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I Didn't Know What Time It Was

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Written: 1939

Music by: Richard Rodgers

Words by: Lorenz Hart

Written for: Too Many Girls
(Broadway show, 1939)

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On the Main Stage at Cafe Songbook

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Cécile McLorin Salvant
Featuring Aaron Diehl, piano;, Rodney Whitaker, Bass;
Herlin Riley, drums


"I Didn't Know What Time
It Was"

at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, New York City
October 24, 2012.

Salvant recorded "I Didn't Know What Time It Was"
on her 2013 album Woman Child.

Amazon iTunes

More Performances
of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was"
in the Cafe Songbook Lyrics Lounge and
Record/Video Cabinet


Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"I Didn't Know What Time It Was"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Show Too Many Girls (1939) and the Movie (1940)

Other songs written for the Broadway show Too Many Girls currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook: none


For a complete listing of songs used in the original production of the Broadway show, see IBDB song list.


One song included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbookwas written exclusively for the 1940 movie Too Many Girls: You're Nearer.


For a complete listing of songs used in the movie, see IMDB Soundtrack.


"I Didn't Know What Time It Was" was interpolated into the movie version of the Rodgers and Hart show Pal Joey where it is sung by Frank Sinatra as Joey.



Too Many Girls

Rah-rah college musicals were fashionable on Broadway in the late thirties and Too Many Girls is one of them. The show starred Marcy Wescott, Richard Kollmar, Desi Arnaz, and Eddie Bracken and was directed by George Abbott with a score by Rodgers and Hart. Pottowatomie College in Stopgap, NM, is the setting.

Wescott plays Connie a ditsy coed whose father is a very wealthy Pottowatomie grad. When Connie decides to attend it's not because her father went there so much as because her latest heart throb, an older, sophisticated British novelist, lives just off campus. Her father is pleased with her choice of college but knowing his daughter suspicious of her motives and so decides to hire four football stars to secretly accompany and "protect" Connie. As part of their cover, the bodyguards join the Pottowatomie football team; The team becomes terrific; one of the bodyguard-become-team-members (Clint Kelley/Richard Kollmar) falls for Connie and she for him until she discovers he's working for her father -- at which point things become a little dicey and much more complicated; but finally, and not so surprisingly, everything works out making us feel okay about a somewhat silly plot becuse we know that in the the comic tradition all's well that ends well.

"I Didn't Know What Time it Was" is sung as a duet by Kollmar and Wescott as a means for them to acknowledge how enamored they have become of one another.

The Movie

By the time Too Many Girls reaches the screen in 1940, the cast has undergone some changes. Lucille Ball has replaced Wescott, Richard Carlson has replaced Kollmar, Anne Miller has been added to the cast and story as Pepe the dancing Latina, and Van Johnson, very early in his Hollywood career, is a featured member of the chorus. Desi remains as Manuelito. The movie is memorable mostly for the fact it was on its set that Lucy first met Desi. It might also have been memorable for its presentation of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," which has since become a great American standard song; but that happened in spite of its mangled performances in the movie not because of it. Lucille Ball (dubbed by Trudy Erwin) and Richard Carlson sing it as a duet, and Eddie Bracken adds a comic reprise. Here is Lucy's dubbed portion of the duet:

Lucille Ball (dubbed) and Richard Carlson in Too Many Girls (1940)

"I Didn't Know What Time it Was" is a good example of a song that achieved its status as a standard more as a result of singers such as Billie Holiday who recognized its possibilities, then the buzz it got from its performance on stage or screen, though the Kollmar-Westcott rendition on Broadway made a distinct impression the audience, as Desi Arnaz recalled, stopping the show.

"I Didn't Know What Time it Was" charted only twice both times shortly after the song was introduced in 1939: Benny Goodman, beginning October 28, 1939, for thirteen weeks, peeking at #13; Jimmy Dorsey, beginning Dec. 23, 1939, for two weeks also peeking at #13 (Source Joel Whitburn, Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music, 1986.

Reviews of Too Many Girls:
Brooks Atkinson. Review of Too Many Girls. The New York Times, October 19, 1939 (summary of review of Broadway show)..
Bosley Crowther, "Playhouse at the Palace." The New York Times, Nov. 21, 1940 (review of movie Too Many Girls).
Stephen Holden. "Theater: Rodgers and Hart." The New York Times. March 27, 1987 (review of Equity Library Theater revival of Too Many Girls).

Critics Corner

Book cover: Alec Wilder, "America's Popular Song"
Alec Wilder, American Popular Song The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Alec Wilder likes a number of songs from Too Many Girls but elevates "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" above the others by calling it "a great ballad" attributing this, in part to Hart's "remarkably sensitive ear for the best of street speech," through his "particularly astute use of colloquial expressions," the title of the song being a perfect example, a slang phrase which in the late thirties meant the speaker had no idea what was going on. (Wilder notes Hart's other similarly effective titles such as "It Never Entered My Mind," "My Heart Stood Still," "It's Easy to Remember," etc.). Wilder also credits Rodgers by noting that at this point in his career, he has achieved a style "so distinctly and recognizably his own" that he has become "a consummate melodist."
(For those who wish to read Wilder's more technically specific analysis of Rodgers' melody, see pp. 212-213, hard cover edition.)

Book cover: Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, "America's Songs"

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 and Michael Lasser point out that Hart's use of a colloquial expression for his title, one that works well as a reference to college students who often do not know "what time it is," or what else is going on around them, could be an "apt description of of the lyricist himself in the late 1930's" because of his alcoholism which often led to blackouts when he could not remember where he had been" (pp. 158-159).

Ed's. note: Hart's lyrics are replete, either consciously or otherwise, with phrases that apply not only to a character in his show but, often wryly, to himself. One thinks of "this half-pint imitation" of a man from the lyric of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (written the year after "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" for Pal Joey) as being a reference to the barely 5 foot tall lyricist.

Dorothy Hart, ed.
Thou Swell Thou Witty The life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart, New York: Harper and Row, 1976. (a compilation of Hart's lyrics and of first hand accounts of Hart from those who knew him).

One early performance of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" is lost to posterity. Gene Kelly relates that when he auditioned for Pal Joey in 1940, within a year of the introduction of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" in Too Many Girls on Broadway, he did what he called "a stupid thing." At the audition he sang, for Richard Rodgers and John O'Hara (who wrote the book for Pal Joey), "I Didn't Know What Time it Was." Kelly recalls,

I was naive enough not to think about this. I just thought I'd do a ballad for them an up song. I didn't even know it was a Rodgers and Hart ballad. Years later, when I became a director-producer myself, I learned how songwriters hate this kind of thing because it looks like you're currying favor. A day or two later, they told me I was hired for the part of Joey and I certainly jumped at the chance (Gene Kelly in Thou Swell, Thou Witty, p. 146).

Obviously neither Rodgers nor O'Hara held it against Kelly who went on from that audition to become one of America's great stars.

Richard Rodgers,
Musical Stages: An Autobiography New York: Random House, 1975
(Da Capo paper bound ed., 2002, pictured above).

Richard Rodgers in his autobigraphy recalls that the period during which the team wrote the score for Too Many Girls represented a difficult time for Larry Hart and in the relationship between the two men, so much so that due to Hart's frequent absences from the scene, mostly due to his drinking, Rodgers was forced into writing and rewriting lyrics, though, as he says, "All of the major songs did have lyrics written by Larry," furhter noting that "because our story dealt more or less with an institution of learning, in "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," he [Larry] came up with the idea of discovering both love and wisdom" (Musical Stages, p. 192, hard cover Ed.)

I wanted love and here it was

Shining out of your eyes.

I'm wise,

And I know what time it is now.

book cover: Richard Rodgers by Geoffrey Block

Geoffrey Block,
Richard Rodgers,
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003
In his biography of Rodgers, Geoffrey Block uses "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" as an example of how the composer matched the poetic qualities of Hart's lyric to the music he wrote to accompany them. The composer takes the lyricist's "metaphor of a character unaware of the time and and does not allow her a harmonic resolution of G major until the end of the song (on the words 'wise' and 'now')."

book cover: Meryle Secrest "Somewhere for Me" (biography of Richard Rodgers)
Meryle Secrest. Somewhere for Me -- A Biography of Richard Rodgers, New York: Applause Theater and Cinema Books, 2001.

As can be noted in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet for "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," this song is particularly popular with Jazz musicians. That his melodies were often subject to jazz improvisation was not, however, seen as a compliment by Rodgers, at least not during this period. His reaction is highlighted by another tune written for Too Many Girls, "I Like To Recognize the Tune." Rodgers biographer Meryle Secrest notes that in this song Rodgers and Hart "lamented the major distortions being perpetuated on songs by the swing bands of the period, or what Rodgers called 'the musical equivalent of bad grammar'" (Secrest, p. 208).

William Zinsser suggests a musical irony in this attitude of Rodgers because it is his very solid and "elegant" compositional craftsmanship that so attracts jazz musicians providing them with the opportunity to do what they do:

Good pianists and arrangers are seldom tempted to improve the base line of a Rodgers song; it can't be done. The descending bass of " My Funny Valentine" is the foundation that holds up the whole song; the contrapuntal bass line of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" invites an instrumentalist or a singer to improvise on the melody, secure in the elegant safety net below (Zinsser, p. 131).

Book cover" William Zinsser, "Easy to Remember"
William Zinsser. Easy to Remember The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs. Jaffrey, New Hampshire: David R. Godine, 2001.

Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics for "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" as sung by
Ella Fitzgerald (including the opening verse only) on the album
Ella Fitzgerald Sings Rodgers & Hart Song Book.

Rodgers and Hart wrote "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" beginning with an opening verse followed by a refrain with a single chorus and concluding with a second verse. The lyric on the video below as sung by James Taylor for the the soundtrack of the 1992 movie League of Their Own includes only the refrain omitting both verses. Finding the closing verse is difficult outside of the film Too Many Girls in which the song was introduced. (See below.)

James Taylor on the soundtrack of the movie League of Their Own (1992)

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To hear the the song sung with the opening verse, listen to the Nancy Lamott version (below) from her 2005 album
(performed c. 1995) Live at Tavern on the Green.
The verse begins the song with, "Once I was young"
and concludes with the line, "And now I know I was naive."
The verse demonstrates the singer's total naiveté:
(not even knowing ". . . what time it was [knowing nothing of life until] . . . I met you," thus setting up the transformative nature of the refrain.

Nancy LaMott live at Tavern on the Green (NYC) 1995

The verse that concludes the song, which is almost never heard beyond its use in Too Many Girls (in which Lucile Ball [dubbed by Trudy Erwin] and Richard Carlson sing it), is reproduced below:

Once I was old--
Twenty years os so--
Rather well preserved
The wrinkles didn't show.
Once I was old,
But not too old for fun.
I used to hunt for little girls
With my imaginary gun.
But now I aim for only one.

This final verse reveals Hart's inclination toward irony and paradox by suggesting the singer had lost his youth and grown old by the time he turned twenty. His promiscuous indulgence in "fun" hunting for women made him old before his time; but now, having met the "you" of the refrain has been transformed, abandoning his childishness and in the process paradoxically regaining a youth of a much more satisfying kind--being "only for one."

Perhaps the most salient trope in the lyric is how the songwriting team takes a cliched figure of speech, "I didn't know what time it was," and through Hart's words and Rodgers' music make it into a movingly romantic expression of great force and tenderness.

The complete, authoritative lyrics for "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" can be found in:

book cover: "The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart" Ed. by Dorothy Hart and Robert Kimball
The Complete Lyrics Of Lorenz Hart.
Dorothy Hart and Robert Kimball (Eds.), New York: Knoph, 1986
(Da Capo Press expanded, paper bound edition 1995 shown).

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"I Didn't Know
What Time It Was"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)
Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)
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Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
(vocal: Helen Forrest, tenor sax solo Georgie Auld)
album: Artie Shaw and His Orchestra 1939-1940

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Shaw's rendition didn't chart as Goodman's and J. Dorsey's did, but a very good big band/girl singer rendition from the song's year of composition.
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Doris Day
album: Day Dreams

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: After hitting the big time singing with Les Brown's orchestra and starting a successful acting career in the '40s, Day spent most of the '50s releasing novelty sides and standards collections like this one.
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Charlie Parker
album: Charlie Parker with Strings
The Mastertakes

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes icon

Notes: "When producer Norman Granz decided to let Charlie Parker record standards with a full string section (featuring Mitch Miller on oboe!), the purists cried sellout, but nothing could be further from the truth. There's a real sense of involvement from Bird on these sides, which collect up all the master takes and also include some live tracks from Carnegie Hall that — judging from the sometimes uneasy murmurings of the crowd — amply illustrate just how weirdly this mixture of bop lines against "legit" arrangements was perceived. The music on this collection is lush, poetic, romantic as hell, and the perfect antidote to a surfeit of jazz records featuring undisciplined blowing. There's a lot of jazz, but there's only one Bird" (iTunes album review). For complete album personel see CD Universe page.
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Peggy Lee
album: Black Coffee

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes icon

Notes: Black Coffee was Lee's next major project [after she moved from Capitol to Decca and recorded her version of "Lover."] Encouraged by longtime Decca A&R Milt Gabler, she hired a small group including trumpeter Pete Candoli and pianist Jimmy Rowles (two of her favorite sidemen) to record an after-hours jazz project similar in intent and execution to Lee Wiley's "Manhattan project" of 1950, Night in Manhattan" (from iTunes review).

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Ella Fitzgerald

Album: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook
(arranged and conducted by
Buddy Bregman)

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Volume One of the RODGERS AND HART SONGBOOK was one of Ella Fitzgerald's most artistically and commercially successful albums, so obviously a sequel was called for. You'd be forgiven for expecting lukewarm leftovers, but given the range and depth of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's catalogue, it's not entirely surprising that THE RODGERS AND HART SONGBOOK VOLUME TWO is even better than the original. Opening with the little-known but wonderfully sly New York love song 'Give It Back To The Indians,' VOLUME TWO sprints through 16 other Rodgers and Hart classics in just over 56 minutes, including their early gems 'There's a Small Hotel' and 'Mountain Greenery,' an exquisite 'Blue Moon,' and one of the very best of the seemingly hundreds of versions of the standard 'My Funny Valentine.' This is a remarkable tribute to one of pop music's greatest songwriting teams" -- from CD Universe Product Description.
(arranged and conducted by Buddy Bregman --Recorded at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, California from August 27-31, 1956)

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Billie Holiday
album: Songs for Distingue Lovers

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes icon

Notes: Although Billie Holiday did not record "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" until 1957 (for the album above), she was singing it at least as early as 1943 when her piano accompanist at The Onyx on 52nd Street in Manhattan, Johnny Guarnieri, recalled how her performances of the song made it "a timeless tune." She did this according to Guarnieri not so much because of "the expression and the feeling" that everybody fixes on when they talk about her, but because of "her innately and absolutely perfect sense of timing. No other singer ever approached her on this" (Arnold Shaw, 52nd Street, The Street of Jazz, p. 304).

On the recording above, which is the same track as on the music-video, Billie is accompanied by Ben Webster (tenor saxophone), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Jimmie Rowles (piano), Barney Kessel (guitar), Red Mitchell (bass), and Larry Bunker or Alvin Stoller (drums).
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Frank Sinatra
album: Frank Sinatra Sings
the Select Rodgers and Hart

same track as on album referenced above


Notes: There is only one Sinatra recording of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" arranged by Nelson Riddle and found on the Pal Joey - Original Movie Soundtrack, as heard on the video abpve. The same track appears on a number of CD's. See list at Amazon. We like the album referenced above but it is not that easy to find and expensive. Check out the list linked just above at Amazon for possible alternatives.
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Sarah Vaughan
album: Crazy and Mixed Up

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes icon

Notes: "Though Sarah Vaughan had many pop hits and recorded a number of songs from the Great American Songbook, she is, at heart, a jazz singer, and this is her jazziest, and, I think, best album. Choosing musicians Roland Hanna on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, Harold Jones on drums, and Andy Simpkins on bass as her backup, Sarah produced this album herself in 1982, when her control and musicianship were at their peak, her voice had taken on some of its deeper tones, and her range was enormous. These eight songs, some of them new, are among the best and most unusual tracks she ever recorded, reflecting a variety of moods and a daring in interpretation that comes from having to answer to no one in this recording" (Mary Whipple, Amazon reviewer).
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Nancy LaMott
albums: Live at Tavern on the Green
Ask Me Again

from the live performance album Ask Me Again

Amazon iTunes icon

To listen to the live Tavern on the Green (Central Park, NYC) performance, See
music-video center column, above left
in the Lyrics Lounge.

Notes: "There's a very good reason that the sticker on this lovely cabaret-styled live concert date is billed as the singer's "first new release in eight years" — she died of cancer in December, 1995, just weeks after the Tavern on the Green performance documented here. The release of this disc and the rest of her catalog in 2005 isn't quite like the Eva Cassidy story. Cassidy was an unknown when she died, but Nancy LaMott, discovered in the late '80s on the Manhattan club scene by composer and producer David Friedman, was quite a growing sensation when her time came. She recorded a total of five albums on the label Friedman created for her, appeared on numerous morning talk shows, was a critical favorite and performed for the Clintons at the White House several times" from iTunes review). ED's. note: The Tavern on the Green album does not consist of a set of performances from a single date but is a compilation from several nights during this, Nancy Lamott's last gig. She is accompanied on piano by Christopher Marlowe. The performance on Ask Me Again is also live from a performance at The Museum of Broadcasting.

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Wesla Whitfield
album: High Standards

same track as on albums referenced above and below

Amazon iTunes

The same track is also available on Whitfield's 2001 album
With A Song in MY Heart.

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "On this, her tenth album, Wesla Whitfield continues her journey through the Great American Songbook. Liner notes to the contrary, it seems as if Whitfield is trying to move toward a jazzier presentation of the music with High Standards. Toward this end, she has surrounded herself with some excellent jazz musicians. Gary Foster's cool, boppish alto appears on all but two cuts. Michael Moore's bass and Joe LaBarbera's drums have graced more jazz albums than one can count. The presence of these established players notwithstanding, the results are mixed. On "From This Moment On" and "Don't Explain," the meshing of Foster's high-energy jazz playing and Whitfield's splendid vocalizing provides two examples of where it works. But it's clear that Whitfield continues to be more at ease with cabaret than with the riskier jazz genre. Like many in cabaret, she creates expectations and sets the mood by including the verse for most of the songs on this set" (from iTunes review).
No music-video

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Dena DeRose
album: Love's Holiday

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Versatile, resourceful, and genuine, Dena de Rose is without a doubt one of jazz's most underrated singers. Her fourth Sharp Nine outing again showcases not only her refined vocal and piano abilities, but also her meticulously expressive approach to arranging" (from iTunes review).

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