Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout


A piano bar (not many of those anymore), a few booths and some concealing drapes between plaster pillars with a big white piano in the center. Dix and Laurel (Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame), seated on stools around the piano, are directly across from the singer-pianist, Hadda Brooks, as she begins her song, Ray Noble’s “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You.” Brooks, a beautiful black woman, is in a shoulderless gown and glittering necklace and earrings. She has large lambent eyes and her voice is a rich contralto, suited to the song’s melancholy and heavily climbing exultancy. Dix sits forward, leaning on his elbows over his drink. He lights a cigarette and puts it between Laurel’s lips, then says something we don’t hear (we hear only the lovely song). She likes it, whatever it is, and laughs. This is a romantic scene from Nicholas Ray’s classic 1950 film noir In a Lonely Place. the last of the great Bogart films.

The English-born Ray Noble’s band played in the United States during the 1930s and he wrote four songs that found their way into what has become known as The Great American Songbook – “The Very Thought of You,”  “Cherokee” and his first and maybe most famous song the 1931 “Goodnight, Sweetheart.” But I believe “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” to be his best song. It is a smooth slightly rhythmic ballad of no great range and stylish throughout, verse and chorus with no attempts to be clever, rhythmically, harmonically or melodically. But there is a tasty modulation. The chorus makes a move in the second half of the B section (the design is A-B-A-C/A), into the key of A major from the parent key of F major which adds a dash of color needed in a song of so direct and casual a nature. For most of his songs Noble wrote both music and words. His romantic, relaxed lyrics reflect the kind of swing music he had grown up listening to and playing.

I hadn’t anyone till you / I was a lonely one ’til you,

I used to lie awake and wonder if there could be

A someone in the wide world

Just made for me. Now I see – –

A Few Sample Recordings

1) Hadda Brooks in scenes from the above discussed movie.

2) Late in her career Billie Holiday recorded a handful of tunes with one of the best lineups she ever had. Her voice is occasionally rough and she was relying more and more on lyrics but many of the results are magic. What a difference a band can make and her 1955 group included such stalwarts as Sweets Edison and Benny Carter. The horns sit out on “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” and the intimacy of just Billie and pianist Jimmy Rowles is stunning.

3) The mid-to-late 1950s found Doris Day at her peak, both musically and commercially. Gone were the days of recording random and often dismal singles and she recorded one exceptional recording after another. The 1956 Day By Day album with Paul Weston was the first of her so-called 16 concept albums. “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” appears on that recording in a more rhythmic setting than in the above two interpretations.

4) The intimate Jeri Southern from her 1955 The Southern Style recording.

5) The mellow voice of the young Mel Torme from his 1959  album. The vocal arrangement is also by Torme. That’s the Mel-Tones and Marty Paich on the celeste.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

You may also wish to investigate recordings by the following. Frank Sinatra included this song as his opener on the brilliant 1961 Sinatra and Strings album with Don Costa. Tony Martin’s recording with the Ray Noble orchestra reached number 4 on the charts. Singers as diverse as Mose Allison and Brenda Lee have included it on their recordings. Many jazz instrumentalists, including saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist Erroll Garner also favored the song.


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