Everything Happens to Me: Tom Adair and the Expandable Lyric

Matt Dennis (music) and Tom Adair (lyrics) were staff writers for the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, and many of their songs were introduced by Sinatra. Unlike most of the icons of the Great American Songbook, they didn’t write for the theater, so their songs didn’t grow out of (or get shoehorned into) story lines. Among their notable collaborations are “Let’s Get Away from It All,” “Will You Still Be Mine?” and “Violets for Your Furs.”

And “Everything Happens to Me,” which I’m just wild about. It’s a fun song, where the unlucky lover portrays himself (or herself) as an unlucky schlump in general. It’s basically a list of all the bad, but hardly catastrophic, things that befall the singer. And the wonderful thing about list songs, Porter’s “You’re the Top” perhaps being the supreme example, is that they’re infinitely expandable (just ask Chomsky). As a matter of fact, when I did a cabaret show in the late ’80s I called it “Everything Happens to Me” and wrote an additional chorus of lyrics, which I’ll share below.

Here’s the lyric that everybody sings:

I make a date for golf, and you can bet your life it rains.
I try to give a party, and the guy upstairs complains.
I guess I’ll go through life, just catching colds and missing trains.
Everything happens to me.

I never miss a thing. I’ve had the measles and the mumps.
And every time I play an ace, my partner always trumps.
I guess I’m just a fool, who never looks before he jumps.
Everything happens to me.

At first, my heart thought you could break this jinx for me.
That love would turn the trick to end despair.
But now I just can’t fool this head that thinks for me.
I’ve mortgaged all my castles in the air.

I’ve telegraphed and phoned and sent an air mail special too.
Your answer was goodbye and there was even postage due.
I fell in love just once, and then it had to be with you.
Everything happens to me.

Here’s a version by Rosemary Clooney, who could always be trusted with the care of a lyric.

When Sinatra sang it he opened with the brief verse:

Black cats creep across my path
Until Im almost mad
I must have roused the devils wrath
’cause all my luck is bad

Billie Holiday also sang the verse. And like many singers from the ’50s onward, she replaced “missing trains” with “missing planes,” which isn’t a bad idea.

And then there are the additional choruses. Here’s a version by the composer, who also had a performing career as a singer-pianist. He does a playful additional chorus that certainly doesn’t stand the test of time. I don’t know if Adair is responsible for the additional lyric.

Finally, my own contribution.

I join a new religion and the preacher starts to sin,
I throw away my turtlenecks, next thing I know they’re in,
I’m always playing solitaire and still I never win,
Everything happens to me.

I buy a famous painting and discover it’s a fake,
I move to San Francisco and they have another quake,
So far a pair of broken arms has been my only break,
Everything happens to me.

When first we met I looked to you imploringly
To put an end to my unlucky streak,
But you have no intention of adoring me,
Now once again my future’s looking bleak.

I sent a dozen roses in a last attempt to woo,
You said they made you sneeze and then you told me we were through,
I fell in love just once and then it had to be with you,
Everything happens to me.

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