Significant Songs (122)

I’ll Be Seeing You

I’m a sucker for certain sentimental songs. If I hear ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’, I can feel a tightness in my chest. Play me Al Bowlly singing ‘The Very Thought Of You’, and you will see me drift off into a reverie. As I get older, I get worse, as I can now factor in nostalgia too.

When I was very young, the camp American pianist and flamboyant entertainer, Liberace, presented a successful television show. It was one of my Mum’s favourite shows on TV, and we watched it every week. He had adopted this song as his theme tune, so it soon became associated with him. My parents told me that it had been popular during the war, with its connotations about departures, returns, loyalty, and loss. They told me about the film of the same name starring Ginger Rogers, with the song sung by Bing Crosby, and how Vera Lynn’s version had brought tears to the eyes during the dark days of WW2.

With the onset of Beatlemania, followed by my love of Soul music, Tamla-Motown, and much else, I forgot about the song for a while. But it was still being sung, and still being recorded. Almost any singer you can name has either performed or recorded their own version of this song, from Frank Sinatra, (1940) to Iggy Pop. (1998) It has featured on film soundtracks, TV show soundtracks, and has been included in many artists’ collections of classic songs. Modern renditions include those by Michael Buble, Queen Latifah, Rickie Lee Jones, and Rod Stewart. As well as dozens more.

Once I had a computer, I could find out some more about this enduring ballad. It was originally written for the unsuccessful Broadway musical, ‘Right This Way’. It came into its own during the emotional war years of 1939-1945, proving to be the perfect combination of music and lyrics for millions all over the world who were leaving to an uncertain future, and for the loved ones they left behind. It still has power today, and anyone who is apart from someone they care for, or who has lost someone close, can identify with the lyrics and be swept along by the music. For me, it has been a song that has endured from childhood, into retirement. Not many others have lasted that long.

The problem is, which version do I choose for this post?

Being English, and in memory of my Mum, I have to feature Vera Lynn’s dramatic wartime Version. Then again, I really like the voice of Billie Holiday, and prefer her singing this song. So here are both versions, Vera first. If you have your own favourite version, let me know in the comments. I have played this song by so many people this morning, I feel a bit choked up!

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