This Week in Elder News: 21 February 2009
Being Green and CFLs

ELDER MUSIC: Johnny Mercer

category_bug_eldermusic Some years ago when I was still living in Greenwich Village, my immediate upstairs co-owner and I were good friends. Our tiny, three-unit condominium was a 200-year-old townhouse built to different standards than today so there was not much between my ceiling and her floor but air. Even so, when neighbor-type issues such as leaks and noise occurred, we worked them out amicably.

After several years of solutions, I thought we had pretty much resolved everything that could go wrong until one evening there suddenly emanated from upstairs a blast of Skylark as loud and clear and true as if I had cranked it up on my own player to top volume. I don’t remember which songs followed, but it didn’t take long to figure out that they were all Johnny Mercer tunes sung by the man himself on an album that I too owned.

So I didn’t say anything; I just enjoyed.

A couple of nights later it happened again – same songs, same album. And again in a week or so and I just kept listening.

There are other good lyricists, but few turned out as much delightfully good work as Johnny Mercer and he sang his own tunes as well or better than anyone. Unfortunately, there isn’t much video of that, but here is one, Jamboree Jones from an old Rosemary Clooney show in which Mercer sings with the Hi-Los. [3:58 minutes]


For Johnny Mercer singing his own songs, I’m stuck with what’s online which isn’t much and are not necessarily my favorites. But for me, there are not any bad Mercer lyrics. This is Mercer singing Baby, It’s Cold Outside with Margaret Whiting. [3:09 minutes]


On rare occasions, Mercer wrote the music to go with his lyrics as he did with this song, Something’s Gotta Give, introduced by Fred Astaire in this scene from the movie, Daddy Long Legs in which he costarred with Leslie Caron. It was released in 1955. [6:43 minutes]


Mercer’s output was so large that it’s hard to keep in mind that he wrote some well-known, old favorites which seem to have always been with us. I didn’t recall that Glow Worm is his, sung here on The Nat King Cole Show by The Mills Brothers. [1:57 minutes]


Mercer wrote what I consider the best torch song of all time - a great, good tearjerker, One for My Baby. God, I love this song and no one (except Mercer himself who took a more light-hearted approach to it) ever sang it like Sinatra in his prime, as in this 1971 concert in London. [6:06 minutes]


Hardly anyone but Rosemary Clooney and Mercer himself recorded this World War II gem, G.I. Jive. The video includes vintage photos of U.S. Army soldiers during the War. [4:02 minutes]


The annual Academy Awards bash is tonight and because Mercer wrote songs for so many movies in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, it is a good day to include his Hooray for Hollywood (this one sung by Doris Day) which the band will undoubtedly play during the ceremony. [2:58 minutes]

Everyone likes to celebrate round numbers with a zero at the end and November 18 will be the centennial of Johnny Mercer's birth. For those who would like to be reminded of the astonishing number of wonderful songs he has left us, here is a long (although still incomplete) list with names of some of the artists who have recorded them.

Oh, wait – one more thing: eventually I told my upstairs neighbor about the Mercer music flooding my apartment. She apologized and moved her new speakers off the floor and onto a table.

Comments

Ronni, I love this feature. Thanks.

Ohhhhhhh my!!!!!!!! I love his music!!!!!! My dad did, too. He had an excellent singing voice and loved to sing and my earliest memories are of him singing the old songs by Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, the Gershwins and Irving Berlin. They don't make music like that anymore. Thank you!!!!!

Johnny Mercer was always one of my favorites. I think my father had most of his recordings.

(I had to laugh at the clip from Rosemary Clooney--obviously one of her pregnant periods, since she's standing behind a wall!) Today she could give birth on TV and nobody would blink!

He wrote so many wonderful, memorable songs, and some have lasting memories for me. One of my personal favorites is "When the World was Young", for which he wrote an English adaptation of a French song about lost innocence. On the other hand, "Moon River", which he co-wrote with Mancini, always hurts a little when I hear it because it was the favorite of someone who once meant the world to me, and I can't listen to it without reflecting on something else that was lost.

My favorite Mercer story, though, concerns one of his songwriting "collaborators" Sadie Vimmerstedt, although she's not listed on the page you link to. In the 1950s, Sadie was a middle-aged housewife in my old home town of Youngstown, Ohio, and as the story goes she was taking a break from housework one day, and grew disgusted at the lack of good music on the radio. So she jotted down an idea for what she thought would make a good song. Her tentative title for it was "When Somebody Breaks Your Heart," and included the line, "I wanna be around to pick up the pieces." She sent it in a two-page handwritten letter to Mercer (the envelope just read "Johnny Mercer, songwriter, New York City" but the post office forwarded it to ASCAP). Mercer liked the idea, and wrote a song around it, words and music, although he usually only did the lyrics. When it was published, Mercer insisted she be given 50/50 authorship, and I understand the royalties enabled Sadie to live quite comfortably the rest of her days.

Johnny Mercer was born and buried in Savannah, GA. I believe his headstone figures in the book (and subsequent movie) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He was one of the few white songwriters of his era who were directly influenced by what were known then as "race records."

I enjoy your site and I appreciate your sharing such rich resources. Your list of the best books on aging were wonderful. My favorite is From Aging to Sage-ing. Thanks. Jann

How could I not know that Johnny Mercer wrote G.I. Jive? Thanks for putting this up it is always great to hear him sing is own songs. Before this I had only heard Louis Jordan's version.

And I can never listen to Baby It's Cold Outside too many times. It's impossible.

La peregrina and I share a love of 'Baby It's Cold Outside'. I remember the first time I heard the song. I had been married one year and my husband, step-daughter and I were moving back to my home in Colorado from Wisconsin. It was a bitterly cold snowy night and we stopped for dinner at a small cafe somewhere on the road. That song was being played on the Juke Box (remember them?) and I loved it and could hardly wait until we got to Colorado so I could hear it again and again and again. I never tire of it; it is so catchy and uplifting.

Remember when music told a story like Cole Porter's 'Begin the Beguine'? Music had a melody, great lyrics and wonderful musicians and singers. Some things were better when I was young and some things were worse, but music was definitely one of the better things.

Thanks for the memories, Ronni.

This was a fun post!

Oh Ronni - I love these old standards...Thank you for the information on Johnny Mercer - such genius. My piano teacher had me play many of these tunes during the lessons that I started taking in my "fifties" - age and years. I love to play Skylark, despite my being beat challenged.

I was fortunate enough to visit Savannah last October and visited Johnny Mercer's grave in Bonaventure Cemetery (renamed the Garden of Good and Evil for the book and movie).

What about Bill Tapia? he's 101 and still playing the ukelele.He played with Frank Sinatra, is still hot. Give him a listen:http://www.silverplanet.com/lifestyles/silver-stars/silver-star-bill-tapia/early-career/45106

Moved her speakers from the floor to a table? And that's all it took? Damn! I remember my upstairs neighbor in Pittsburgh who was a nurse. She got off at 11 p.m. around the time my husband and I were going to bed. Just as we'd dozed off EVERY night, we'd be abruptly awakened by a shower overhead (her apt) going full blast and the stereo going full blast. I liked Edie Gorme and Steve Lawrence too, but not at those decibels at that time in the morning when I had to go to work in the morning. Repeated calls and pleas changed nothing! Needless to say we didn't resign our lease. I doubt she's alive now, but MIRIAM SAPERSTEIN, if you're reading this, you KNOW WHO YOU ARE!

Thanks to a google search I found your wonderful article.

Thank you--some music is "elder" and other is eternal. As long as love endures, Johnny Mercer's voice will endure.

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