If You Go Away

"If You Go Away" is an adaptation of the 1959 Jacques Brel (Belgium) song "Ne me quitte pas" with English lyrics by Rod McKuen. Created as part of a larger project to translate Brel's work, "If You Go Away" is considered a pop standard and has been recorded by many artists, including Greta Keller, for whom some say McKuen wrote the lyrics.[1]

"If You Go Away"
Single by Damita Jo
from the album If You Go Away
B-side "Yellow Days"
Released 1966
Genre Jazz
Length 3:49
Label Epic Records
Songwriter(s) Jacques Brel, Rod McKuen
Producer(s) Bob Morgan
Damita Jo singles chronology
"Gotta Travel On"
"If You Go Away"
"Walk Away"

"Gotta Travel On"
"If You Go Away"
"Walk Away"

Damita Jo reached #10 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #68 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 for her version of the song.[2] Terry Jacks recorded a version of the song which was released as a single in 1974 and reached #29 on the Adult Contemporary chart, #68 on the Billboard Hot 100, and went to #8 in the UK.[3]

The complex melody is partly derivative of classical music - the poignant "But if you stay..." passage comes from Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.


A sad but hopeful ballad, the lyrics are told from the perspective of someone telling their lover how much they'd be missed if they left. This is described in vivid, hyperbolic terms, such as "there'll be nothing left in the world to trust". If the lover stays, the narrator promises them both devotion and good times ("I'll make you a day / Like no day has been, or will be again"). Some lines show that the narrator is speaking to the lover as they are already leaving, or considering doing so ("Can I tell you now, as you turn to go..."). The lines "If you go, as I know you will" and later "...as I know you must" make clear that despite the narrator's protests, the lover's leaving is inevitable.

McKuen's translation is significantly different from the original Brel lyric. The English version is based around contrasting what would happen "if you go away" and what could happen "if you stay".

In the original French version, the singer begs for his lover not to leave him and is more supplicant and almost self-humiliating (the title "Ne me quitte pas" translates "Do not leave me"). Significant is the last image of the French version; although the McKuen version has lyrics that come close to the original sentiment, the French lyrics are far bleaker (as is the song in general): "Let me become the shadow of your shadow, the shadow of your hand, the shadow of your dog" (lit. translation of the original) as opposed to "I'd have been the shadow of your shadow if I thought it might have kept me by your side" (English lyrics).

The English version omits a section of the original version in which the singer begs his lover to give their relationship a second chance, using examples derived from the natural world: "I will tell you of those lovers who saw their hearts catch fire twice;" "Fire has often been seen gushing out of an ancient volcano we thought too old"; "There are, people say, burnt lands that produce more wheat than the best of Aprils".

Cover versions

  • 1960: Barbara, a close friend of Brel's, was the first to cover the original song on her Barbara chante Brassens et Brel album, for which she was awarded Le Grand Prix du Disque.
  • 1962: Gino Paoli recorded the first non-French cover version, "Non andare via" on his album "Le cose dell'amore"
  • 1964: Marlene Dietrich recorded a German cover version, "Bitte geh' nicht fort".
  • 1965: Nina Simone recorded a French version on her album, I Put a Spell On You.
  • 1967: Dusty Springfield released a version on her album Where Am I Going?. When Dusty's life story was turned into a musical in 2000, "If You Go Away" was chosen for the climax of the show. The stage Dusty was portrayed by singer/actress Mari Wilson.
    • Jack Jones recorded the song for his album, Lady.
    • Kim Weston recorded a version for her 1967 MGM album For The First Time.
    • Lana Cantrell released a version on her album And Then There Was Lana. While mainly in English, this version retains one line of the original French: "Ne me quitte pas."
    • The Seekers recorded a version for their album Seekers Seen in Green.
    • Shirley Bassey released a version as a single which also appeared on her album And We Were Lovers. Bassey also recorded an alternative version in Italy in 1968 and this version was only issued in Italy as a single. McKuen was very fond of Bassey's version and wrote to her saying he enjoyed it and thanking her.[4] In 2002, her version of the song featured in the movie Merci Docteur Rey.
  • 1968: Glen Campbell recorded a version on his album Wichita Lineman.
    • Tom Jones released a version on his Decca hit album Help Yourself.
    • Brenda Lee recorded a version in Nashville and it appears on her album Johnny One Time.
    • Lill Lindfors recorded the song as “Om du går din väg” for her Polydor Records album Kom i min värld (Come To My World).
    • Angélica María recorded the Spanish rendering "No me dejes" for her album Cuando me enamoro.
    • Dottie West recorded a version for her album What I'm Cut Out to Be.
  • 1969: Frank Sinatra released a version on his album My Way with Violetta Villas
    • Scott Walker recorded a version on his album Scott 3.
  • 1970: Oliver released a version on his album Again.[5]
  • 1971: Neil Diamond released a version on his album Stones.
  • 1972: The Chopsticks recorded a version on their fourth and final album, If You Go Away, released on Crown in Hong Kong.
  • 1974: Nana Mouskouri released a version of the song on her album Nana's Book of Songs.
    • Ray Charles released a version of the song on his album Come Live with Me.
    • Terry Jacks released a version of this song as a stand-alone single.[6]
  • 1977: Farhad Mehrad
  • 1982: Marc Almond's band Marc and the Mambas recorded a version of the song on their album Untitled.
  • 1984: Oscar Benton recorded a version of the song called "If you go away (Ne me quite pas)" in the album "If you go away".
  • 1989: Helen Merrill recorded a version of the song on her album Collaboration, accompanied by tenor-saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist Joachim Kühn.
  • 1989: Marc Almond recorded another version of the song on his album Jacques.
  • 1990: Julio Iglesias recorded a version of the song on his album Starry Night.
  • 1993: Sheena Easton recorded a version of the song on her album "No Strings" for MCA Records...
  • 1999: Emilíana Torrini recorded a version as the B-Side to the single To Be Free (both part of the album Rarities)
  • 2000: Moloko remixed and reworked Shirley Bassey's version. The new track was released on Bassey's The Remix Album... Diamonds Are Forever and was properly titled the "DJ Skymoo Mix."
  • 2000: Regine Velasquez Asia's Songbird did a cover of this song on her live album entitled "Regine LIVE, Songbird Sings The Classics."
  • 2002: Patricia Kaas released a version on her Piano Bar concept album that grew out of her performance in the film And Now... Ladies and Gentlemen with Jeremy Irons and it contains her interpretation of the song.
    • Wave in Head teamed up with Empire State Human to cover the song and was released on the album Synthetic Broadway.
  • 2003: Cyndi Lauper released a version on her album At Last.
    • Shirley Horn recorded a version of the song on her album May the Music Never End.
  • 2004: Madonna recorded a version of the song as one of the songs of Hello Suckers – Madonna’s musical that never was made. Producers of the musical were Patrick Leonard and Mirwais Ahmadzaï.
  • 2006: Art Of Time Ensemble recorded a version with vocalist Martin Tielli on their debut album Live In Toronto.
    • Ambulette released a version of the song on their first EP, The Lottery.
  • 2007: Belinda Carlisle recorded a version both in French and English on her album Voila.
    • Lesley Garrett released a version of the song on her album When I Fall in Love.
    • Fatal Shore released a version of the song on their album Real World
  • 2009: Barbra Streisand recorded the song with both English and French lyrics for her album Love Is the Answer.
  • 2010: Julie Christmas recorded a demo version of the song that was released on her solo album The Bad Wife.
  • 2011: Fatal Shore released a version of the song on their album Setting The Sails For El Dorado
  • 2012: Peter Murphy with his band Dalis Car recorded the song for their album InGladAloneness.
    • Holly Cole recorded the song for her album Night.
    • Malia recorded the song for her album Black Orchid.
  • 2013: Tout va Bien recorded a version which was released as a single on iTunes.[7]
  • Eartha Kitt recorded two live performances of the song, the first on "Live in London" and the second, as a medley with Hymn to Love, on "Live at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival." She also included the song as part of her set when touring.
  • 2014: Caro Emerald as a digital download performed in both French and English.
    • Jane McDonald recorded as track 9 of her album "The Singer of Your Song" release for her Winter UK tour.
  • 2017: Wyclef Jean released a mixed language English/French version on the Deluxe Edition of his EP J'Ouvert

Related songs

Nick Currie, better known as Momus, returned to Brel's original song and translated it as "Don't Leave" in 1986, released initially on the Jacques EP and then on an expanded reissue of the album Circus Maximus.


  1. "Greta Keller". IMDb. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  2. Damita Jo Chart Singles Discography Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  3. Terry Jacks Chart Singles Discography Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  4. Rod McKuen, letter to Bassey reproduced in CD liner notes, BGO CD693
  5. Oliver, Oliver Again Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  6. "Terry Jacks - If You Go Away / Me And You". Discogs. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  7. "Tout Va Bien". www.toutvabienmusic.com. Retrieved 12 April 2018.

External links

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