Cold, Cold Heart
|"Cold, Cold Heart"|
|Single by Hank Williams|
|Genre||Country, honky-tonk, blues|
|Hank Williams singles chronology|
Hank Williams version
Williams adapted the melody for the song from T. Texas Tyler's 1945 recording of "You'll Still Be in My Heart," written by Ted West in 1943. The song achingly and artfully describes frustration that the singer's love and trust is unreciprocated due to a prior bad experience in the other's past. Stories of the song's origins vary. In the Williams episode of American Masters, country music historian Colin Escott states that Williams was moved to write the song after visiting his wife Audrey in the hospital, who was suffering from an infection brought on by an abortion she had carried out at their home unbeknownst to Hank. Escott also speculates that Audrey, who carried on extramarital affairs as Hank did on the road, may have suspected the baby was not her husband's. Florida bandleader Pappy Neil McCormick claims to have witnessed the encounter:
- "According to McCormick, Hank went to the hospital and bent down to kiss Audrey, but she wouldn't let him. 'You sorry son of a bitch,' she is supposed to have said, 'it was you that caused me to suffer like this.' Hank went home and told the children's governess, Miss Ragland, that Audrey had a 'cold, cold heart,' and then, as so often in the past, realized the bitterness in his heart held commercial promise."
The first draft of the song is dated November 23, 1950 and was recorded with an unknown band on May 5, 1951. Like his earlier masterpiece "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," it was released as the B-side (MGM-10904B) to "Dear John" (MGM-10904A), since it was an unwritten rule in the country music industry that the faster numbers sold best. "Dear John" peaked at #8 after only a brief four-week run on Billboard magazine's country music charts, but "Cold, Cold Heart" proved to be a favorite of disc jockeys and jukebox listeners, whose enthusiasm for the song catapulted it to #1 on the country music charts. Williams featured the song on his Mother's Best radio shows at the time of its release and performed the song on the Kate Smith Evening Hour on April 23, 1952, which ran from September 1951 to June 1952; the appearance remains one of the few existing film clips of the singer performing live. He is introduced by his idol Roy Acuff. Although a notorious binge drinker, Williams appears remarkably at ease on front of the cameras, with one critic noting, "He stared at the camera during his performance of 'Cold, Cold Heart' with a cockiness and self-confidence that bordered on arrogance."
The song would became a pop hit for Tony Bennett, paving the way for country songs to make inroads into the lucrative pop market. in the liner notes to the 1990 Polygram compilation Hank Williams: The Original Single Collection, Fred Rose's son Wesley states, "Hank earned two major distinctions as a songwriter: he was the first writer on a regular basis to make country music national music; and he was the first country songwriter accepted by pop artists, and pop A&R men."
Tony Bennett version
That same year, it was recorded in a pop version by Tony Bennett with a light orchestral arrangement from Percy Faith. This recording was released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39449. It first reached the Billboard magazine charts on July 20, 1951 and lasted 27 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1.
The popularity of Bennett's version has been credited with helping to expose both Williams and country music to a wider national audience. Allmusic writer Bill Janovitz discusses this unlikely combination:
- "That a young Italian singing waiter from Queens could find common ground with a country singer from Alabama's backwoods is testament both to Williams' skills as a writer and to Bennett's imagination and artist's ear."
Williams subsequently telephoned Bennett to say, "Tony, why did you ruin my song?" But that was a prank – in fact, Williams liked Bennett's version and played it on jukeboxes whenever he could. In his autobiography The Good Life, Bennett described playing "Cold, Cold Heart" at the Grand Ole Opry later in the 1950s. He had brought his usual arrangement charts to give to the house musicians who would be backing him, but their instrumentation was different and they declined the charts. "You sing and we'll follow you," they said, and Bennett says they did so beautifully, once again recreating an unlikely artistic merger.
The story of the Williams–Bennett telephone conversation is often related with mirth by Bennett in interviews and on stage; he still performs the song in concert. In 1997, the first installment of A&E's Live By Request featuring Bennett (who was also the show's creator), special guest Clint Black performed the song, after which Bennett recounted it. A Google Doodle featured Bennett's recording of the song on its Valentine's Day doodle in February 2012.
Notable cover versions
- Louis Armstrong recorded "Cold, Cold Heart" on September 17, 1951, and released it on Decca Records.
- Donald Peers recorded it on October 5, 1951, released EMI via His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 10158.
- Dinah Washington recorded it in 1951.
- Petula Clark & Gene Autry sang the song in the 1952 movie Apache Country.
- Jerry Lee Lewis released the song as a single on Sun Records in 1961 and included another version on his 1969 LP Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 2.
- Jazz singer Norah Jones included a sultry swing version on her 2002 album Come Away With Me, which was seen as "re-introducing" modern audiences to the song.
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles||1|
- Escott, Colin 2004.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 9 - Tennessee Firebird: American country music before and after Elvis. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu.
- Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Record Research.
- Morrison, Nick (August 17, 2012). "Jazz Goes Honky-Tonkin': The Songs Of Hank Williams". NPR Jazz: A Blog Supreme. NPR.org. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
- Flippo, Chet (February 21, 2004). "Nashville Skyline: Where Was Norah Jones?". CMT News.
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