On Friday, October 9, Fred Barton is back with his 14-piece orchestra and cast of Broadway singers and dancers to pay tribute to yet another American showman. But this time, instead of paying tribute to the music of a composer, Barton focuses on a master of the lyric. Johnny Mercer was a prolific lyricist whose songs provided commentary on the American life through much of the twentieth century. Whether he was teaming up with greats like Henry Mancini, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael or working solo, Mercer created an incredible body of work that would add many entries into the, “Great American Songbook.” To celebrate, we are counting down some of the greatest show-stopping numbers from the composer’s career. Below are Mercer’s 10 greatest songs according to this blogger.
Bless Your Beautiful Hide- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
The MGM film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is consistently voted as one of the greatest musical movies of all time and it is in large thanks to the incredible songs provided by Saul Chaplin, Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer. It is no surprise that the team won an Academy Award for “Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.” Below, Howard Keel as Adam sings the opening number and perhaps the best song in the film.
If I Had My Druthers- Li’l Abner
In 1956, MErcer set about writing lyrics for a musical that would bring to life the comics of Al Capp. Featuring the characters of Dogpatch, USA, the musical made commentary on American politics, propriety and gender roles. Perhaps the most famous song from the piece is sung below by Mercer himself along with crooner, Bobby Darren.
Days of Wine and Roses- Days of Wine and Roses
This Academy Award winner of best original song was co-written by Henry Mancini for the 1963 film of the same name. The film, a heavy hitter starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, is about a married couple that descend into a bitter battle with alcoholism. Mercer seemed willing to tackle just about any issue facing the American life.
That Old Black Magic
This song is said to be written about Judy Garland, whom Mercer was often romantically linked to. Garland ended up recording the song in 1942. Here Jerry Lewis sings the song in the original “Nutty Professor” film.
On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe- The Harvey Girls
Another Academy Award winner for Best song, Mercer wrote this one for a popular Judy Garland vehicle, “The Harvey Girls.” Here is the original version from the film.
Something’s Gotta Give- Daddy Long Legs
Written for the 1955 musical film “Daddy Long Legs, ” The song playfully uses the irresistible force paradox – which asks what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object – as a metaphor for a relationship between a vivacious woman and an older, world-weary man. Here it is sung by Sammy Davis Jr.
Come Rain or Come Shine
Originally written for the Broadway musical, “St. Louis Woman,” in 1946 with music by Harold Arlen, this musical has become a standard covered by everyone from Dinah Shore to Ella Fitzgerald to Ray Charles. Here it is sung by Judy Garland who was often romantically linked to Mercer.
Any Place I hang my hat is home
Also introduced in the 1946 musical, “St. L:ouis Woman,” the song would go on to be a hit for Barbra Streisand. Here she sings it for “The Bob Hope Comedy Hour.”
Hooray for Hollywood- Hollywood Hotel
What Irving Berlin did for Showbiz, Mercer did for Hollywood. Introduced in the 1937 film Hollywood Hotel, “Hooray for Hollywood” has become the official anthem of the film industry.
Moon River- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Perhaps Merecer’s most prolific yet simple lyrics ever. Moon River was introduced to us in the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s when it was delivered simply Audrey Hepburn sitting on a fire escape in her most iconic role, Holly Golightly. Here is that version.
American Showstoppers: An Evening with Johnny Mercer featuring the Fred Barton Orchestra; Friday, October 9 at 7:30pm; tickets $55 | $39 | $29 ; Schimmel Center at Pace University; 3 Spruce St, New York, NY 10038;(212) 346-1715