Actress Alice Faye sang “You’ll Never Know” to her love—over the telephone—in the 1943 musical Hello, Frisco, Hello:
You’ll never know just how much I miss you,
You’ll never know just how much I care…
This sweet ballad, so fitting for WWII listeners, was a collaboration between Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (words), earning them the Academy Award for Best Original Song. They’re the team that also gave us “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”
Alice Faye never made a commercial recording of “You’ll Never Know,” because her contract with 20th Century-Fox barred her from doing so. For the other singers who did record the song at that time, a musicians’ strike from 1942-1944 meant they had to use vocal groups in place of the usual instrumental backup. In Sinatra’s version, for example, the Bobby Tucker Singers provided accompaniment.
The song had staying power. In the 1950s, it was recorded by Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Barbra Streisand… Wait, what? Wasn’t she a child in the 1950s? Yes, she was.
“You’ll Never Know” is possibly the first song Streisand ever recorded, at age 13 in 1955. In 1991, she released the retrospective album Just for the Record. On it, she sang the song again—in a duet with her 13-year-old self. I’m particularly struck by the differences in phrasing between her early and her more mature versions:
Enough music history. Here’s the volunteer pianist story I wanted to tell you about this song:
A couple of weeks ago, during my usual Tuesday lunchtime program at an assisted living home, I stumped Claire. That rarely happens. Her memory for lyrics and song titles is astounding. But when I played “You’ll Never Know,” she came up empty.
“What was the name of that one?” Claire asked when I finished. Oh, this is going to be tricky, I thought, as I gave her the answer: “You’ll Never Know.”
Claire looked puzzled, and her tablemate Peggy played right into the confusion by adding with a giggle, “And I’m not telling her either!”
Did they understand the wordplay? Or did they think I was being a smart aleck? I’m still not sure.
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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