This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Johnny Mercer was best known for writing the lyrics to songs but he composed tunes as well. Besides that, he sang quite well. He was also one of the three founders of Capitol Records.
After writing mostly stand-alone songs, in the fifties he began producing the words for songs in musicals – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Li'l Abner are the ones I found most notable.
There were also songs for films. He wrote the words to Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses (others as well, of course). I mention these as they're not in the column today. There were too many good songs to include everything.
Unusually for a white composer of his era, he listened carefully to black music of the time, jazz and blues. He brought elements of those styles into many of his songs.
That is evident in the first song today, Blues in the Night. Many people have tackled the song. I've decided to feature JESSE BELVIN.
Jesse was a proto-soul singer who died far too young, probably murdered by members of the Klan or their supporters. No investigation was ever held. Besides singing soul-styled music, Jesse could perform jazz with the best of them.
Australian readers, and probably some others, will remember FRANK IFIELD's big hit, I Remember You.
As a youth, Frank used to practise singing by serenading the cows on his family's property in New South Wales. Then he went to Sydney and made it big on TV and records. Next to England where he made it bigger still. That's where he recorded this song.
Capitol Records, mentioned above, was often called the house that Nat built. Nat, both as a solo artist, and as the NAT KING COLE TRIO had so many hits he pretty much kept the company afloat in its early days.
To complete the circle, as it were, here's the trio ably assisted by Johnny Mercer himself with Save the Bones for Henry Jones.
Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread) was written around about 1940 and a number of people recorded it. I'm too young to remember those, and the first time it impinged on my brain was when BROOK BENTON took it to somewhere near the top of the charts 20 years later.
That's the one I'm using in spite of all those other fine versions.
I used the MILLS BROTHERS so often in the "years" columns that I've pretty much run out of things to say about them.
So I won't say anything. Most of you would be familiar with them anyway. I'll just play one of their most famous songs, Glow Worm.
That Old Black Magic has been performed by many people but the one I remember as the first I heard, and is thus imprinted on my brain, is by LOUIS PRIMA AND KEELY SMITH.
Louis and Keely performed together in the fifties and were married for a time until Louis' womanising became too blatant and they were divorced. Keely later performed with Frank Sinatra and as a solo artist.
Speaking of Frank Sinatra, he is most associated with the song One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) but his version is so well known I thought I'd do another instead.
Of course, when I noticed that BILLIE HOLIDAY was on the list I think I was justified in my choice.
Billie's version really gives Frank's a run for its money, something I can't imagine anyone else doing.
In contrast to my thought process on the previous song, I've gone for the obvious. If you decide to include the song I Wanna Be Around, there's only one person that's in contention.
Everyone who knows this song will know of whom I speak; for the others it is TONY BENNETT.
Nothing more needs to be said.
There was a time when the most famous Clooney in show business was ROSEMARY CLOONEY.
She was of course, the current famous one's aunt. Rosemary could perform pop and jazz with equal facility. Here she leans more towards jazz with Something's Got to Give.
I'll finish with the man himself, JOHNNY MERCER.
Satin Doll is most associated with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn who, of course, wrote the tune. Johnny put words to it.
He worked with many composers over his lifetime from Jerome Kern at the beginning to Henry Mancini at the end, with Duke and Billy in the middle. Johnny performs Satin Doll.