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Blues versions are popular; the lyrics change from version to version, but usually speak of the heartbreak brought on by "careless love." Frequently, the narrator threatens to kill his or her wayward lover.
- Love, oh love, oh careless love,
- You fly to my head like wine,
- You've ruined the life of many a poor girl,
- and you nearly wrecked this life of mine
"Careless Love" was one of the best known pieces in the repertory of the Buddy Bolden band in New Orleans, Louisiana at the very start of the 20th century, and has remained a jazz standard and blues standard. Hundreds of recordings have been made in folk, blues, jazz, country, and pop styles; some of the more notable versions include those by Bessie Smith, Marilyn Lee, Ottilie Patterson, Pete Seeger, and George Lewis. Big Joe Turner recorded it several times over his long career. T. Texas Tyler recorded a version in 1946 for 4-Star records. Fats Domino made a recording of it in 1951, and it has also been sung by Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Entrance, Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Dave Van Ronk, Lead Belly, Odetta, Lee Wiley, Janis Joplin, Siouxsie Sioux, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Ronnie Lane, Dr. John, Madeleine Peyroux, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash, Frankie Laine, Skip James, Snooks Eaglin, Harry Connick Jr., French composer and clarinettist Jean-Christian Michel and Italian songwriter and singer Lucio Dalla in his debut single in 1964 and Hugh Laurie on his 2013 album Didn't It Rain.
Kemmy Davern made a memorable recording of Careless Love, and his remarkable, driving clarinet playing in this piece deserves mention.
The song's melody also is used in other blues songs, notably "A bunch of thyme" and Moon Mullican's "Worries on my mind". Elements of the Bessie Smith version's melody show up in Jerry Lee Lewis's 1956 version of "Crazy Arms" as well.
W. C. Handy's "Loveless Love"
- Oh love oh love oh loveless love
- Has set our heart on goal-less goals
- From milkless milk and silkless silk
- We are growing used to soul-less souls
- Such grafting times we never saw
- That’s why we have a pure food law
- In everything we find a flaw
- Even love oh love oh loveless love
Handy's composition tells a love story, rather than the original story line of a tragic death. The death referenced in the older song was the son of a Kentucky governor."
W. C. Handy copyrighted "Careless Love" in 1926. Copyright Handy Brothers Music Co.
In popular culture
- Robert Lowell quoted "Careless Love" in his poem "Skunk Hour."
- In the sitcom Melissa & Joey, "Careless Love" was Mel Burke's favorite song.
- "Careless Love" was being performed by Candice Marie and Keith, when Honky and Finger first arrive at the campsite in the television film Nuts in May by Mike Leigh.
- The song was featured in the movie Happy, Happy (2010), Norway's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.
- Stephen King includes a version of "Careless Love" in the Dark Tower novel Wizard and Glass.
- It was the final song of the HBO television series Treme.
- Robert Heinlein facetiously quotes the lyric in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls with respect to a female character begetting a child out of wedlock.
- "New Orleans Street Singer: Snooks Eaglin: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2013-06-30.
- "Coffee in the Gourd: The ''Blues'' As Folk-Songs, by Dorothy Scarborough". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2013-06-30.
- Daryl C. Dance, "From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore," W. W. Norton & Company, 2003, pp. 116 and 725. ISBN 0-393-32497-4, ISBN 978-0-393-32497-6, 736 pages.
- "Going the Distance". Melissa & Joey. Season 1. Episode 23. August 24, 2011. ABC Family.