Don't Know Why

Album: Come Away With Me (2002)
Charted: 59 30
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  • "Don't Know Why" was Norah Jones' first single and the song that launched her to stardom, but she didn't write it. It was written in 1999 by a New York City-based songwriter-guitarist named Jesse Harris. A few weeks after he wrote it, he recorded it with a violinist and released it under the name Jesse Harris and The Ferdinandos. He sold the album on his website.

    Harris had met Jones a year earlier when he travelled to Texas with a group of other musicians to put on a clinic at the University of North Texas, where Jones was a student. They stayed in touch, and at his urging she moved to New York City to pursue music in 1999.
  • Many have enjoyed a latte at a coffee shop or filled in a crossword puzzle while this song plays as a mellow backdrop, but the lyric is anything but soothing. The singer is left catching teardrops in her hand when her lover is a no-show. According to its writer, Jesse Harris, it's not autobiographical - he often writes songs about loss that have nothing to do with his personal life.

    A more lyrically uplifting song is the title track, which is one of three songs Jones wrote on the album.
  • After Jones came to New York City, she started performing this song with Jesse Harris, who thought it was a good fit for a female voice. Jones changed the key to fit her voice, added a drum beat, then recorded a demo of the song with Harris in October 2000. That demo got the attention of the jazz label Blue Note, which signed Jones and sent her to the studio to record with a group of session musicians. The results were too convoluted, so Jones was assigned to a different producer, Arif Mardin, who had worked with many famous artists, including Aretha Franklin. He was brought in to capture Jones' distinctive sound, which he did by keeping the original demo take and adding some guitar and a vocal harmony, making Jones harmonize with herself.
  • Jesse Harris played guitar on the original demo, which ended up being used on the final recording. He almost stopped the take because he didn't like the mix in his headphones. He kept going and was glad he did, since that was the keeper. Jones and her band were willing to do another take, but the engineer, Jay Newland, thought it was perfect and wouldn't let them.
  • The Come Away With Me album was released in February 2002. It found a following in the jazz community, but didn't land a bigger audience until that summer, when "Don't Know Why" was issued as a single and picked up by US public radio stations, which typically have a very mature and upscale audience. This helped get it played in coffee bars, bookstores, and other retail venues. Jones was just 21 when the song was recorded (22 when the album was released), but she appealed to the older crowd because of her sound and her father. Her dad is Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician famous for teaching George Harrison how to play the sitar. Most of the MTV generation had no idea who he was, but the public radio audience did, and it made a great logline.
  • The first few months after the Come Away With Me album was released, it was priced around $8 in an effort to boost sales. This was a time when many listeners had discovered the internet and were able to spread the word online, which they did, leaving overwhelmingly good reviews. This "slow build" strategy worked incredibly well. "Don't Know Why" charted only at #30 in the US and not other singles from the album charted at all, but Jones' secret weapon was her complete lack of showbiz pizazz, making her an antidote to the Mickey Mouse Club alums that ruled the charts. The album went on to sell over 10 million copies just in America, making it by far the best-selling jazz-influenced album ever.
  • Grammy voters were enamored with Jones, nominating her in five categories, with "Don't Know Why" up for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. After the nominations were announced, the album went to #1 in America, claiming the top spot on January 25, 2003, 11 months after it was released.

    Jones cleaned up at the Grammys, winning all five awards she was nominated for, with Come Away With Me earning Album of the Year. Jones also won Best New Artist and performed "Don't Know Why" on the show.

    After the Grammys, the album returned to #1 for a week, unseating R. Kelly's Chocolate Factory.
  • Even after he was nominated for a Grammy for writing this (Record of the Year), Jesse Harris continued to play small clubs in New York City for tips. The night of the Grammys, he was scheduled to play a club that fits about 80 people.
  • Jay Newland, who engineered the recording, said he was trying to make this sound like the records he grew up listening to in the late '60s and early '70s, especially Joni Mitchell.
  • EMI, which owned Blue Note Records, thought that Top 40 radio stations would prefer a different version of "Don't Know Why," so they remixed it with a dance beat and processed vocals. Jones thought it sounded ridiculous and insisted on distributing the original version to radio stations. "That was ludicrous, because the reason people liked it in the first place was that it wasn't commercial," she told the Sunday Times. "I'm not Britney, and that is not the way I want to go."
  • Jones performed this on Sesame Street with lyrics lamenting the letter "Y" - "Don't know why Y didn't come." The letter "Y" eventually shows up, everyone gets along, and we learn something in the process.
  • The song spent 24 weeks on the Hot 100 before it reached the top 40, the longest ever ascent by a woman in one chart run.
  • The song's writer, Jesse Harris, performed this at the New York Songwriters Circle long before it was released. Tina Shafer, a songwriter and vocal coach who runs the Circle, told Songfacts: "I love Jesse Harris. He was a student of mine for a couple of years. He used to play that song and I used to look at him and say, 'You are like the Woody Allen of songwriting.' He would just write these beautiful vignettes. They were so unique and so poetic. He used to play that at the Circle; he used to play at the Circle all the time, he and Richard Julian before he met Norah. And then when they went out to the University of North Texas, Norah was kind of their tour guide when they went to the school out there to perform. He brought Norah back with him - she was totally unsigned at the time. Yeah, he played that song long before she sang it. But how lucky that she did."
  • In The Office episode "Goodbye, Toby" (2008), Darryl sings this at Toby's going away party.

Comments: 36

  • Ron Rico from Dry TortugasMarcL is totally off base. Simply about a a love that is lost and feelings of regret are obvious. Simple theme.
  • For Morticia from Washingtonthe song was written by Jesse Harris and performed by him first. The idea it is about not having an orgasm is clever and fits the song. but given it was written by a man (even though inability to cum can happen to men) it seems to me (who always prefers a bawdy interpretation) I think he wrote the lyrics to evoke feelings and he left ambiguity on purpose. "something has to make you run" --- does he mean something didn't make him run towards the person? that he was stuck in analysis paralysis? and despite overwhelming feeling could not commit to action? Or did he mean more like "something always makes me run" and used distancing language. I think its the first. It was not a a "hell yes." he didn't want to be alone and knew it would be hard but wasnt ready to "run" towards commitment.
  • Terry Ott from SavannahI’ve read all the comments. Ben from Pensacola has cracked the code wide open. He gets to drive away in the yellow convertible but the rest of you will enjoy your excellent parting gifts as well, so don’t feel bad. I was especially touched by the alternative lyrics version that Wendy from New Zealand offered. Thank you, Wendy. You’re obviously a very thoughtful person.
  • Jim from SeattleIt seems pretty obvious to me that this is a song about bad grammar. The singer acknowledges that "something had to make you run," and that thing was her use of "come" instead of the proper "go." That and the bad rhyming ("fun" and "run" do not rhyme with "come"). You could correct the grammar (or is it syntax? I always get those confused) and still have a bad rhyme, like:

    I left you by the House of Phở
    I don't know why I didn't go

    That doesn't rhyme, either, but at least the grammar is proper.

  • Q from Yes, BangladeshI am afraid I am not as sophisticated as the folks above. I just thought it was one of those songs where the singer realizes that he/she is expressing regret for not making the leap to take the relationship to the next level. She (Norah) was supposed to catch the plane, train, or boat to the place where her and her man were off to make a life together and she bailed. Right?
  • Keely from Fort Lauderdale, FlI have to say that when I read something that stupidly describes Ravi Shankar as "an Indian musician" (description above), it reminds me of the people interviewed on the street who never heard of George Washington.
  • Eric from Reno, NvMy interpretation is...
    It seems like this was supposed to be their first date. She really likes the guy. But she's so afraid of being hurt that she just can't bring herself to even get it started. She knows that she would be happy if she could overcome her fear. But she just can't. The fear wins.
  • Trini from Barataria, Trinidad And Tobagoi read all these comments and i have to say u all touch on something, as some of you'll above said, it was written for everybody's situation. i really agree with MarcL i honestly believe that yours is the most accurate, its not about being perverted but these songs really do have a high behind them meaning, a lot of subliminal messages.
  • Wendy from Auckland, New ZealandThis song happened to me when our government in New Zealand poisoned all our birds just to kill a few mice - Look up Shakespear Park - Poisoning Paradise - the Graf Boys..and I waited on the beach to watch the sunrise with the first helicopters to come over with buckets of poison (Brodifacoam & 1080) - Everyone should know that New Zealand is drenched in poison - not CLEAN & GREEN. These animals belong to the whole world. EXPOSE these governments

    I waited 'til I saw the sun
    Don't know why they had to come
    I left to see what DoC (Department of Conservation (CULLING) had done,
    Don't know why they had to come
    When I saw the break of day,
    I wished they would fly away,
    Instead of kneeling in the sand,
    Catching teardrops in my hand.
    Our land is drenched in poison,
    Will be on my mind FOREVER,
    Out across the endless sea,
    They will die with dignity,
    But they'ss be just bags of bones,
    Diying in the fields alone,
    My heart is drenched in pain
    Will be on my mind FOREVER,
    Something has to make them stop
    Before they finish every drop
    I feel as empty as a drum
  • Wes S from Yes, American SamoaThe reason for her low profile is that she mixed wine with ectasy. Before she used ectasy she used to be a singer; now not so much.......
  • Wondah from Providence, RiActually. Maybe not. Forget what I said. She just knows she shouldn't. It's not about sex I guess. She just knows she shouldn't go, and it's killing her.
  • Wondah from Providence, RiWell...I think some of you have hit on it, but not completely.

    See, this song is about a lost love AND sex at the same time. The singer isn't the one leaving her significant other. She is the one being left. Her heart is breaking, so she "can't come." There's too much pain in her heart to be able to enjoy their final night together.

    "I waited 'til I saw the sun
    I don't know why I didn't come
    I left you by the house of fun
    I don't know why I didn't come
    I don't know why I didn't come

    When I saw the break of day
    I wished that I could fly away
    Instead of kneeling in the sand
    Catching teardrops in my hand "

    She wants to go with him, but can't or knows she shouldn't. It means more for her, than it does for him. She knows this. So, she leaves early rather than face it in the morning. Rather than deal with him leaving and the question. What's wrong?Something she can't handle. She drowns her sorrows in a bottle. Crying and depressed. She wishes hit could be more. She wants to go away with him, and have the fun, passion, and ecstasy they always have. She'll always love him and think of him, but he's leaving to live his life. She's not part of the plan, but wanted to be. She couldn't "come" in their last time together because of it.

    "Out across the endless sea
    I would die in ecstasy
    But I'll be a bag of bones
    Driving down the road along

    My heart is drenched in wine
    But you'll be on my mind

    Something has to make you run
    I don't know why I didn't come
    I feel as empty as a drum
    I don't know why I didn't come
    I don't know why I didn't come
    I don't know why I didn't come"
  • Henry from Massachusetts, MaSometimes, I believe, that a song is written to appeal to particular audiences. In the case of "Don't Know Why" this song fits a broad audience, because everyone can relate some how to love, or heart break...

    That being said: I don't think the song is about sex. I believe it is about a woman who doesn't want to be with the man she is with.

    The bridge of the song, "I don't know why I didn't come" is her way of saying I don't want to be with you.

    Being in love is an amazing thing, but if your not in love with someone and you know they're in love with you it's hard to say those words: "I don't love you!" So, she says "I don't know why," as if there was something wrong with her.

    So, she is crying because she feels awful about the situation she is in. "Out across the endless sea I would die in ecstasy." She is running for her freedom in an endless sea where she can't be found.

    "But I'll be a bag a bones, driving down the road alone." if she were to stay with him then it would be as if she were alone-because she does not love him.. A bag of bones growing old alone because she stood with a man, because she didn't want to hurt him...

    "Something has to make you run, I don't know why I didn't come." What else can she do, something has to make him go, because she doesn't have the heart to tell him that she doesn't love him. So, she leaves him stranded and says I don't know why???

    However, for the most part I believe she most certainly does know why she didn't come.

    He must be an awesome guy, who has loved her for a long time and now she has to stay and marry or tell him how she feels, or just leave where she can't be found, out across the endless sea...

    I feel that all interpretations are based on that person's experiences with what ever subject is being analyzed.

    This song seems to be written as prose, which means it can be interpreted many different ways. So, everyone who hears it will have their own interpretation. And would be right, because we all have different experiences with love.

    That's what makes this song so popular, everyone can relate...
  • Camille from Toronto, OhI always wondered what these lyrics meant, which is why I looked it up on songfacts hoping for an answer, but I don't like these interpretations! So here's my own: The ending lyrics sum it all up for me: "Something has to make you run"...she really liked this guy, but there was something that he didn't have....she just can't seem to figure out what is she did not run towards him but stayed away. Trusted her own intution. Or her intuition told her to run away because something wasn't right altho she can't put it into words ("don't know why"). She's second-guessing herself because apparently it was a "now or never" moment, one not to happen again with this other person. If the song were so blatantly about sex, it'd never get the airplay it did & still does. "I don't know why" this song was so popular or won so many awards, I thought it was average.
  • Amara from Manila, PhilippinesI actually have two interpretations. I hope you'll bear with me.

    Like Marc, the lyrics initially struck me as something which has something to do with sex.I'm guessing the relationship the narrator of the song is having is incredibly passionate and sexually charged. The relationship is based more on lust than love--they're more like bedmates than actual lovers. However, for some reason or another, the passion burns out and she is unable to find any more sexual satisfaction ("I don't know why I didn't come") thus leading to frustration. And I believe that this frustration not only stems from sex but from something deeper because she feels insecure and lonely (as described by "I wished that I could fly away, Instead of kneeling in the sand, Catching teardrops in my hand"). She wants escape. So she ends the partnership, and it is revealed that she is in love with the man ("my heart is drenched in wine; you'll be on my mind forever"--wine is a depressant; thus metaphorically speaking, her heart feels drowned in depression). This love is probably the reason why she was sexually frustrated and feels insecure and lonely in the first place--she was starting to want something more than the sex they were having and wanted a solid relationship; something that the man may not be able to give because he is satisfied where they are ("I left you in the house of fun"). In "Out across the endless sea, I would die in ecstacy", she foretells a future wherein she drifts from relationship to relationship (bed to bed, hobby to hobby--the point is, she is a drifter), and though she derives a certain amount of satisfaction from each, she never really finds a truly lasting relationship ("but i'll be a bag of bones, driving down the road alone") because, deep in her heart, she is still in love with that man...

    Another interpretation is that the woman is afraid of settling. So she drifts because she is afraid of having something real, something to tie her down. And when she finds someone whom she really loves, she becomes confused but still leaves (keeps insisting "I don't know why"). The decision hurts her but it doesn't stop her, it doesn't even make her want to return ("my heart is drenched in wine, but you'll be on my mind forever"). Maybe it's because she believes it is the path she chose for herself. The point is, she jumps from man to man, finds pleasure in each, but again is plagued by fear of settling, which leads to her being alone in life--and somehow, somehow, she just knows she'll always be alone.

    Since the song was originally written and sung by a man, these interpretations can pass for either genders (or for any gender for that matter). How do you think?
  • Constance from Dallas, TxI think Marc is wrong. I don't think this song has anything to do with sex. I think it is about a missed opportunity for love. "I left you by the house of fun" to me sounds like maybe they were at a carnival and that is the last place she saw him. Now he is gone where she can't see him and most likely won't have a chance to see him again. "I don't know why I didn't come" to me has nothing to do with sex. It seems like she had an opportunity to be with a guy she really loved but let it pass her by. Now she misses him and is wondering why the heck she didn't go to him and secure a relationship with him or let him know how she felt. "Out across the endless sea I would die in ecstasy" to me seems like across the sea which would be far represents where the man she loves is but she (because she didn't go to him) is at the shore in the sand crying by herself. She's saying if she was where he was she would die a happy woman (ecstasy). Being a bag of bones driving down the road alone to me means she will live lonely without love and unhappy because she missed her chance for love. "Something has to make you run" I think is her beating herself up again saying something has to motivate you to make moves instead of letting opportunities pass by. I think she is thinking an opportunity to be loved should have made her go to the man she loved. That's my take on the song. This is a great song. Marc you interpretation is good to. I just didn't get that from the song.
  • Jessica from San Diego, CaI am performing this song in american sign language which requires me to find the true meaning of this song and while doing so I found a that it was written about a woman's frustration with her own sexual please dont hate me for agreeing with Marc but hay he was right. Also the website is from VH1 tv shows like "Behind the Music" the website is
  • Sam from Lincoln, NeI think Marc's interpretation of this song, although probably incorrect, is funny as hell. I'll bet he looks at Rorschach inkblots and thinks all of them are vaginas.
  • Moss from Idaho Falls, IdI don't know why I think this. I don't know why, I just do.
  • Moss from Idaho Falls, IdIt makes more sense to me that the phrase "bag of bones" may have originally been "vagabond" refering to "driving down the road alone" as a vagabond might well do.
  • Ben from Pensacola, FlI think that perhaps there is no twisted meaning behind this song. It seems to be pretty straight forward if you listen to the lyrics. (Well to me anyway). Going to go with the fact it was written by a man and intended to be performed by a man in my theory, so indulge me here.... The song is about a man who has met someone who was visiting from another country or somewhere 'across the sea'. She asked him to come back with her when her time here was up so they could be together. He, for one reason or another, was not 100% committed to this relationship although he was truly in love with her & was struggling with the idea of whether to go or not. He went out to the bar on his last night and ended up drinking the night away. By the time he made up his mind it was too late and she was gone. Instead of 'flying away in ecstacy' with her he is 'catching teardrops' looking out across the sea to where she is going. He really has no reason WHY he didn't go with her other than his own doubts which he can not express to her because all this time they have been together he has led on he is 100% committed to her. Just one interpetation in a 100.
  • Grayson from Cleveland, Ohthis whole album is great.
  • Jason from Boise, IdThe first time I heard this song, I was absolutely convinced it was a holiday song since I didn't pay attention to the lyrics. Unfortunately it sort of cheesed it up for me. haha.
  • Leah from Humboldt, Iathis is my favorite song. i didn't even think anything bad about it until now. but i still love it. so please don't go dising her for getting a grammy "rick". she sings it better than anybody else could.
  • Rick from Humboldt, IaIt shouldn't win a grammy if the artist didn't write the song!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Nicole from HamiltonIt was in Two Weeks Notice and Maid In Manhattin (i think) Kayla
  • Andrew from Costa Mesa, CaPossible, but a lot of words can be interpreted sexually if one wanted to do so. To me, it sounds too heartfelt to be sexual.
  • Annette from Walpole, MaJesse Harris not only wrote but originally also performed this song (thanks for those song facts), and a male singer only rarely speaks a female part. So I doubt "didn't come" has to do with orgasm. (I guess it's possible for a guy to bemoan the fact that he didn't climax, but not likely.) I have always heard this song as a woman standing up a guy whom she loves. If so, think of the other options lyrically. "I don't know why I didn't go"; "I don't know why I didn't show up"...just awkward by comparison. Thanks.
  • Laura from Minneapolis, MnMarc, I don't think you're that crazy. Not climaxing wasn't the first thing that came to my mind when I first heard the song, but over time, it's sounded more and more likely. But, for whatever reason, people are hesitant to admit that anyone other than Lil Kim might possibly be singing something sexual. I don't know if that is what the song was ACTUALLY written about, but the actual meaning is less important than the individual meaning each gather from it themselves.
  • Kayla from Indianapolis, Incan anyone tell me what movie this song was in?
  • Liz from Miami, FlI have been thinking for quite a while now about the lyrics , and how everything connects together to have one great emotion in one song.I think, and im not so sure ,that when the song says - Out across the endless sea I would die in ecstasy But I'll be a bag of bones Driving down the road alone- that she rather be dying, then being her old regretful self on the road,ok i just noticed that was really obvious, haha, well for those who might want another opinion thats what i thought of that phrase.

  • Clint from Kl, MalaysiaMarc,
    My heart is drenched in wine, But you'll be on my mind Forever=She is drunk and sad, She'll remember him
  • Kei from Salem, OrHmm, let's see.... is it possible that "Don't Know Why"'s lyrics are sexually suggestive? Of course it's POSSIBLE, but in this case, terribly unlikely. To me, this song has always sounded like the story of someone caught in a destructive spiral where her relationship is concerned - she's ripping apart a good relationship, and she's fully cognizant of her actions, but at the same time she feels unable to stop.
  • Virnalisa from Santo Domingo, OtherI don't know why but i think marc is crazy ,ok maybe he interprets the song like that but to me it has nothing to do with sex to me this song has another interpretation ,to me it has to do with that she made a mistake and the guy that she was in love with left and she didn't do anything to stop him from leaving ,but she still loved him. that's why the song says: "my heart is drenched in wine you'll be on my mind forever", interpretation: her heart will always be drenched of love for him and that he'll always be on her mind.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiame thinks Marc's got something else on his mind hmmm....
  • Marc from Freehold, NjAm I crazy or are the lyrics for "Don't Know Why" sexually suggestive? Here's what I mean:

    I waited 'til I saw the sun
    don't know why I didn't come

    Interpretation: Someone having sex during the night and not climaxing.

    I left you by the house of fun
    don't know why I didn't come by
    don't know why I didn't come

    Interpretation: The reference to "House of Fun" may refer to genitalia." It sounds as if, she's diappointed she couldn't satisfy herself.

    When I saw the break of day
    I wished that I could fly away
    Instead of kneeling in the sand
    Catching teardrops in my hand

    Interpreation: "I wished that I could fly away" could mean orgasm.

    My heart is drenched in wine
    You'll be on my mind

    Interpretation: I don't even understand what this stanza means - "heart drenched in wine?"

    Out across the endless sea
    I would die in ecstasy
    But I'll be a bag of bones
    Driving down the road alone

    Interpretation: Very suggestive. "endless sea" and "die in ecstacy" seems to refer to passionate lovemaking.

    My heart is drenched in wine
    But you'll be on my mind

    Something has to make you run
    I don't know why I didn't come by
    I feel as empty as a drum
    I don't know why I didn't come by
    don't know why I didn't come
    I don't know why I didn't come

    Interpretation: Another reference to disappointment about a sexual encounter.

    Does anyone else see these things in these lyrics or am I way off?



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