"Cold, Cold Heart" is a country music and popular music song, written by Hank Williams. This blues ballad is both a classic of honky tonk and an entry in the Great American Songbook.
Williams first recorded and released the song in 1951, originally as the B-side (MGM-10904B) to "Dear John" (MGM-10904A). "Dear John" peaked at #8 after only a brief four-week run on Billboard magazine's country music charts, but "Cold, Cold Heart" proved to be a favorite of disk jockeys and jukebox listeners, whose enthusiasm for the song catapulted it to #1 on the country music charts. The song achingly and artfully describes frustration that the singer's love and trust is unreciprocated due to a prior bad experience in the other's past.
That same year, it was recorded in a pop version by Tony Bennett with a light orchestral arrangement from Percy Faith. This recording was released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39449. It first reached the Billboard magazine charts on July 20, 1951 and lasted 27 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1.
The popularity of Bennett's version has been credited with helping to expose both Williams and country music to a wider national audience. Allmusic writer Bill Janovitz discusses this unlikely combination:
"That a young Italian singing waiter from Queens could find common ground with a country singer from Alabama's backwoods is testament both to Williams' skills as a writer and to Bennett's imagination and artist's ear."
Williams subsequently telephoned Bennett to say, "Tony, why did you ruin my song?" But that was a prank - in fact, Williams liked Bennett's version and played it on jukeboxes whenever he could. In his autobiography The Good Life, Bennett described playing "Cold, Cold Heart" at the Grand Ole Opry later in the 1950s. He had brought his usual arrangement charts to give to the house musicians who would be backing him, but their instrumentation was different and they declined the charts. "You sing and we'll follow you," they said, and Bennett says they did so beautifully, once again recreating an unlikely artistic merger.
The story of the Williams-Bennett telephone conversation is often related with mirth by Bennett in interviews and on stage; he still performs the song in concert. In 1997, the first installment of A&E's Live By Request featuring Bennett (who was also the show's creator), special guest Clint Black performed the song, after which Bennett recounted it. A Google Doodle featured Bennett's recording of the song on its Valentine's Day doodle in February 2012.
"Cold, Cold Heart" has since been recorded by many other artists, including Louis Armstrong (recorded September 17, 1951, released Decca Records catalog number 27816), Donald Peers (recorded October 5, 1951, released EMI via His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 10158), Petula Clark, Gene Autry (in 1952 movie Apache Country), Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin (1964), Bill Haley & His Comets, Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Washington, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Ronnie Hawkins, Raul Malo, George Jones, David Allan Coe, Guy Mitchell, Teresa Brewer, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cowboy Junkies, Frankie Laine, Nick Curran, and Jo Stafford. Recently it was recorded by Vicentico in collaboration to Tony Bennett. During the credits of the 2013 video game Batman: Arkham Origins, the Joker, voiced by Troy Baker, can be heard ominously singing an a cappella of this song while being returned to his cell at Blackgate Penitentiary.
Freddy Fender had a Spanish-language hit with his own translation under the title "Tu Frio Corazon".
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles