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When Your Lover Has Gone (1931)

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Origin and Chart Information
“...[The] bluesy ballad uses a series of poetic comparisons (‘like faded flowers’) to express the loneliness after love turns sour.”

- Thomas S. Hischak

Rank 217
Words and Music Einar Aaron Swan

It was his interest in the song “When Your Lover Has Gone” that prodded Sven Bjerstedt, a senior lecturer at Lund University in Sweden, to research its composer/lyricst E.A. Swan about whom little was known. When he discovered that Swan’s first name was “Einar,” decidedly Scandinavian, his curiosity was further aroused. Working with genealogists, Bjerstedt tracked down family members and produced a fascinating and detailed treatise on Swan entitled A Study of Jazz Age Fame and Oblivion, available on the internet at the Swedish-Finn Historical Society.

Swan came from a musical Massachusetts family in which seven of the eight children became musicians. He arranged and played lead saxophone for the popular orchestra of Vincent Lopez, and, according to Bjerstedt, he was also a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and lyricist who played with the Dorsey brothers, Red Nichols, and Xavier Cugat. He died suddenly of a stroke in 1940 at the age of 37. Other compositions of his include “Trail of Dreams” with a lyric by Raymond Klages; “A Room with a View” and “In the Middle of a Dream” both written with Al Stillman and Tommy Dorsey. With Lee Christopher Hamblin and Simon Alban Law, he wrote “What Good Is Scheming,” a phrase used in the opening line of “When Your Lover Has Gone.”

“When Your Lover Has Gone” was featured in the 1931 film Blonde Crazy, a comedy about con artists that starred James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ray Milland, and Louis Calhern. The song was immediately picked up by some of the top recording artists of the time: Ethel Waters and Her Ebony 4, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong. However, it was Gene Austin, a popular singer of the late 1920s (known as “The Voice of the Southland” since he was from Texas), who took the song to the charts with Leonard Jay and his Orchestra where it reached number ten over a period of four weeks. An interesting sidelight on Austin is that his recording of “My Blue Heaven” was the second biggest non-holiday seller of the entire pre-1955 era.

 

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

The lovely chromaticism of “When Your Lover Has Gone” makes it appealing to vocalists and instrumentalists alike. The melody initially offers promise by moving up the scale, but then it descends to the phrase “when your lover has gone,” the musical and emotional low point of each stanza. Thomas S. Hischak in The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists says that the “...bluesy ballad uses a series of poetic comparisons (‘like faded flowers’) to express the loneliness after love turns sour.”

Bjerstedt includes in his article the lyric for “When Your Lover Has Gone” with an opening verse that begins “For ages and ages / The poets and sages / Of love wond’rous love always sing....” In his notes he says that most vocalists don’t sing this verse but use the lyrics of the second verse which begins “What good is the scheming, the planning and dreaming....”

In addition to the recordings mentioned above, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman recorded “When Your Lover Has Gone” in 1931. A decade later it was recorded by Maxine Sullivan, Harry James, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra (who also included it on In the Wee Small Hours in 1955). Sarah Vaughan recorded it as an uptempo number in 1962 with the Count Basie band. Since the year 2000 it has been recorded by pianist Roger Kellaway, vocalist Stacey Kent, bassist Jim Ferguson, and saxophonist Scott Hamilton.

More information on this tune...

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


(Author/composer Wilder devotes a page to his musical analysis of “When Your Lover Has Gone” in his definitive book on American popular song.)

- Sandra Burlingame

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Reading and Research
Additional information for "When Your Lover Has Gone" may be found in:

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


(1 page including the following types of information: music analysis.)

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages


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

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

As with many popular songs from the 1930s, Louis Armstrong was the first jazz artist to record “When Your Lover Has Gone.” His recording is a bit unusual in that it appears he had time to rehearse the tune before recording, a rarity in those days where the norm was to read down the tunes and call it a day.

After a short introduction the band plays the verse. It’s a pity Louis didn’t sing the verse, which sets up the lyrics on the chorus so nicely; but Armstrong’s vocal exhibits his greatness at interpretation. Next, Armstrong’s trumpet chorus illustrates that improvised jazz isn’t necessarily about flying over one’s instrument, running the changes; it can be about playing a few notes in the right place with the right timing. The beauty of Armstrong is always KISS: keep it simple, superbly.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra: 1930-1931
Classics 547

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

Einar Aaron Swan

Year Rank Title
1931 217 When Your Lover Has Gone

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