If You Go Away

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For the New Kids on the Block song, see If You Go Away (New Kids on the Block song).
"If You Go Away"
Single by Damita Jo
from the album If You Go Away
B-side "Yellow Days"
Released 1966
Genre Jazz
Length 3:49
Label Epic Records
Writer(s) Jacques Brel, Rod McKuen
Producer(s) Bob Morgan
Damita Jo singles chronology
"Gotta Travel On"
"If You Go Away"
"Walk Away"

"If You Go Away" is an adaptation of the 1959 Jacques Brel song "Ne me quitte pas" with English lyrics by Rod McKuen. Created as part of a larger project to translate Brel's work, "If You Go Away" is considered a pop standard and has been recorded by many artists, including Greta Keller, for whom some say McKuen wrote the lyrics.[1]

Damita Jo reached #10 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #68 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 for her version of the song.[2] Terry Jacks recorded a version of the song which was released as a single in 1974 and reached #29 on the Adult Contemporary chart, #68 on the Billboard Hot 100, and went to #8 in the UK.[3]

The complex melody is partly derivative of classical music - the poignant "But if you stay..." passage comes from Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.


A sad but hopeful song, the lyrics are told from the perspective of someone telling their lover how much they'd be missed if they left. This is described in vivid, hyperbolic terms, such as "there'll be nothing left in the world to trust". If the lover stays, the narrator promises them both devotion and good times ("I'll make you a day / Like no day has been, or will be again"). Some lines show that the narrator is speaking to the lover as they are already leaving, or considering doing so ("Can I tell you now, as you turn to go..."). The lines "If you go, as I know you will" and later "...as I know you must" make clear that despite the narrator's protests, the lover's leaving is inevitable.

McKuen's translation is significantly different from the original Brel lyric. The English version is based around contrasting what would happen "if you go away" and what could happen "if you stay".

In the original French version, the singer begs for his lover not to leave him and is more supplicant and almost self-humiliating (the title "Ne me quitte pas" translates "Do not leave me"). Significant is the last image of the French version; although the McKuen version has lyrics that come close to the original sentiment, the French lyrics are far bleaker (as is the song in general): "Let me become the shadow of your shadow, the shadow of your hand, the shadow of your dog" (lit. translation of the original) as opposed to "I'd have been the shadow of your shadow if I thought it might have kept me by your side" (English lyrics).

The English version omits a section of the original version in which the singer begs his lover to give their relationship a second chance, using examples derived from the natural world: "I will tell you of those lovers who saw their hearts catch fire twice;" "Fire has often been seen gushing out of an ancient volcano we thought too old"; "There are, people say, burnt lands that produce more wheat than the best of Aprils".

Cover versions[edit]

  • Eartha Kitt recorded two live performances of the song, the first on "Live in London" and the second, as a medley with Hymn to Love, on "Live at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival." She also included the song as part of her set when touring.
  • 2014

Related songs[edit]

Nick Currie, better known as Momus, returned to Brel's original song and translated it as "Don't Leave" in 1986, released initially on the Jacques EP and then on an expanded reissue of the album Circus Maximus.


  1. ^ Greta Keller bio on IMDB
  2. ^ Damita Jo Chart Singles Discography Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  3. ^ Terry Jacks Chart Singles Discography Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  4. ^ Rod McKuen, letter to Bassey reproduced in CD liner notes, BGO CD693
  5. ^ Oliver, Oliver Again Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  6. ^ http://www.toutvabienmusic.com/.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]