I Can't Get Started

"I Can't Get Started" (also known as "I Can't Get Started with You" or "I Can't Get Started (with You)") is a popular song, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Vernon Duke (1936), that was first heard in the theatrical production Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 where it was sung by Bob Hope to Eve Arden.

"I Can't Get Started"
Published1936 by Chappell & Co.
Composer(s)Vernon Duke
Lyricist(s)Ira Gershwin

Hal Kemp and his Orchestra recorded it at that time and it had a bit of popularity, rising briefly to 14th place on the recording charts.[1] Popular vintage recorded versions are those of Bunny Berigan, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra.

Music and lyrics

"I Can't Get Started" is the plaintive song of a man who has achieved and won everything he could hope for except the attention of the woman he desires. The rarely heard verse explains the situation ("I'm a glum one, it's explainable, I met someone unattainable, Life's a bore, the world is my oyster no more. All the papers where I led the news, With my capers, soon will spread the news: 'Superman turns out to be flash in the pan'.") Gershwin's lines ("I've flown around the world in a plane ... Settled revolutions in Spain ... Been consulted by Franklin D ... Greta Garbo has asked me to tea") are so topical and totally dated to the headlines of the 1930s that they break the mold for ballads. Yet they have such a clever, endearing charm that only a brave singer will dare to replace them (Sinatra dared with "...designed the latest IBM brain..."). The melody, true to the theme of the lyric, starts out at a low pitch and rarely goes very far up. A moving melody line carries the descriptive lines of text, however, until it comes to the bridge, where the text turns more emotional. There the song borders on despondency.


Ira Gershwin noted in 1959 that "The sheet-music sale of the song never amounted to much... but an early recording by Bunny Berigan—considered by jazz devotees a sort of classic in its field—may have been a challenge (or incentive) for the great number of recordings that have followed. Not a year has gone by, in the past fifteen or so, that up to a dozen or more new recordings haven't been issued."[2]

Bunny Berigan

Bunny Berigan, a trumpeter with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, started a band in 1937 and chose "I Can't Get Started" as his theme song. He had been performing the song during the previous year at a club in New York City.[3] He made a recording for Vocalion on April 13, 1936[4] but gradually he made subtle changes in the arrangement. After forming his band, he recorded "I Can't Get Started" again, this time for Victor.[5]

Jazz trumpeter Dick Sudhalter noted the changes that had been made since the Vocalion recording. "An introduction—an extended cadenza over four different sustained chords in the key of C—had been added by this time, but otherwise Berigan's routine had not changed since the Vocalion recording. But whereas the Vocalion comes across as a virtuoso performance of a great song, the Victor version presents itself as a kind of concerto, a tour de force for a trumpeter of imagination and daring having impeccable command of his instrument."[6]

The Berigan band's recordings of "I Can't Get Started" and "The Prisoner's Song" were issued together on the twelve-inch Victor record 36208, and were a part of an album of four such records entitled A Symposium of Swing.[7] An edited version was created by Victor on December 4, 1937 and issued as 25728A[8] to enable it to fit on a ten-inch 78rpm disc for use on jukeboxes.

The recording was an immediate hit and reached 10th place on the charts.[9] His band, unfortunately, was short-lived, and he himself died in 1942 at age 33. In 1975, thirty three years after his death, Berigan's 1937 recording of "I Can't Get Started" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The recording was also used in the films Save the Tiger, Chinatown, and The Big Shave.

Berigan's recording and the song itself, however, have continued to be prized by lovers of jazz. Billie Holiday recorded it on September 15, 1938,[10] so did Nat Cole, and before long Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and a host of other vocalists did likewise. It is also a favorite of trumpet players who are willing to risk comparison with Berigan. A few, like Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson have done notably well, and jazz recordings on tenor sax by Lester Young and Stan Getz are admired – although Bunny Berigan held the acclaimed trumpeter's version of this standard ballad for a long while from the 1930s. Another more technically challenging and haunting version was recorded by Al Hirt in 1963 on the RCA best selling LP "Honey in the Horn" in Nashville with the Anita Kerr singers and Boots Randolph among others as backup. This version to date has not been topped by any professional trumpet player.

Other recordings

See also


  1. Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 253. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  2. Gershwin, Ira (1959). Lyrics on Several Occasions (First ed.). New York: Knopf. OCLC 538209.
  3. "swingandbeyond.com". swingandbeyond.com. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  4. "The Online Discographical Project". 78discography.com. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  5. "The Online Discographical Project". 78discography.com. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  6. Sudhalter, Richard M. (1982). Giants of Jazz - Bunny Berigan. Time-Life Records. p. 43.
  7. "45worlds.com". 45worlds.com. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  8. "The Online Discographical Project". 78discography.com. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  9. Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 52. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  10. "Billie Holiday Discography". jazzdisco.org. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  11. Gioia, Ted (2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. New York City: Oxford University Press. p. 155–158. ISBN 978-0-19-993739-4.

Further reading

  • Furia, Philip (1996). Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist (First ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508299-0.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.