“Black Coffee” is a woman’s lament about how lonesome and low she feels while she’s stuck at home, waiting for her man who is out “lovin’.”
She hasn’t slept a wink. Instead, she can only “walk the floor and watch the door” as she waits for him with her “Sunday dreams” that she knows won’t come true. She smokes cigarettes to get by and pours herself black coffee to drown her regrets.
There’s no glimmer of hope in the song. She knows that this man is not going to treat her right. But all the same, she loves him, and “It’s drivin’ me crazy / This waitin’ for my baby / To maybe come around.”
“Black Coffee” was written in 1948 by Sonny Burke (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics). Sarah Vaughan’s 1949 version made the charts. Peggy Lee recorded this sultry, soulful version of the song in 1953 as the title track for her jazz project of the same name. Lee’s 10-inch Black Coffee album was one of the first “concept albums,” and it was so well received that her record label, Decca, re-released it in the new 12-inch format with extra tracks in 1956.
Lee had first received national exposure in the 1940s singing with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, and she had her first No. 1 hit with “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place” in 1942. She went on to record through the 1970s, was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. She was also an actress and a prolific songwriter. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999.
Many other artists have recorded “Black Coffee.” Notable versions include those by Sarah Vaughan, mentioned above, Ella Fitzgerald (from the soundtrack for Let No Man Write My Epitaph, 1960), Julie London (from the album Around Midnight, 1960), and k. d. lang (from Shadowland, 1988).
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