Be hold the way our fine feathered-friend
his virtue doth parade.
Thou knowest not my dim witted friend,
the picture Thou hast made.
Thy vacant brow and Thy tousled hair
conceal Thy good intent.
Thou noble upright, truthful, sincere
And slightly dopey gent- you are.
"My Funny Valentine" is a jazz standard like "Happy Birthday To You" is a birthday standard. The song appears on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists. Nearly every jazz musician has performed this song at one time or another. Rather than compiling a list of all the artists that have performed the song, it might be easier to list the ones who have not. The song has been performed by thousands of artists in nearly every genre of music from country, to pop, to techno (try Big Muff's version). Like "Happy Birthday", most of these live performances aren't ever recorded or released.
The Conception - Babes in Arms
The song first appeared in the 1937 musical theater production of Babes in Arms. Babes in Arms tells the story of a boy who puts on a show to avoid being sent to a work farm. It contains some of the best work of Rodgers and Hart. The lyrics were written by very talented (and alcoholic) Lorenz Hart and the music was composed by Richard Rodgers (later of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame).
Babes in Arms opened at the Shubert Theatre, in New York, on April 14, 1937 and ran for 289 performances (after transferring to the Majestic Theatre on October 25, 1937). "My Funny Valentine" was just one of the great songs that came from this show. The jazz standard, "The Lady is a Tramp", also made its debut at this time. The song was first sung by Mitzi Green who plays a character named Billie Smith. After Billie interrupts Val hugging another woman, she sings the song to Valentine "Val" LaMar , played by Ray Heatherton, who she is smitten with. So the original funny valentine was actually named "Valentine"! When the movie Babes in Arms, starring 19-year-old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, was released in 1939, the characters names were changed and most of the songs in the original musical were left out. It is suspected that producer and composer Arthur Freed was jealous of the previous composers and therefore decided to make the movie with mostly his own works.
Funny Again in the Fifties
The song reemerges in the 1950's and is performed by most of the great jazz musicians of the time including: Gerry Mulligan, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Tony Bennett, Ben Webster, Buddy Rich, Anita O'Oday, Mel Tormé, among many many others.
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable,
Yet you're my favorite work of art
The song made it to the top of the charts when the brooding Chet Baker made the song his own in 1953 (released on the album "My Funny Valentine" / Blue Note). His soft, delicate, and serene voice on this song introduced the world to Chet Baker the singer/musician when previously he was only highly respected for his trumpeting skills. His James Dean-type good looks and amazing voice made the bobby sox and pennny loafer wearing girls collectively sigh at his sold-out performances when he crooned, "you're my favorite work of art". Unfortunately for Chet, "My Funny Valentine" is almost the only song that people continue to associate with him.
Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart
Don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine's Day
Chet's version of the song leaves out the first stanza, instead beginning with the second stanza that starts with, "My funny Valentine, sweet comic valentine". As a result of this, nearly every version of this song also begins the same way. The most notable exception to this rule are songs recorded from the many performances of the musicals Babes in Arms and Pal Joey. Since the first stanza is clearly a female voice speaking about her dopey man, you won't find too many men singing it (especially not in the fifties!).
The third stanza seems quite odd at first. It begins with a series of accusatory and rude questions that one wouldn't necessarily expect in a romantic tune. However, on second glance, one might guess what Hart was trying to accomplish. His song resonates with all the normal folks - the unsmart, the weak, and those without the figures of gods/goddesses. It quickly apologizes for the odd posers with a couple of negations to settle the nerves and then ends with the romantic sentiments of the last two verses.
Currently a new CD containing the song "My Funny Valentine" is released about every three days, so you'll be sure to hear new interpretations of it for quite a long time into the future.
My favorite versions:
I've only have about 50 versions that I've listened to, but here's my top 5 list:
Movies that featured the song:
Other notable versions by:
- Chet Baker - I still love his haunting voice. It still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it.
- Ella Fitzgerald - One of her finest works.
- Jimmy Smith - One of the greatist keyboardists that ever tickled the ivories provides a very interesting intrumental version.
- Miles Davis w/ John Coltrane - An amazing ten minute odyssey.
- Frank Sinatra - A classic take on the song that never gets old. Even dannye says, "It's hard to imagine one better."
Anita Baker, Art Blakey, Barbra Streisand, Bill Clinton (yes that Bill Clinton), Bobby Darin, Carly Simon, Carmen McRae, Charlie Parker,
Dave Grusin, Dinah Shore, Doc Severinsen, Eartha Kitt, Eddie Heywood,
Etta James, Frankie Valli, Gary Burton, George Shearing, Grant Green,
Stephane Grappelli & Yehudi Menuhin, Harpo Marx, Helen Merrill, Herb Albert, Herbie Hancock, Jackie Gleason, James Ingram, Jerry Garcia, Jimmy Giuffre,
Jimmy Smith, John Boutté, Johnny Mathis, Julie Andrews, Keith Jarrett,
Kenny Rogers, Leon Russell, Liberace, Linda Ronstadt, Louis Prima, Marvin Gaye, Mary Martin, Merv Griffin, Milt Jackson, Nat King Cole, Neil Sedaka,
Nico, Oscar Peterson, Perry Como, Petula Clark, Rickie Lee Jones,
Rita Hayworth, Ronnie Milsap, Rufus Wainwright, Sammy Davis, Jr., The Four Freshmen, The Lettermen, The Moonlight Players, The Supremes, Tony Bennett, Van Craven, Vic Damone, and many many more!!!
N.B. This writeup was cited as a source in an article in the Canadian National Post entitled, "Who's my funniest Valentine?: One man's search for the definitive version of an enduring standard" by J. Kelly Nestruck published on February 14, 2006. You might be able to find it here. Unfortunately for the journalist I had a couple of my facts wrong and he copied a few of this writeups errors into his article. I have since fixed this writeup.