Stories of Standards: "You Go to My Head"

Jul 18, 2017

Tune in to First Take with Lando and Chavis - weekdays from 6-9 am MT - for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song all week long!

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Three different recordings of “You Go to My Head” (1938) by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie made the Top 20 list in 1938: Teddy Wilson’s, Billie Holiday’s and Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra. Written after a long night at a local speakeasy, the song’s melody can be played as bright and effervescent or as an introspective glissando. “You Go to My Head” was included in these movies: “Laura” (1944), “The Big Sleep” (1946), “Swing Kids” (1993), “Corrina, Corrina” (1994) and “Playing By Heart” (1999).

When “You Go to My Head” was first released a number of people expressed surprise that J. Fred Coots (1897-1985) would have written the melody. He was viewed as a pop composer. Although his mother encouraged him to become a concert pianist, Tin Pan Alley was his goal and he started writing for vaudeville and Broadway. One of his songs, “Love Letters in the Sand” (1931), written with lyricists Nick and Charles Kenney, became a hit for Pat Boone in the 1950s, while “For All We Know” (1934) with Sam M. Lewis was a hit for singers including Nina Simone, Nat “King” Cole and Stan Getz. He worked with Haven Gillespie to create “You Go to My Head” and the perennial pop favorite “Here Comes Santa Claus” (1934).

Haven Gillespie (1888-1975) started writing lyrics in 1911 for a vaudeville act, while working as a typesetter for the Cincinnati Times-Star. He maintained his membership in the International Typographic Union until his death. In 1926, with Dick Whiting, he wrote “Breezing Along with the Breeze”. His “Louisiana Fairytale”, written in 1935 with J. Fred Coots and Mitchell Parrish, was performed by Fats Waller, and became the first theme song for “This Old House.”

Lee Morgan