I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby

Album: That Wonderful Adelaide Hall (1928)
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Songfacts®:

  • "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" is about a guy who can't afford jewelry for his sweetheart, but does have something to offer: his love and affection. The song stemmed from a real-life incident of such impoverished amorosity.

    Songwriters Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh were out on New York City's famed Fifth Avenue in 1928. They noticed a young couple looking at wares in the window of a Tiffany's jewelry store. As they got within earshot, they heard the young man tell his lady that he couldn't afford to buy her anything. "I can't give you nothin' but love!" he proclaimed.

    Fields and McHugh sensed a song in there. They ran to a subway tunnel and wrote "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" in less than an hour. Fields wrote the lyrics, McHugh the music.
  • McHugh and Fields included the song in a score they wrote for a revue (a formerly common form of entertainment that included live songs, dances, and/or comedy skits) to be performed in New York.

    The first person to sing it was Adelaide Hall, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s and one of America's most prolific singers. The Guinness Book of World Records named her the "most enduring recording artist" of all time. Her first recording was in 1927, and her last was in 1991. She was singing on Broadway for six years prior to the first recording, as well.

    Hall sang the song for the Blackbird Revue on January 4, 1928. The revue was instantly a smash hit. Subsequent expansion saw it renamed Blackbirds Of 1928 and performed in Nixon's Apollo Theatre in Atlantic City, which at the time was a thriving cultural center in America. It then went on to be performed at the Liberty Theatre on Broadway on May 9, 1928. Hall recorded the song and released her version as a single with "That Old Feeling" in 1939. In later appeared on her various albums and compilations.
  • "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" is one of the most recorded songs in music history. Using data from a 1986 book Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, the Hits Of All Decades website calculated it to be the 24th most-played song between 1890 and 1954.
  • Accusations have been made about the song's origins. Celebrated author and English professor Philip George Furia has pointed out similarities between the lyrics for "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" and a song titled "Where's That Rainbow?" from the 1926 musical comedy Peggy-Ann. Fields' brother wrote that comedy and her father produced it.

    Harry Singer, biographer of poet/songwriter Andy Razaf, has made the case that jazz pianist Fats Waller sold McHugh the song's melody in 1926.
  • In 1940, a musical comedy was released with the title I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby starring Broderick Crawford and Jessie Ralph. The production was named after the song and featured it in the score. McHugh gave permission but didn't want to be involved any further.
  • A small sample of the many notable artists who recorded this song includes:

    Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
    Fats Domino
    Louis Armstrong
    Billie Holiday
    Benny Goodman
    Adelaide Hall
    King Cole Quintet
    Doris Day
    Bing Crosby
    Ella Fitzgerald
    Dean Martin
    Judy Garland
    Jerry Lee Lewis

    The most notable cover of the modern era came from Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett on the 2014 Cheek to Cheek album. The song features Gaga and Bennett trading off vocals. It hit #1 on the US Jazz Digital Singles chart.

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