Monday, May 25, 2009

#77: What'll I Do?

When I'm alone
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do?

Written in 1923, this Irving Berlin gem takes a colloquial phrase of its day and uses the first three syllables as a triplet that has baffled Brits every since ("whattle eye?"). The result, a kind-of syncopated waltz, became a recurring melody in the 1974 The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; Sam and Diane danced to the ballad in a fantasy sequence on the 1980s' television show, "Cheers," after the two broke up for good. More recently, the Coca Cola Company served up 30 seconds of Judy Garland's version for a commercial.

A simple and haunting melody with lyrics to match ("what'll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?"), "What'll I Do" has a rhyme on the fourth and sixth syllable of each verse whose quickly repeated sounds enhance its wounded effect. Berlin said that this was his favorite composition; fellow songwriter Johnny Mercer listed it as one of his favorites, too. It's sadly fitting that YouTube has captured "Golden Girls" actress Bea Arthur taking the spotlight in this rendition, as she recently passed away and was mourned by audiences around the world.

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