Saturday, March 6, 1993

50 years ago: Harry James hit #1 with “I’ve Heard That Song Before” for first of 13 weeks

I’ve Heard That Song Before

Harry James and Helen Forrest

Writer(s): Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn (see lyrics here)

First Charted: January 16, 1943

Peak: 113 US, 14 HP, 18 GA, 11 RB (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.25 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.85 video, 7.09 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn launched a successful musical writing partnership with this song TY1 about how musical numbers aid listeners in strolling down memory lane and thinking about lost loves. It was featured in the 1942 film, Youth on Parade and landed an Academy Award nomination. The pair went on to write together for numerous films and Broadway musicals, winning an Oscar for the title song of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain. Both are Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees.

Bob Crosby introduced the song in Youth on Parade, but it was the version by the Harry James’ Orchestra with Helen Forrest on vocals which became the hit. They recorded the song on July 31, 1942, one day before the Musician Union’s ban. WK Their rendition charted in January of 1943 and became the biggest song of the year CPM and one of the biggest #1 hits in history. In the pre-rock era, only Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Francis Craig’s “Near You” spent more weeks atop the charts.

James was a trumpeter who’d played with Ben Pollack and then Benny Goodman before starting his own band in 1938. For several years, he charted only with instrumentals. However, in 1941-42, his hits tended to feature vocalists, including Forrest on the #1 song “I Don’t Want to Walk without You.” PM When the Musician Union’s ban disrupted the release of new recordings, Columbia dipped into their vaults and released older recordings by James. The most significant was a 1939 recording of “All or Nothing at All” which featured a then largely-unknown Frank Sinatra. PM James and Forrest recorded “I’ve Heard That Song Before” a day before the strike and Columbia released it five months later. SS

Forrest became one of big band’s most popular female singers SS working with Artie Shaw (“They Say,” “Thanks for Everything,” both #1’s) from 1938-39 and then had her own stint with Goodman (“Taking a Chance on Love,” #1) from 1939 to 1941. Her stint with James from 1941-43 was “her happiest band experience” SS thanks to James’ approach at building arrangements around her voice and his horn. SS She also had success recording with Dick Haymes (“Long Ago and Far Away,” #2).

Other artists to record the song included Pat Boone, the King Cole Trio, Steve Lawrence, Vera Lynn, Al Martino, Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, and Margaret Whiting. WK The song has also been featured in the 1986 Woody Allen movie, Hannah and Her Sisters.


First posted 1/6/2013; last updated 4/5/2023.

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