Johnny Mercer: Sunny Side Up - JazzWax

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September 19, 2011


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Jeff Sultanof

When Mercer was there, it is my belief that the Capitol label was the very finest in the United States. Every record that I've heard has something special and magical (and I've heard many hundreds at this point), even with artists who weren't big stars there - people like Clark Dennis. Nobody skimped on the music; the arrangers were the best in the business. And they did everything, and did it wonderfully well, even childrens records (with backgrounds by Billy May. In fact, before Bozo The Clown, the children's market was a fringe business). Johnny Johnston had his biggest hit there, and he told me that he made a big mistake leaving to go to MGM Records. Mercer only cared about the quality of the songs and the performances, and this is why those records hold up today.

One other little side note: many of the Mercer and Pied Piper sides were arranged by Skip Martin, a sadly underrated and forgotten arranger. His work for Les Brown and for MGM musicals are swinging and gorgeous (he also accompanied singers on MGM Records).

James Cimarusti

A great later Johnny Mercer album is "Two of a Kind" with Bobby Darin and the Billy May Orchestra on ATCO. It makes you wish they did more than just this one album together.

Ed Leimbacher

Mercer fans need to own, or at least see and dip into, his recent book, elegant and hugely entertaining, The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer.

Jeepers creepers, how long has this been going on? I thought about you, skylark, day in-day out; fools rush in (where angels fear to tread). You must have been a beautiful baby but, lazybones, this time the dream's on me.


By all means read Johnny Mercer's lyrics. He could sum up an encyclopedia of emotions in a single phrase ("There's a dance pavilion in the rain/all shuttered down"), making contemporary lyricists look illiterate (most are...). But read the excellent biography SKYLARK by Philip Furia as well. It reveals the tortured soul yet generous personality and his long-term affair with Judy Garland (he wrote ONE FOR MY BABY for her). Also that Sinatra frequently called Mercer for advice in delivering a lyric. It's published by St. Martins Griffin -

Jeff Sultanof

Gene Lees wrote a fabulous bio as well. He knew and loved Johnny, believing him to be the finest American lyricist.


Johnny Mercer's talent was great and his voice equally calls to mind Hollywood of another time and his roots, the South. But to denigrate Sinatra's Columbia period in this manner wasn't really called for, was it? "Frank Sinatra in the mid-'40s was locked in Columbia's studios cranking out one heavy ballad after the next in some sort of maudlin marathon". Mercer's work as a song writer far exceeds his ability as a singer in my opinion.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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