What'll I Do?

Album: Great American Composers (1924)

Songfacts®:

  • Irving Berlin bought a house for his mother from the money he made from his 1911 monster hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band", and appears to have been deeply affected by her death eleven years later. According to his biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer...,"What'll I Do?" was published in early 1924 and sold more than a million copies of the sheet music. Another song, "All Alone", had the same tragic inspiration and similar commercial success. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England
  • This was a #1 hit for Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra in 1924, shortly after it was introduced by Grace Moore and John Steel in Berlin's Music Box Revue. Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole both released versions in 1948, with Sinatra peaking at #23 and Cole landing at #22. Sinatra recorded in again in 1962 for the album All Alone.
  • Sonny Bono performed this as the opening number on The Sonny Comedy Revue, his first variety show without ex-wife Cher.
  • Sung by actor William Atherton, this was used as the theme for the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
  • Berlin was married to his second wife, Ellin Mackay, from 1926 until her death in 1988. Their daughter Linda Emmet told PBS' Think Tank that this song was the spark that kindled her parents' romance: "My parents met at a dinner party given by a mutual friend. And my mother charmed my father because the first thing that she said to him was, 'Oh, Mister Berlin, I do so like your song, 'What Shall I Do?'' And the song, of course, is 'What'll I do.' And so my father made some remark about his grammar not being nearly as good as hers. They took an instant liking to each other and then they started to see each other and when my grandfather got wind of it he disapproved and sent my mother abroad to get over Irving Berlin."

Comments: 1

  • Vicki from Osteen, FlThis song was played on Shelley Long's last regular appearance on Cheers, when Sam and Diane are in their new house, imagining themselves as an old, married couple. I thought it was very touching.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Real or Spinal TapMusic Quiz

They sang about pink torpedoes and rocking you tonight tonight, but some real lyrics are just as ridiculous. See if you can tell which lyrics are real and which are Spinal Tap in this lyrics quiz.

The Truth Is Out There: A History of Alien SongsSong Writing

The trail runs from flying saucer songs in the '50s, through Bowie, blink-182 and Katy Perry.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"They're Playing My Song

Armed with a childhood spent devouring books, Mike Scott's heart was stolen by the punk rock scene of 1977. Not surprisingly, he would go on to become the most literate of rockers.

U2 LyricsMusic Quiz

How well do you know the lyrics of U2?

AC/DCFact or Fiction

Does Angus really drink himself silly? Did their name come from a sewing machine? See if you can spot the real stories about AC/DC.

Jimmy JamSongwriter Interviews

The powerhouse producer behind Janet Jackson's hits talks about his Boyz II Men ballads and regrouping The Time.