I jumped the gun in celebrating the annivesary of Johnny Mercer’s birth earlier this week in “Accentuate the postive.” Today is the day, and the number of songs for which he is known to have written the lyrics, according to Philip Furia’s biography of Mercer (Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer, listen to Furia running through a few of the book’s highlights in this NPR interview), is just over 1,000, not the 1,500 with which I credited him. I regret the errors.
Furia’s calculation in Skylark of the hit songs for which Mercer wrote the lyrics is striking. Between the mid-’30s and the mid-50s, he had at least one or more songs in the pop music top 10 for 221 weeks. Yet by far the most striking aspect of Mercer’s work is its consummate artistry.
His “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)” surely stands as one of the peaks of the great American songbook. Harold Arlen composed the music and Frank Sinatra contributed the definitive performance (on “Sings for Only the Lonely,” 1958). In the video above, Sinatra returns to the song at his 1971 Royal Festival Hall concert.
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