John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

A classic performed with that beautiful light touch by Ella Fitzgerald.

By - Dec 30th, 2016 01:46 pm
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Ella Fitzgerald. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Ella Fitzgerald. Photo is in the Public Domain.

The years tumble by a little too fast. This one should be no different, but events made it seem so. Slowing down that hard charging parade of time is no easy feat, but a string of demoralizing losses, personal and otherwise, culminated in the election of Donald J. Trump by a minority of confused Americans. Hope, the slogan on my favorite president’s iconic poster and also that thing with wings, have flown away. So what do we do?

I guess we jump feet first into 2017 and see what we can do to muddle through. Muddling is going to be my baseline and it will need to be, as always, elevated by music. I know I will need it more than ever this year. So instead of “Auld Lang Syne,” a nice enough Scottish ballad from the mists of time, how about something closer to home sung by one of our country’s greatest, Ella Fitzgerald? Here is her tender take on the gorgeous and melodic “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”


Looking at her picture, I’m reminded of the George Orwell quote, “At fifty, everyone has the face they deserve.” She’s probably younger than that in this picture, but in all the photos I’ve seen of her, her face is in harmony her music. It radiates joy, warmth and a sense of mischief that made her seem eternally young. The tune she sings is in the very smallest category I can think of, New Year’s songs. There are thousands of Christmas songs for every one about New Year. In fact, I have to admit with some embarrassment, I only know the two mentioned here. If I’ve heard others, they haven’t stuck.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” was written by composer and lyricist Frank Loesser. He also wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Luck Be A Lady,” and the one everybody can play on the piano, “Heart And Soul.” He was prolific, gifted, a very astute lyricist. That’s obvious when you read these lines:

When the bells all ring
When the horns all play
And the couples we know are fondly kissing
Will I be with you
Or will I be among the missing?

Maybe it’s much too early in the game
Aah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year’s Eve

Maybe I’m crazy to suppose
I’d ever be the one you chose
Out of a thousand invitations
You received

Aah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

© Frank Loesser

Being pre-rock, pre-everything, this lyric might strike the modern ear as pure corn. I hope not. It scores points for neatness, carrying the the rhyme at the end of each verse (Eve) at the of the bridge (received). Attention to detail is important; so is making the whole thing sound like it just fell into his lap. Like many great songs, there’s nothing to pull your attention away from the story. The mood is perfect for Ella who was so good at delivering the ache with such a light touch.

Even in its own era, the song wasn’t especially groundbreaking. It didn’t need to be. In the same way Classic Rock is just fine with power chords on every song, Tin Pan Alley was eternally fresh even though, more often than not, it was based on the 32 bar A-A-B-A song structure. This didn’t make it any more derivative than a comic strip having four panels. It was simply a form that satisfied the need for order. It starts with two of what we now call verses (back then the little intro thing was called a verse). Then the B section, or what we now call the bridge, a unique section in the song, stirs things up a little before heading home to the last verse. It works every time, especially on songs this good. Truth is, you really don’t need this reveal to appreciate the magic trick, but I think it proves our neural receptors are somehow friendly to the number 32.

I hope they’ll be up for the next big number, 2017, and the sea change that is about sweep in. If we can ride above it the way Ella floats on this lovely arrangement, we’ll be fine. So… fingers crossed, and Happy New Year.

Note: No Soundcloud bonus discussion this week but back soon with another.

2 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?””

  1. Judy says:

    Thanks for this article and choice. In 1958 my late husband asked me to UWM’s October homecoming about 1 week before the event. It would have been our first date, but I had already had agreed to attend with someone else. About November 1st he called and asked me out for New Year’s Eve, using some of these same words. Ever since we discovered the song, it became “ours”.

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    “Or will I be among the missing?” – what a great line!

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