Our Huckleberry Friend : Johnny Mercer©2000JCMarion
Johnny Mercer set a standard for writing lyrics for popular songs that will never be equalled. His output was enormous and he spanned the early days of the Swing Era through the thundering days of the mid-sixties progressive rock era. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1909 and took a shot at theater after he moved to New York in 1928. Soon became a writer for the stage in 1930 with his first score for the "Garrick Gaieties of 1930" and then succeeded as vocalist first with the Paul Whiteman band in the early thirties. His acting-singing background made him a natural in movie musicals of the time such as "Old man Rhythm" and "To Beat The Band". Next he was a winner in the medium of radio first with Benny Goodman, then with Bob Crosby and then his own shows including "Johnny Mercer's Music Shop" in the mid forties. It was at this time he co-founded Capitol Records in Hollywood. And always there were the songs - "Lazybones", "I'm An Old Cowhand", "Goody Goody", "Hooray For Hollywood", "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby", "Fools Rush In", "Blues In The Night". "Tangerine", "That Old Black Magic", "Laura" and those are only a small portion of great songs. By the 60s Mercer concentrated on movie music such as "Moon River", "Charade", and "Days of Wine and Roses". Here we will concentrate on his vocal recorded output during the Interlude Era, our center of attention.
By 1946 Johnny Mercer had been a pop music vocalist for eight years. The previous year had been his most successful giving him two straight number one hits - "Candy" along with The Pied Pipers and Jo Stafford on Capitol #183, and "On The Atchison, Topeka, and The Santa Fe" on Capitol #195. The year 1946 began and there was Johnny Mercer producing his third number one hit in a row for his own label "Personality" (from the Crosby-Hope film "Road To Utopia") on #230. This was as hot as a performer could be, but like most things it couldn't last and Mercer would never again reach those heights as a vocalist. But in 1946 he could do no wrong and soon returned to the hit parade with "My Sugar Is So Refined" and "Ugly Chile (You're Some Pretty Doll)" which both charted on #268. By the end of the year Mercer had a huge two sided hit with movie tunes. "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" from Disney's "Song of the South" and "A Gal In Calico" from "The Time, The Place,And The Girl" both were top ten hits on #323. During the winter the seasonal tune "Winter Wonderland" (#316) got into the top five sellers.
Early in the year of 1947, Johnny Mercer started out with another top ten hit record for Capitol called "Huggin' And A-Chalkin'" on #334. The next two releases for Mercer were not as successful - "I Do Do Do Like You" on #367, and "Moon faced And Starry Eyed" with the Benny Goodman Orchestra on #1376. Johnny Mercer had a top ten hit with the old Clyde McCoy band hit "Sugar Blues" with the Paul Weston Orchestra on #448. Late 1947 provided two luke warm sellers "Save The Bones For Henry Jones" on #15000 and the flip side "Harmony". "The Thousand Islands Song" from "Angel In The Wings" and "Hooray For Love" from the film "Casbah" were both failures but in 1949 a duet with Margaret Whiting on the tune "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from the film "Neptunes Daughter" was a huge national hit on #567. A recording made in 1949 but not released until 1952 on a tune originally from Germany and now called "Glow Worm" with new lyrics by Mercer, was his last chart appearance.
Finding success in every musical endeavor he entertained, Johnny Mercer was a true Renaissance Man of American music in the 20th Century. A great treasure trove of music and lyrics that will live on forever, and his vocalizing was a great addition to his life's work. He also made a difference in the recording industry by his part in the formation of a major record company in Capitol Records which has been a major player in the presentation of the music of our time from Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Beach Boys. All segments of music in this country owe a debt of gratitude to Johnny Mercer.
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