Illustration by M. Glenwood (http://www.mglenwood.com)
I’m feeling mighty lonesome, haven’t slept a wink
I walk the floor and watch the door, and in between I drink Black Coffee
Love’s a hand-me-down broom
With these opening lyrics, Paul Francis Webster (1907-1984) immediately draws a picture of bitterness, frustration, insomnia and depression. Not – one would think – the material of a hit song. And yet, the enduring popularity of this song lies precisely in its mood-painting, and perhaps the universality of the fact that, yes, love sometimes can go horribly wrong. Altogether 16 of Webster’s songs received Academy Award (Oscar) nominations, second only to Johnny Mercer’s 18.
The hypnotic and obsessive repeated harmonies of the music- written by Sonny Burke (1914-1980) – is the perfect bare and bleak underpinning of the text. He was a New York big band leader in the 1930’s and 1940’s working with the greats such as Jimmy Dorsey. In 1955 he and Peggy Lee wrote the songs for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
A woman’s born to weep and fret
To stay at home and tend her oven
And drown her past regrets in coffee and cigarettes.
Louise and I try to bring out not only the depression of the situation where the woman paces up and down the room suffering rejection and insomnia. There is definitely an obsessive anger in the lines that object to the domestic role in which women are sometimes forced – and probably this was worse in 1948 when this song was written. New Zealand only allowed women to vote in 1939, less than a decade before. Despite opposition from the president himself, the USA reluctantly granted this right only in 1920. This torch song undoubtedly reflects frustration with the social constraints of the time as much as the individual heartbreak of the story-teller.
Louise and my arrangement differs from the standard version: I adapted the chords and spiked the rhythm to bring out more “bite” and spice. We added a bit more caffeine to this “Black Coffee”.
Listen to more demo tracks from the CD Night Sessions HERE.
Find a copy of the Night Sessions Press Release HERE.
Thank you to Michael Glenwood for permission to use his illustration in this post.