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All Alone

Written: 1924

Words and Music by: Irving Berlin

Written for: Fourth Music Box Revue

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Fiona Apple
and the Watkins Family Hour
(Benmont Tench, piano)


"All Alone"

(Newport, Rhode Island
July 24, 2015)

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"All Alone"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

Cast and Production Details for The Fourth Music Box Revue at IBDB

About the Show

"All Alone" was written for The Fourth Music Box Revue (1924-25).

Irving Berlin's Music Box Revues, with words and music by Berlin, were staged at his own Music Box Theater, New York City, beginning in 1921, and concluding with the fourth in the series, which opened in December, 1924.

Alexander's Ragtime Band (DVD)

"All Alone" is featured in the movie Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), a film tribute to Berlin, where it is sung by Alice Faye.

"No one talked about it [the movie] as 'Alice Faye's picture' or 'the new Tyrone Power film.' It was Irving Berlin's—every inch of the way."

from Michael Freedland, Irving Berlin, New York: Stein and Day, 1974, p. 134.

Joel Whitburn,
Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music
, 1986

Early Versions That Made the Charts
(with year and chart #)

Al Jolson, 1925 (1); John McCormack, 1925 (1); Paul Whiteman, 1925 (1); Cliff Edwards, 1925 (6); Abe Lyman, 1925 (10); Ben Selvin, 1925 (11); Lewis James, 1925 (12).

For later recordings, see our Record Cabinet.

Critics Corner

Alec Wilder, American Popular Song The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Pop music critic Alec Wilder with his usual elegant insight uses "All Alone" as an example of Berlin's uncanny ability to be unique in every song he wrote, adjusting to "the demands or needs of the moment, the singer, or the shift in popular mood."

One searches for stylistic characteristics and is baffled. For the sea of his talent is always in motion. It's mercurial and elusive. You decide to concentrate, on, let's say, pop songs such as "All Alone." You decide it is in the same stylistic category as "Always," so you search for parallels. There aren't any(Alec Wilder, American Popular Song, p. 99)

Michael Freedland, Irving Berlin, New York: Stein and Day, 1974.

Apparently seeing his songs as less unique than Wilder did, Berlin himself, when asked by a London reporter in the late forties what the formula was for a successful song, replied, "Songs do well if they are based on one of these ideas: first, home; second, love; third, self-pity—you know like 'What'll I Do?' or 'All Alone'—and fourth, happiness" (Freedland, Irving Berlin, p. 179).




Philip Furia and Michael Lasser,
America's Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley, New York: Routledge, 2006


Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists,
New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.


Philip Furia and Michael Lasser regard the impetus behind Berlin's writing a group of songs about loneliness, including "All Alone," during the early Twenties as a business decision.

Beginning in 1910, phonograph recordings vied with the piano as the source of home entertainment, and by the 1920s, a new medium radio, was presenting songs aimed at the solitary listener. . . . Berlin first sensed this change when his 1921 song "All by Myself," sold more copies of phonograph records than it did of sheet music. He decided that what the public wanted were what he called "sob-ballads," intimate romantic songs of sadness and yearning.

They continue to emphasize the role technology played in the success of "All Alone," pointing out that it was introduced over the radio as opposed to on the stage. One result was that "instead of hampering sales of sheet music and recordings . . . , the broadcast prompted the sale of a quarter of a million records of 'All Alone' within a month." Berlin capitalized on the phenomenon by promptly getting it onto the stage by interpolating the song into [the touring company—Ed. note] of The Music Box Revue of 1924, where the two leads sang it to one another by telephone from one side of the stage to the other.

from Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, America's Songs, New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 37-38.

[Editor's note: A scene such as this must have reinforced the notion that technology could encourage intimacy by overcoming physical separation. The radio played a role here too, having the capacity to inject music into the confines of a lonely room, thus speaking directly to the emotions of the person who inhabited it—a person who might then go out and buy more new technology, e.g. the phonograph and record, so that the solitary individual could feel better or worse, as the case might be, whenever the need arose.]

In another place, Furia reinforces his notion about Berlin's motive for writing his "sob-ballads":

The newspapers , , , interpreted such hits as "All Alone" (1924) and "Remember" (1925) in the light of Berlin's courtship of socialite Ellin Mackay [who would later become his second wife over strong objections of her family]. Berlin insisted, however, that the only song he ever wrote out of personal experience was "When I Lost You" [after his first wife died].

from Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 55.

Laurence Bergreen,
As Thousands Cheer The Life of Irving Berlin
, New York: Viking, 1990.

Laurence Bergreen suggests the motive for writing "All Alone" went deeper than Berlin's business sense or even the frustrations of his new romance with Ellin Mackay. He notes that the death of Berlin's mother in 1922, his only remaining link to childhood, as well as a series of unfulfilling, short-lived relationships before he met Mackay, had left a profound mark on him and evoked the feelings of "loneliness and melancholy" revealed in "sob-ballads" like "What'll I Do?," "All by Myself," and "All Alone," all songs that emerged during this period. An Ironic result of the success of "All Alone" was that Berlin's "poignant and self-pitying lyrics" had managed to broadcast to the nation "the loneliness of this private man."

All alone
I'm so all alone;
There's no one else but you.

Bergreen also recounts for us, in the words of Berlin's fellow Algonquin round-table companion, Alexander Woolcott, the first "performance" of the completed "All Alone." Berlin had traveled from New York City to an Atlantic City hotel in search of the quiet he needed to work on some new songs. Woolcott, who was there also, writes in his biography of Berlin,

At daybreak that day he had just completed the chorus of "All Alone" and the final version of its lyric, scribbled on the back of a menu card, was propped against a siphon which served for the moment as a music-rack. The old busker was uppermost in him and he was possessed to sing it forthwith. If I had not passed by at that moment, the nearest bellhop or chambermaid would [have] been thrown into a flutter by being pressed into service as audience. His accompanist had come down from New York to work with him on the new Music Box numbers and was already drowsing at the piano over a rough penciled lead sheet of "All Alone"

Laurence Bergreen, As Thousands Cheer The Life of Irving Berlin, New York: Viking, 1990, p. 201, 217. (Bergreen's Woolcott quotation from, Alexander Woolcott, The Story of Irving Berlin, New York: G. B. Putnam's Sons, 1925.)

Wilfred Sheed, The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty, New York: Random House, 2007 (paperback edition, 2008)

For Wilfred Sheed, All Alone" although "written in his mother's last years" has persisted as Berlin's "last word on old age and loneliness and perhaps on his own fears as well." (Wilfred Sheed, The House That George Built, p. 82 hardcover edition)

Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read a version of the lyrics for "All Alone," as sung by Frank Sinatra.
(Both Judy Garland (listen in Record/Video Cabinet) and Sinatra omit Berlin's two verses.
(Typically songs in The Great American Songbook have only one verse, and that comes
at the beginning of the song.) To hear versions that include the verses, listen to the Keillor/Streep duet on the Main Stage or the John McCormack version
in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet.

The two verses for "All Alone":
Verse 1 precedes the refrain. Verse 2 follows it.
Verse 1:
Just Like the memory that lingers on,
You Seem to Haunt me night and day.
I never realized till you had gone
How much I cared about you--
I can't live without you.
Verse 2:
Just for a moment you were mine, and then
You seemed to vanish like a dream.
I long to hold you in my arms again;
My Life is very lonely,
For I want you only.

The complete, authoritative lyrics for "All Alone" can be found in

Book cover: The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin
Robert Kimball and Linda Emmet. The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin. New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 2001/Applause Theater and Cinema Books, 2005, paperback edition.

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

Garrison Keillor and Meryl Streep
"All Alone"
on the radio show
The Prairie Home Companion
July 1, 2006

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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"All Alone"

Albums shown below include a track of this song and are listed chronologically by original recording date of the track.
Wherever possible a YouTube music video with either the same performance of the song or another performance of it by the same artist is included.
Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

Al Jolson
(with Paul Whiteman, Vincent Lopez
and Red Nichols)
Album: Irving Berlin A Tribute to His Music and others

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Irving Berlin: A Tribute to His Music
includes 25 Berlin songs by various artists such as Jolson, Red Nichols, Paul Whiteman, Ruth Etting, Bessie Smith and others. Album released, 2010.
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John McCormack

Album: A Rose for Every Heart

Amazon iTunes

Notes: McCormack's version, which includes both verses (see Lyrics Lounge, rose to number 2 in 1925.
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Julie London
album: Lonely Girl

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Liberty Records was pleasantly surprised when Julie London's debut album was such a big hit. Julie Is Her Name did contain the hit single 'Cry Me a River,' but each featured mellow jazz guitar and bass backing -- which was considered commercial suicide in 1955. So, instead of changing direction and recording the follow-up Lonely Girl with a full orchestra, Liberty wisely allowed London to strip the accompaniment down even more on the album by dropping the backing down to one instrument. Lone guitarist Al Viola plays gentle Spanish-tinged acoustic behind the hushed vocalist, and it suits London perfectly. While the singer was often chided for her beauty and lack of range, she deftly navigates these ballads without any rhythmic underpinnings to fall back on. London's intense focus on phrasing and lyrics recalls Chet Baker's equally telescopic approach. So while most of the album contains the usual midnight standards, London sings them in her own way. The title track is the one unfamiliar tune here, and it's a real gem, penned by Bobby Troup (he was London's producer, paramour, and future husband). The low-key Lonely Girl beat the sophomore slump and initially did almost as well in the charts as Julie Is Her Name. Instead of stripping away the guitar in order to make London's next release be the first a cappella torch album, Troup crafted Calendar Girl, a big-budget orchestral affair that was more in keeping with the thematic pop albums released at the time. ~ Nick Dedina at CDUniverse.com.
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Yusef Lateef
album: Other Sounds

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Other Sounds was the first album on which Yusef Lateef looked beyond the confines of jazz and popular music to hear and perhaps 'sing' the music he heard from the East. He hadn't yet embraced it, but it intrigued him enough to employ the use of an argot on this recording. Lateef's band on this date featured flügelhorn giant Wilbur Harden, pianist Hugh Lawson (who also played Turkish finger cymbals), bassist Ernie Farrow (who doubled on rebob), and drummer Oliver Jackson, who used an 'earth-board' as well as his kit. The set begins innocently enough with a post-bop, semi-West Coast swing version of Irving Berlin's "All Alone" that's all Lateef. His lead with Harden quickly gives way to his long solo before the tune returns and they take it out. It's the next number here that marks jazz history. "Anastasia" begins with a deep gong from Japan and a dissonant Far East scale that calls drones into play against microtones and polyharmonics. After about two minutes it gives way to a gorgeously understated read of the Alfred Newman tune before giving way to the swinging blues of Lateef's own 'Minor Mood,' which should have perhaps been entitled 'Minor Mode.' The tune is most notable for Harden's slippery, open-toned solo in the middle register (from CDUniverse.com).
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Benny Carter Quartet

Album: Swingin' in the Twenties


Notes: "Combining altoist Benny Carter with pianist Earl Hines in a quartet is an idea with plenty of potential, but the results of this 1958 session are relaxed rather than explosive. Carter and Hines explore a dozen tunes (standards as well as forgotten songs like 'All Alone' and 'Mary Lou') with respect and light swing, but one wishes that there were a bit more competitiveness to replace some of the mutual respect." [Originally released in 1958, Swingin' the Twenties was digitally remastered on CD in 1988 and includes bonus tracks.]~ Scott Yanow

Personnel: Benny Carter (alto saxophone, trumpet); Earl Hines (piano); Leroy Vinnegar (bass); Shelly Manne (drums).
Recorded at Contemporary Records Studio, Los Angeles, California on November 2, 1958. Originally released on Contemporary (7561). Includes original release liner notes by Lester Koenig.

all above taken from CDUniverse.com.
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Thelonious Monk

Album: Thelonious Himself

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Recorded April 10-16, New York City. Album personel includes Thelonious Monk. Piano; John Coltrane, tenor Sax; Wilbur Ware, bass. "On each of his first three recordings for Riverside, Thelonious Monk included a solo piano presentation, and for many listeners, these were the highlights of each recital. And so it was decided that Monk's fourth Riverside recording, Thelonious Himself, would be composed entirely of solo interpretations; well, almost. Like a great actor finding heretofore obscure layers of meaning in a familiar soliloquy, Monk takes familiar themes such as "April in Paris," "I Should Care," and "All Alone" and distills them down to a single essence" [on all but one track of the album, "Monk's Mood," Monk plays solo.] (from CD Universe product description).
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Frank Sinatra

Album: All Alone

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "This is perhaps one of Frank's and Gordie's [Gordon Jenkins'] most underrated albums. It is better than any of their work at CAPITOL records as Sinatra's voice on this album is fuller and richer than on the CAPITOL albums.
"The arrangements are superb and sound extremely lush; Frank probably had Gordie get a large orchestra as he very seldom spared any expense on REPRISE albums." (from Amazon reviewer sm.)

c. 1963
Judy Garland

Album: That Old Feeling: Classic Ballads from the Judy Garland Show

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Since the airing of Judy's short-lived 1963 TV show, these gorgeous Garland performances have been nearly impossible to find. She sings radiant renditions of Once in a Lifetime; All Alone; Lost in the Stars; A Foggy Day; That Old Feeling; By Myself , and more, and the bonus tracks find Judy with Barbra Streisand ( 'Get Happy'/'Happy Days Are Here Again') and Tony Bennett ( 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco')" (from Amazon Editorial Review)
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Rosemary Clooney

Album: Thanks for Nothing

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Originally released on Reprise (6108). Arranger: Bob Thompson.

"Thanks for Nothing was Rosemary Clooney's only album recorded for Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records. (Love, released by Reprise in 1963, actually had been recorded for RCA Victor in 1961. ) It was also her last full-length LP project until she began recording for Concord Records in 1977. In his discography included in Clooney's autobiography, Girl Singer, Michael Feinstein notes that Clooney "isn't very fond of this album because the stresses of her personal life are audible on many of the tracks." But those very stresses, which included marital discord and a dependence on prescription drugs, may have contributed favorably to the final product on an album devoted to songs of love gone wrong, much in the mold of Sinatra's Only the Lonely. Arranger/conductor Bob Thompson isn't interested in making all the tunes into saloon ballads, however. True, here you get Clooney's take on "The Man That Got Away," and it isn't very different from Judy Garland's, while Clooney's interpretation of "Black Coffee" resembles Peggy Lee's. But the album opens and closes with country songs of a type Garland and Lee would never imagine trying, while Clooney sounds right at home. And "Just One of Those Things" (complete with introductory verse) and "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" are taken at a jaunty pace that suggests the singer is going to be able to pick herself up off the barroom floor without assistance. Best of all are Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman's "The Rules of the Road" and the title song, which Clooney handles with her clear-spoken matter-of-factness. She may have been fading away personally and professionally at this point in her life, but she had one good album left in her, and this is it. ~ William Ruhlmann at CDUniverse.com.

Sarah Vaughan
albums: Sassy Swings Again
The Complete Sarah Vaughan on Mercury, Vol. 4 1963-1967

same track on both album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes:"Vaughan ended her longstanding and career-defining tenure at Mercury with this fine set from 1967. Entering her autumnal prime, Vaughan effortlessly ignites such chestnuts as "Take the 'A' Train" (one of the best interpretations of the Billy Strayhorn classic), 'I Want to Be Happy,' and 'Sweet Georgia Brown.' She also dips into some rarely heard gems like Richard Rodgers' 'The Sweetest Sounds' and Cy Coleman's 'On the Other Side of the Tracks.' Uncharacteristically, Vaughan also digs into the B.B. King favorite 'Everyday I Have the Blues,' which, while impressively delivered, demonstrates why her forte was not the dirty lowdown side of the musical coin. Vaughan, however, does shine on a blues-tinged version of Irving Berlin's swinger 'All Alone,' showing she certainly could convey a dusky mood in the right setting. As usual, Vaughan rides in style throughout, compliments of some fine arrangements by Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, Manny Albam, and a young Bob James. And with the likes of Clark Terry, Joe Newman, Freddie Hubbard, Kai Winding, Phil Woods, and Benny Golson sitting in, the backing band here is equally impressive. An often overlooked but essential session from that most divine of jazz chanteuses. ~ Stephen Cook." (from CDUniverse.com).
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Doris Day

album: The Love album

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Doris set to work on sessions for The Love Album between May 25 and June 9, 1967. Her vocals were combined with a dreamy backdrop of lush orchestration that came courtesy of conductor Sidney H. Feller and producer Don Genson (he of course later worked on her TV sitcom as an executive producer). Although an intended album for the time, this was not to be. Instead subsequent events, that included the loss of her husband, overshadowed the project. The Love Album or the 'Lost' album as it is often referred to simply vanished into obscurity. . .That was until the summer of 1993, when Doris's son Terry Melcher came across the original master tapes. Then, in 1994, this album finally received its first world release in the United Kingdom.

"The 2006 re-issue now boasts 'never-before-released' recordings that were made for Doris's 1970s TV specials." (from Amazon reviewer Mr. K.) Read all Amazon reviews.

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Tal Farlow
album: Chromatic Palette

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "This album is most notable for the interplay between veteran guitarist Tal Farlow and pianist Tommy Flanagan. With bassist Gary Mazzaroppi completing the trio, the musicians perform Tal's "Blue Art, Too" (based on a blues), plus seven superior standards, including 'Nuages,' 'If I Were a Bell' and 'St. Thomas' In general, the music is on the relaxed side but there is plenty of inner heat to be felt on the fine set." ~ Scott Yanow at CDUniverse.com.
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Jessica Williams

Album: All Alone

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Jessica Williams has turned out a phenomenal amount of rewarding recordings since her career began to really take off during the 1990s. This solo piano outing recorded in 2002 is among her finest efforts, especially in her refreshing approaches to standards and some usually overdone (and frequently underplayed) war horses. "As Time Goes By" has almost become a cliché due to its inclusion in the still popular film Casablanca, but Williams' quirky approach to it suggests Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, and Thelonious Monk at different times, yet never loses touch with the melody. Likewise, her playful little embellishment added to Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" suggests a wink and a smile accompanying the expected "I Love You" to someone special. Irving Berlin wrote many memorable songs during his long career, but the pianist chooses two that aren't heard all that often in jazz settings, "All Alone" and "They Say It's Wonderful," with their often maudlin settings drastically altered. Her originals are just as remarkable. The captivating melody of her delicate ballad "Toshiko" glistens, while she playfully hand-mutes the piano strings and incorporates a little strumming of them as well in her infectious and bluesy "The Sheikh." The intimate sound of this CD makes it seem as if the listener is enjoying a private solo piano recital, so it is very easy to recommend this disc highly and without the slightest reservation. ~ Ken Dryden Live Recording Recorded at Systems Two Studios, Brooklyn, New York on August 16-18, 2002.

2005, 2013
Les Diaboliques

Amazon iTunes

Notes: In the video above, Irène Schweizer piano, Maggie Nicols vocal, Joëlle Leandre, bass) at Jazzclub Moods, Intakt-Jubilee-Festival, Zurich, March 3, 2006, aalbum released July, 2013. The trio's improvisation on Berlin's song leaves the melody in the refrain and the general theme (being all alone) pretty much intact, but Ms. Nicols changes up much of the lyric to counter Berlin's idea that being "so all alone" leads to "feeling blue." She suggests that solitude is okay, even desirable. Ms. Leandre's dissonant bass and Ms. Nicols diabolical scream after the conclusion of the song, however, leave us wondering if she really believes this. The Monk version of the song she refers to can be found above.

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