Johnny Mercer, part 1: selected hits and standards, 1930 to 1935

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Our Johnny Mercer index:

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Selected songs with words, or words and music, by Johnny Mercer, 1930 to 1935:

1930

Out of Breath and Scared to Death of You (m. Everett Miller, w. Johnny Mercer)

1933

Lazybones (m. Hoagy Carmichael, w. Johnny Mercer)

1934

Pardon My Southern Accent (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)
P. S. I Love You (m. Gordon Jenkins, w. Johnny Mercer)
If I Had a Million Dollars (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)
Moon Country (m. Hoagy Carmichael, w. Johnny Mercer)
When a Woman Loves a Man (m. Gordon Jenkins, Bernard Hanighen, w. Johnny Mercer)

1935

Eeny Meeny Miney Mo (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)
If You Were Mine (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)
I’m Building Up to an Awful Letdown (m. Hal Borne, w. Johnny Mercer)

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Johnny Mercer

Excerpt from the biography by Richard S. Ginell for allmusic.com:

Marked by a sophisticated, occasionally whimsical mastery of language and rhymes, many of Mercer’s songs have become standards regularly covered by jazz artists. Yet Mercer was also a successful singer, with a relaxed, Southern-accented, jazzy, rhythmically agile delivery that resulted in several major hits in the 1940s. At first, Mercer was torn between acting and songwriting, but having failed to land a part in Garrick Gaities in 1930, he ended up writing his first hit, “Out of Breath, Scared to Death Of You,” for the show. His first charted songwriting hit was Ted Lewis’ 1933 recording of “Lazybones.” By 1938 he was recording duets with Bing Crosby for Decca and the following year, he was on Benny Goodman’s Camel Cavalcade radio program as a featured singer.

In 1942, he, Glenn Wallichs and Buddy DeSylva founded Capitol Records, which would eventually become an industry behemoth, and Mercer reeled off a string of hits for his label, including “Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe,” “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive,” “Candy” and “Personality.” “Atchison” is an especially good example of Mercer’s flip, catchy, vocal style. While running Capitol, Mercer the talent scout attracted the likes of Nat Cole, Stan Kenton, Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee and Margaret Whiting to the label, where they had their greatest successes. Among Mercer’s most durable lyrics — a highly abbreviated list — are those for “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” “Blues in the Night,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “My Shining Hour,” and “Early Autumn,” and his many collaborators have included Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Gordon Jenkins, and Harry Warren. He also contributed to the scores of seven Broadway musicals and several films. Following an album with Bobby Darin and collaborations with Henry Mancini in the early ’60s, Mercer’s career slowed down under the onslaught of rock & roll, but time has since reconfirmed his status as an American popular music giant.

Selected Johnny Mercer biographies:

The second bio listed above, from the Johnny Mercer Educational Archives (johnnymercer.com), focuses on hit songs written or co-written by Johnny Mercer during his career. It is republished from an article at the now defunct Yesterday Magazine (Volume #1, Number 5). The third, written by Patrick McAndrews, is found at Todd Peach’s Johnny Mercer page.

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1930

Out of Breath and Scared to Death of You (m. Everett Miller, w. Johnny Mercer)

This is the first Johnny Mercer composition to be performed on Broadway. The Yesterday Magazine bio (link #3, above) says:

In 1928, Mercer, 19, decided he wanted to be an actor and moved to New York with enough money from his father to sustain him for a year or two until he got started. During the next two years he worked for the Theatre Guild and went on the road appearing in bit roles in “Volpone,” ‘Marco Millions” and ‘Houseparty,’ by George Tyler.

In the meantime Johnny met a lot of other young talented musicians and began to write songs, which he’d sing anyplace he was invited. In 1930, while at the Guild looking for an acting job in the third edition of the “Garrick Gaieties,” he was informed that the play was all cast, but that they could use some songs. In the show were two other future great writers — Vernon Duke and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, who accepted Mercer’s “Out of Breath and Scared to Death of You.” Mercer repaid the favor by introducing Harburg to Harold Arlen.

Wikipedia says,

Mercer’s first lyric, for the song Out of Breath (and Scared to Death of You, composed by friend Everett Miller, appeared in a musical revue The Garrick Gaieties in 1930. Mercer met his future wife at the show, chorus girl Ginger Meehan. Meehan had earlier been one of the many chorus girls pursued by the young crooner Bing Crosby. Through Miller’s father, an executive at the famous publisher T. B. Harms, Mercer’s first song was published.[15] It was recorded by Joe Venuti and his New Yorkers.

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Joe Venuti and his New Yorkers,  recorded in New York, 6 September 1930 (redhotjazz.com)

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Phil Ohman & Orchestra, vocalist: Frank Luther — recorded in NY 10 July 1930 (according to JohnnyMercer.com)

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1933

Lazybones (m. Hoagy Carmichael, w. Johnny Mercer)

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1934

Pardon My Southern Accent (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)

The bio from Yesterday Magazine republished at johnnymercer.com reports that Johnny had a hit with this song in August 1934. I don’t know if they are referring to this version, featuring Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra with vocals by Peggy Healy and Johnny Mercer.

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Henry Allen and his Orchestra – recorded 28 July 1934, New York NY

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Ava Barber on the Lawrence Welk Show c.1975-80

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P. S. I Love You (m. Gordon Jenkins, w. Johnny Mercer)

Separate feature page:

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If I Had a Million Dollars (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer) written for the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (1934) in which it was sung by the Boswell Sisters

The Boswell Sisters – with Jimmy Grier and his Orchestra, recorded 4 October 1934. Boswell Sisters discographer Guy McAfee says the sisters are on camera for 19 seconds at the beginning of the song in the film before the action continues with the music in the background.

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Peter Himber & his Ritz Carlton Orchestra, vocal refrain by Joey Nash – undated, probably c. 1934

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Peter Mintun – date unknown

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Moon Country (m. Hoagy Carmichael, w. Johnny Mercer)

Hoagy Carmichael and his Orchestra

Hoagy Carmichael: piano and vocals, Jimmy Dorsey: trumpet and clarinet, Carl Kress: guitar, Arty Bernstein: bass, Joe Venuti: violin, Red Norvo: xylophone, Bob Vollmer: drums. NYC, 9 March 1934

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(below) Same recording as above. The provider of this second video indicates that the photos used are from Carmichael’s autobiography, Sometimes I Wonder. The prominent use of a photo of Carmichael’s Collegians might suggest that this was the band which recorded the track. Not so. That was Carmichael’s first band. The only recording sessions they had were in 1926 and 1928.

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When a Woman Loves a Man (m. Gordon Jenkins, Bernard Hanighen, w. Johnny Mercer)

Richard Himber & his Ritz Carlton Orchestra, vocal: Joey Nash – recorded on 19 March 1934; issued on Bluebird B-5418, c/w “A Thousand Good Nights”

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Phyllis Robbins, accompanied by Fred Hartley and his Quintet – issued c.1934 on (UK) Rex 8247, as the B-side of “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”

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Billie Holiday – Session #25 New York, 12 January 1938, Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra (Vocalion) — Buck Clayton (tp) Benny Morton (tb) Lester Young (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Freddie Green (g)Walter Page (b) Jo Jones (d) Billie Holiday (v).  According to billieholidaysongs.com, the session was produced by co-songwriter Bernard Hanighen.

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The Condonians at Chigwell, January 2010

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1935

From the Yesterday Magazine article (provide link)

As a result of some recordings with Teagarden, Mercer was invited by RKO Pictures to come to California in 1935, to appear in and write songs for two low-budget musicals.

His 1935 output with Malneck included “Eeny, Meeny Miney Mo” (#7 for Benny Goodman in December), “I Saw Her at Eight O’Clock,” “Meet Miss America,” and “If You Were Mine,” the latter a #12 hit for Teddy Wilson (with Billie Holiday.). All Of the songs were featured in the film To Beat The Band. Then there was “Dixieland Band” with Hanighen and “I’m Building Up to An Awful Let Down” with music by Fred Astaire, who had a #4 hit with it in the spring of 1936.

[Although the majority of Mercer’s songs were written for films, he did take time out to do seven Broadway shows: St Louis Woman,” L’il Abner,” “Foxie,” “Texas, -L’il Darlin,” . “Top Banana,” “Saratoga” and “Walk With Music.”]

Eeny Meeny Miney Mo (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)

Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra, vocal: Billie Holiday

Roy Eldridge, t / Benny Morton, tb / Chu Berry, ts / Teddy Wilson, p / Dave Barbour, g / John Kirby, sb / Cozy Cole, d / Billie Holiday, v. New York, 25 October 1935

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If You Were Mine (m. Matty Malneck, w. Johnny Mercer)

Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra, vocal: Billie Holiday — Roy Eldridge, t / Benny Morton, tb / Chu Berry, ts / Teddy Wilson, p / Dave Barbour, g / John Kirby, sb / Cozy Cole, d / Billie Holiday, v. New York, 25 October 1935

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I’m Building Up to an Awful Letdown (m. Hal Borne, w. Johnny Mercer)

Fred Astaire with the Oscar Peterson Sextet – recorded in Hollywood, California, December 1952

  • Fred Astaire – vocals, tap
  • Charlie Shavers – trumpet
  • Flip Phillips – tenor saxophone
  • Oscar Peterson – piano
  • Barney Kessel – guitar
  • Ray Brown – double bass
  • Alvin Stoller – drums

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Peter Muntin — published on Apr 17, 2010

Attached description:

Fred Astaire’s loyal pianist at R-K-O, Hal Borne, composed this tune and allowed Astaire to put his name on the music as a way to popularize the song. The lyrics are by Johnny Mercer. Borne would later have a minor hit with “I Ain’t Hep To That Step” (But I’ll Dig It)” (from ‘Second Chorus) and “Tenement Symphony” from ‘The Big Store.’ “I’m Building Up…” ranked as high as number five on ‘Your Hit Parade’ beginning in February of 1936. It was widely recorded on every American label as well as on British records.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen Taksler
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 20:47:06

    Congrads! on this wonderful website!

    Reply

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