PopBopRocktilUDrop

From the Land of Band Box Records

Johnny Mercer Lyricist/Musician Extraordinaire!

If I occasionally have to take a little break from rock and roll and take a time-out to listen to an alternative set of tunes – make mine the catalog of Johnny Mercer.

John Herndon Mercer was born on November 18th, 1909 in Savannah, Georgia.  His southern upbringing would dramatically mark his approach to music later on – both as a song lyric writer and as a singer.  Steeped in exposure to  ‘hill billy’ songs, the blues and early jazz, his early listening experience would influence his remarkable output throughout his career.

Mercer departed his home in Savannah at the age of 19 and made his way to the Big Apple – moving into the Greenwich Village area and taking out bit acting parts.  In his spare time he would compose using an old piano.  He offered one of his earliest composition to popular singer Eddie Cantor – The song was turned down but Johnny was encouraged .

His very first composition was adding lyrics to a tune by Everett Miller, which was titled “Out of Breath (and Scared To Death of You)” – The song was included in the musical revue titled “The Garric Gaietties” the year being 1930.  Next, it was off to California work on his song writing skills – and then back to New York.

He landed a spot singing for the Paul Whiteman and his orchestra (a Denver, Colorado native) and remained with that very popular band for a few years.  Their paths would cross again in the future.

Bing

A move back to Hollywood turned out to be a good move – Things started to happen – though slowly.  His first two or three jobs didn’t make a ripple and then along came in 1936 when he wrote “I’m An Old Cowhand From the Rio Grande” which he based on his experiences while traveling through Texas.  The song was performed by another Paul Whiteman discovery, Bing Crosby which helped assure it’s success – landing at number 2 on the national song charts.

This was followed by his next big hit – 1937’s “Goody Goody” (tune by Matty Malneck) this time performed by Benny Goodman with band vocalist Helen Ward.  It would reach number 24 on the charts.

After this things just got better and better – with hit after hit – working with several skilled tune composers most prominently Jerome Kern and Howard Arlen (If I Only Had a Brain, Over the Rainbow, Get Happy, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea).

Carmichael – Warren – Kern – Arlen

Mercer proved to be adept at writing songs for Hollywood but not themed film scores and he and Arlen made a mistake returning to New York’s Broadway attempting to compose for the stage – It just didn’t work out as Mercer was not comfortable with composing for a story line.

Pop songs were his stock in trade and because he stuck with what he did best the world has enjoyed a bundle of true treasures.  Mercer’s peak period came just as Tin Pan Alley was fading away – The publishing houses were folding as sheet music sales was becoming less important to the public who were turning to vinyl.

Capitol Records

In 1942 Johnny Mercer founded a small independent Hollywood-based label, Capitol – a label which would grow into a major record company.  His partners were Buddy DeDylva and Glenn Wallichs – a popular Hollywood record store owner.  The company started off as “Liberty Records” but not the popular label of the same name which would soon emerge.  The name was changed to Capitol in short order.

The first Capitol recording session was with singer Martha Tilton singing “Moon Dreams.  His other early recording artists included the Bobby Sherwood and Freddie Stack orchestras and Ella Mae Morse.  Stack and Morse would record Capitol’s first million selling single “Cow Cow Boogie” which reached number 1 in 1942.

Ella Mae Morse – Million Selling Girl

His former employer – Paul Whiteman – would come onto the label for a while followed by Billie Holiday, Tex Ritter, Margaret Whiting, Jo Stafford and Paul Weston all counted among the earliest signings.

Johnny Mercer had a brief but torrid affair with Judy Garland and after it came to a halt he composed the song “I Remember You” with tune writer Victor Schertziner in 1941 – The song was recorded later on by Aussie Frank Ifield – resulting in a monster UK number 1 hit (top spot for 7 weeks) and a number 5 in the U.S. selling a couple million copies.

Johnny won four Academy Awards for his songs (On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (1946, “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (1951), “Moon River” (1961) and 1962’s “Days of Wine and Roses”.  His “Blues in the Night” was beat out by Oscar Hammerstein II  in 1942 with his “The Last Time I Saw Paris” a WWII themed recording.  Hammerstein declared after the Awards that Mercer “was robbed”.

I personally love the sound of Mercer’s voice and his vocal song styling – some of best ever!  And his “Glow Worm” song to me is a masterpiece of lyrical invention.

Johnny Mercer passed away from an inoperable brain tumor on June 25th, 1975 just as he was being approached to work with another great composer – Paul McCartney.  He was 66 years of age.

Most likely we would have enjoyed much more magic had he lived on.

Johnny Mercer Selected Compositions

Ace-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive – 1944

 

And The Angels Sing – 1939

Autumn Leaves – 1947

Bernardine – 1956

Blues In The Night – 1941

Charade – 1963

Come Rain or Come Shine – 1946

Day In Day Out – 1939

Days of Wine and Roses – 1962

Dream – 1943

Fools Rush In – 1940

Glow Worm – 1952

Goody Goody – 1936

Hooray For Hollywood – 1937

I Remember You – 1941

I Wanna Be Around – 1959

I’m An Old Cow Hand From the Rio Grand – 1936

In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of the Evening – 1951

Jeepers Creepers – 1938

Jubilation T. Cornpone – 1956

Laura – 1945

Lazybones – 1933

Moon Dreams – 1942

Moon River – 1961

On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe – 1946

One For My Baby – 1943

P.S. I Love You – 1934

Satin Doll – 1953

Skylark – 1942

Something’s Gotta Give – 1954

Summer Wind – 1965

Tangerine – 1941

That Old Black Magic – 1942

Too Marvelous For Words – 1937

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby – 1938

Selected Mercer Charting Pop Hits from the 1950’s & 1960’s (vinyl format)

And The Angels Sing – The Three Chuckles – Vik 4X-0194 – Charted #70 – 1956

Autumn Leaves – Roger Williams – Kapp K-116 – Charted #1 – 1955

Autumn Leaves – Steve Allen with George Cates – Coral 9-61485 – Charted #35 – 1955

Autumn Leaves – Mitch Miller – Columbia 4-50033 – Charted #41 – 1955

Autumn Leaves – Jackie Gleason Orchestra – Capitol F3223 – Charted #50 – 1955

Autumn Leaves – Victor Young – Decca 9-29653 – Charted #52 – 1955

Autumn Leaves – The Ray Charles Singers – MGM K12068 – Charted #55 – 1955

Autumn Leaves 1965 – Roger Williams – Kapp K-707 – Charted #92 – 1965

Bernardine – Pat Boone – Dot 15570 – Charted #14 – 1957

The Bilbao Song – Andy Williams – Cadence 1398 – Charted #37 – 1961

Charade – Henry Mancini – RCA Victor 47-8256 – Charted #36  1964

Charade – Andy Williams – Columbia 4-42950 – Charted #100 – 1964

Come Rain or Come Shine – Ray Charles – Atlantic – Charted #83 – 1960

Days of Wine & Roses – Henry Mancini – RCA Victor 47-8120 – Charted #33 – 1963

Days of Wine & Roses – Andy Williams – Columbia 4-42674 – Charted #26 – 1963

Days of Wine & Roses – Pat Boone – Dot 16439 – Charted #117 – 1963

Dream – Betty Johnson – Atlantic 45-1186 – Charted #19 – 1958

Dream – Etta James – Argo 5390 – Charted #55 – 1961

Dream – Dinah Washington – Mercury 71958 – Charted #92 – 1962

Dream – Sajid Khan – Colgems 66-1034 – Charted #119 – 1069

Fools Rush In – Rick Nelson – Decca 31533 – Charted #12 – 1963

Fools Rush In – Brook Benton – Mercury 71722 – Charted #20 – 1960

Fools Rush In – Etta James – Argo 5424 – Charted #87 – 1962

Fools Rush In – Joey Porello – Drive 6243 – Charted #108 – 1976

The Glow-Worm – The Mills Brothers – Decca 9-28384 – Charted #1 – 1955

Goody Goody – Frankie Lymon – Gee GG-1039 – Charted #20 – 1957

I Remember You – Frank Ifield – Vee Jay 457 – Charted #5 – 1962

I Remember You – Slim Whitman – Imperial 66181 – Charted #134 – 1966

I Wanna Be Around – Tony Bennett – Columbia 4-42634 – Charted #14 – 1963

Love In a Home – Doris Day – Columbia 4-40758 – Charted #79 – 1956

Love With the Proper Stranger – Jack Jones – Kapp K-571 – Charted #62 – 1964

Midnight Sun – The Five Whispers – Dolton 61 – Charted #115 – 1962

(Mercer not shown on label composer credits)

Moment to Moment – Frank Sinatra – Reprise 0429 – Charted #115 – 1965

Moon River – Jerry Butler – Vee Jay 405 – Charted #11 – 1960

Moon River – Henry Mancini – RCA Victor 47-7916 – Charted #11 – 1961

Namely You – Don Cherry – Columbia 4-40746 – Charted #65 – 1956

One For My Baby – Tony Bennett – Columbia 4-40907 – Charted #49 – 1957

Peek-A-Boo – Siouxie & The Banshees – Geffen 7-22760 – Charted #53 – 1988

P.S. I Love You – The Hilltoppers – Dot 45-15085 – Charted #4 – 1953

P.S. I Love You – The Starletts – Astro A5202 – Charted #106 – 1960

P.S. I Love You – The Classics – Music Note MX1 118 – Charted #120 – 1963

Skylark – Linda Ronstadt – Asylum 69671 – Charted #101 – 1984

Something’s Gotta Give – The McGuire Sisters – Coral 9-61423 – Charted #4 – 1955

Something’s Gotta Give – Sammy Davis Jr. – Decca 9-29484 – Charted #9 – 1955

Summer Wind – Frank Sinatra – Reprise 0509 – Charted #25 – 1966

Summer Wind – Wayne Newton – Capitol 5470 – Charted #78 – 1965

Summer Wind – Roger Williams with the Harry Simeone Chorale – Kapp 55 – Charted #109 – 1965

The Sweetheart Tree – Henry Mancini – RCA Victor 47-8624 – Charted #117 – 1965

Tangerine – The Salsoul Orchestra – Salsoul SZ 2004 – Charted #18 – 1976

That Old Black Magic – Louis Prima & Keely Smith – Charted #18 – 1958

That Old Black Magic – Bobby Rydell – Cameo C-190 – Charted 21 – 1961

You Can’t Run Away From It – The Four Aces – Decca 8-30041 – Charted #20 – 1956

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby – Bobby Darin – Atco 6206 – Charted #5 – 1961

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby – The Dave Clark Five – Epic 5-10179 – Charted #35 – 1967

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