SONG: Cry Me a River
ARTIST: Julie London
Listen to it here:
Cry Me a River is the first American torch song we’ve had on the blog. A torch song is basically a type of sentimental unrequited love song, where the singer is usually singing about a love who is unaware of their interest, or who has moved on, or some other sad story. This particular torch song was written in 1953 by Arthur Hamilton, and was intended to be sung by Ella Fitzgerald in the movie Pete Kelly’s Blues. Apparently, Julie London and Arthur Hamilton had been high school classmates, and London contacted Hamilton on behalf of her husband, Jack Webb, the film’s director, who was looking for new songs for the soundtrack. The song was eventually dropped from the film, but Fitzgerald released her version later in 1961. Webb’s wife Julie London ended up doing the first release in 1955 with Barney Kessel on guitar and Ray Leatherwood on bass. It would become a number one hit. The website, Secondhand Songs, lists 484 different recorded versions of this song and it has charted several times with artists like Joe Cocker, and Michael Buble.
Julie London was an American torch singer and actress with a long career. She was born in 1926 in Santa Rosa, California, and her parents were Vaudeville performers. London herself was discovered while working as an elevator operator in downtown Los Angeles, and started her acting career in 1944. She was able to co-star with a lot of the big name actors of the day, like Rock Hudson, John Cassavetes, and Gary Cooper.
Her musical career began in the mid-1950s when she signed a recording contract with the brand new label, Liberty Records. Her singing career only lasted about 14 years, but she continued acting through the 1970s, with her most popular role being that of nurse Dixie McCall in the TV series, Emergency! She starred opposite her real-life husband, Bobby Troup, while her ex-husband, Jack Webb produced the show. Awkward.
After Emergency! completed its run in 1979, London, who was always shy and introverted, left the public sphere and lived out the remainder of her life in relative privacy. She died of cardiac arrest in the year 2000, at age 74.
The song’s composer Arthur Hamilton said of Cry Me a River: “I had never heard the phrase. I just like the combination of words.” But he was initially concerned that listeners would hear the lyrics as “Crimea River.”
Did anyone else unfortunately think of Justin Timberlake when they saw the title of this song? Anyway, I can’t really say I’ve heard Julie London before, although I’ve heard this song, I think the Michael Buble version. Anyway, I like Julie’s smoky, cabaret-type voice and delivery, like a 1950s Dusty Springfield. Or an American Dalida. I really like how it’s only her voice and guitar and bass – so simple and very effective. I kept expecting some brushes on a snare to come in at any point, but this arrangement is much more intimate. As for the song itself, I really like the lyrics, and paired with Julie’s delivery it’s a really great stone cold fuck you to the dude who cheated and came crawling back! I hope you cry as much as you made me cry! I also really like the melody and harmonic structure of the song too, it’s kind of different and interesting, more than just a pretty little pop song. I like this song and think I need to start investigating some Julie London!
I really like hearing new versions of songs that I already know fairly well on this blog, and this is one of those. I had never heard of Julie London before and was not aware of this, the first publicly released version of this song. Her voice sounds really powerful and sultry in this recording, and it sounds like she maybe has a much larger range than is displayed in this song. She also has really clear diction. I like how prominent the guitar and bass are in this recording, but somehow the really accented downbeats on the bass make me think Julie London felt she needed the extra help with time keeping or something. This could just have been a stylistic thing, though. Though there is a lot I like about this, I feel it could be somehow smokier if you just threw some snare drum brushes in there or something. I also HATE the fake reverb that they throw in right when they start the fade out at the end. It’s like someone slid her into an aluminum tube for the last little bit of the song. I really like this song itself, and the melody, and I can see how it became a hit. However, this isn’t really my favourite version and it just doesn’t really do much for me emotionally. Fun to hear the original recording of this standard though!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Of course I have to put Ella in here. I will always throw in Ella. And since this song was originally written for her, here it is. This version is a little cheekier, and Ella just doesn’t do smokey, sultry, but it’s still a great take:
Michael Buble chooses to go full James Bond film score with his interpretation:
Now THIS is a smokey version. Miss Etta James. Please do all you can to ignore the saxophone player in this one.
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: