompaniment: Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Fred Astaire
The Astaire Story
Polygram Records 35649

iTunes
Stan Kenton
At the Las Vegas Tropicana
Blue Note Records 35245

iTunes
J.J. Johnson/Kai Winding
The Great Kai and J.J
GRP 225
Original recording 1960
iTunes
Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Cole Porter

Year Rank Title
1930 8 What Is This Thing Called Love?
1930 30 Love for Sale
1932 33 Night and Day
1935 74 Just One of Those Things
1944 119 I Love You
1936 122 Easy to Love
1934 139 I Get a Kick Out of You
1936 160 I've Got You Under My Skin
1942 188 You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To
1937 209 In the Still of the Night
1944 220 Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye
1935 247 Begin the Beguine
1953 279 It's All Right with Me
1939 290 I Concentrate on You
1954 356 All of You
1950 390 From This Moment On
1938 410 Get Out of Town
1948 443 So in Love (Am I)
1934 509 All Through the Night
1953 553 I Love Paris
1938 584 My Heart Belongs to Daddy
1929 734 You Do Something to Me
1934 754 Anything Goes
1941 773 Ev'rything I Love
1928 797 Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)
1937 909 At Long Last Love
1941 910 Dream Dancing
1937 939 Rosalie
1934 940 You're the Top

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