It’s One for my Baby – and I’ll have one myself!

“One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” is a hit song written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the 1943 movie musical ‘The Sky’s the Limit’.  It was first performed in the film by Fred Astaire and was popularized by Frank Sinatra. Harold Arlen described the song as “another typical Arlen tapeworm” – a “tapeworm” being the trade slang for any song which went over the conventional 32 bar length. He called it: “a wandering song’. Not only was it long – forty-eight bars – but it also changed key. Johnny made it work”. In the opinion of Harold’s biographer the song was “musically inevitable, rhythmically insistent, and in that mood of ‘metropolitan melancholic beauty’ that writer John O’Hara finds in all of Arlen’s music.”   So what was this HIT?

“One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)”

It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place except you and me
So, set ’em up, Joe, I got a little story I think you should know
We’re drinkin’, my friend, to the end of a brief episode
Make it one for my baby and one more for the road

I got the routine, put another nickel in the machine
I’m feelin’ so bad, can’t you make the music easy and sad
I could tell you a lot, but you’ve got to be true to your code
Just make it one for my baby and one more for the road

You’d never know it but buddy, I’m a kind of poet
And I got a lot of things I’d like to say
And when I’m gloomy, won’t you listen to me
Till it’s talked away

Well that’s how it goes and Joe, I know your gettin’ anxious to close
And thanks for the cheer, I hope you didn’t mind my bendin’ your ear
But this torch that I found it’s gotta be drowned or it soon might explode
So, make it one for my baby and one more for the road
The long, it’s so long, the long, very long …

This classic drinking song was written for the 1943 film The Sky’s the Limit, where it was performed by Fred Astaire. The song is about a lovelorn guy who drinks away his girl problems at a bar – he has one drink for the girl, and another one for the ride home. In the movie, Astaire’s character gets tipsy but still manages a world class dance routine before smashing every piece of glassware for his big finish.  The most famous version of this song is by Frank Sinatra, who first recorded it in 1947 when he was at Columbia Records, and again for the Young at Heart soundtrack in 1954. His definitive version, however, was in 1958 for Capitol Records. Released as the last song on his album Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, he recorded it with arranger Nelson Riddle at Capitol’s studios on Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

When Sinatra performed the song in clubs, it was a dramatic moment: a single spotlight would shine on his face and he would sing it accompanied by just his piano player Bill Miller and a cigarette. For the 1958 session, a crowd gathered in the studio to watch Sinatra record, and Dave Cavanaugh at Capitol recreated the club atmosphere by turning off the lights except for one that shined on Sinatra. “The atmosphere in that studio was exactly like a club,” said Sinatra. “Dave said, ‘Roll ’em,’ there was one take, and that was that. The only time I’ve known it to happen like that.”

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