“I Hear You Calling Me,” a popular song that was composed in 1908 by Charles Marshall to words by Harold Harford, is not a musical masterpiece. It’s a sentimental parlor song that was published alongside hundreds of others in those days. It isn’t an Irish song per se, but it became a blockbuster hit when it was recorded by the Irish tenor John McCormack.
Despite its modest musical quality, there is just something about “I Hear You Calling Me” that makes it wonderful. When people hear it for the first time,
they want to hear it again. I know that I felt that way the first time I heard it, and I have encountered lots of other people who have felt the same way. Some of them are lovers of much more sophisticated music, who admit to loving it. Others are people who don’t know Schubert from Shinola, but just adore this song.  
Something about this song just “works.” Perhaps that is because of the sweet, sentimental story that the words tell  . . .

I hear you calling me.
You called me when the moon had veiled her light,
Before I went from you into the night;
I came, – do you remember? – back to you
For one last kiss beneath the kind stars’ light.
I hear you calling me.
And oh, the ringing gladness of your voice!
The words that made my longing heart rejoice
You spoke, – do you remember? – and my heart
Still hears the distant music of your voice.
I hear you calling me.
Though years have stretched their weary length between,
And on your grave the mossy grass is green:
I stand, – do you behold me? – listening here,
Hearing your voice through all the years between.
I hear you calling me.

I think that the song’s enduring appeal has something to do with the speed and directness with which it delivers its message. Within only three short verses that take less than four minutes to sing, we are moved from a romantic scene to a far different place when we get to the words, “And on your grave the mossy grass is green . . . I stand, do you behold me?”  There is something about it all that is sort of devastating, yet honest and straightforward. Sentimental? Yes. Corny? Perhaps. But if this song brings a tear to your eyes, don’t be surprised.
If you haven’t heard this song before, or haven’t heard it in a while, I am pleased to offer you five versions to choose from today.
Audio: Robert White
For me, this recording by the Irish tenor Robert White is the one that carries the biggest emotional impact. 

Audio: John McCormack’s Blockbuster Odeon Recording
Here’s the audio recording that made the song a hit, sung by John McCormack.

Video: John McCormack Sings Verses One and Three
Here’s a video of John McCormack singing the song in a recital in Carnegie Hall in 1929. What a remarkable video, both in terms of audio quality and historical significance.  It’s really too bad that McCormack omitted the second verse here. Another thing? This video tells us something about the fact that Enrico Caruso called his contemporary John McCormack, “the greatest tenor in the world.”

Audio: James McCracken
James McCracken was one of the finest Otellos that I have ever seen. This terrific recording, recently added to YouTube, delivers a wonderful idiomatic performance of the song.

Video: John van Kesteren
The Dutch tenor John van Kesterin was a very interesting and accomplished singer. I actually heard him sing the Evangelist in Bach’s Saint John Passion many years ago.  This is a wonderful performance. Van Kesterin was not a kid when he made this video, but his voice sounds young and fresh.