What I’ve Been Wondering

Here’s what I’ve been wondering: You know the song “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” written by George and Ira Gershwin and performed by just about everybody, from Frank Sinatra to Fred Astaire to Billie Holliday to Louis Armstrong? Well, who exactly are “they” in this song, and why do they want to take it away? What does this sinister conspiracy of away-takers stand to gain from their campaign of away-taking? I tell ya, it’s driving me crazy, it’s driving me nuts. Any help would be appreciated.

3 Responses to “What I’ve Been Wondering”

  1. The Old Man in KS Says:

    This subject has very deep and universal philosophical underpinnings. The Book of Job, considered by scholars to be the oldest book in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, is essentially about this question. And the Cookie Monster has sung this song, using the disappearance of his cookies as a concrete representation of his existential dilemma.

    I think most philosophers, scientists, and theologians would agree that it is not possible to be sure exactly who “they” are in this context, much less “why” they want to take things away. So just eat your cookies while you still got ‘em, and stop asking stupid questions!

  2. Cecil Vortex Says:

    OK. I’ll fess up. I’m they. And we hate that song. Why can’t we take that away from you? Give!


  3. Robert Yamauchi Says:

    i had a second to make this up (don’t look on Wiki-whatever)

    “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is a 1937 song (see 1937 in music) written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin and first performed by Fred Astaire in the movie Shall We Dance (1937).

    The song is performed by Astaire on the foggy deck of the ferry from New Jersey to Manhattan. It is sung to Ginger Rogers, who remains silent listening throughout. No dance sequence follows, which was unusual for the Astaire-Rogers numbers. Astaire and Rogers did dance to it later in their last movie The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). The song, in the context of Shall We Dance, notes some of the things that Peter (Astaire) will miss about Linda (Rogers). The lyrics include “the way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea”, and “the way you hold your knife, the way we danced till three.” Each verse is followed by the line “no, no, they can’t take that away from me.” The basic meaning of the song is that even if the lovers part, though physically separated the memories cannot be forced from them. Thus it is a song of mixed joy and sadness.

    The intro references the song “The Song is Ended (but the Melody Lingers On)” by Irving Berlin:

    “Our romance won’t end on a sorrowful note, though by tomorrow you’re gone. The song is ended, but as the songwriter wrote, ‘the melody lingers on.’ They may take you from me, I’ll miss your fond caress, but though they take you from me I’ll still possess…”

    Many artists have recorded the song since, and it has become a standard, as with so many of Gershwin’s songs performed by Astaire. It was famously recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1962, appearing on the album Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass. Sinatra’s version injected his trademark swing feel, giving the song a new lighthearted boost. Other artists who have recorded the song include Ella Fitzgerald, on her epic 1959 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, Billie Holiday, and more recently Lisa Stansfield, Rod Stewart, Tuck & Patti and Robbie Williams. The song is referenced in Harold Pinter’s play Old Times, in which two characters recite some of the lines. It is also featured as part of a high school Gershwin review in the film Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) and is also one of the Broadway songs included by Kenneth Branagh in his film adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000). A part of the song was sung by Michael Jackson in his dance performance with his sister La Toya at The Jacksons (TV series) in 1976.

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