For my birthday in May, my brother and sister-in-law gave me Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer by Philip Furia, a biography of Johnny Mercer, one of my favorite songwriters/artists. I finally got around to reading it earlier today.
Who is Johnny Mercer, you ask? Only one of America’s greatest lyricists and songwriters of all time. What songs and lyrics did he write? “Moon River,” “The Summer Wind,” “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” and “Hooray for Hollywood” are among the ones you’ve heard.
Johnny Mercer was also a co-founder of Capitol Records. You know, the record company who signed the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and most notably The Beatles.
I’ve been told by quite a few people in the last week or so that they enjoy reading books that teach them random facts or introduce them to new places.
While I know autobiographies are just chock full of this kind of information, I thought leaving you with a fun little tidbit about Johnny Mercer would be fun:
From the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, Mercer dominated the popular song charts. During that era, he had at least one song in the Top Ten for 221 weeks; for 55 weeks he had two songs in the Top Ten; for 6 weeks he had three songs in that circle; during 2 weeks in 1942, he had four songs there–virtually half the Hit Parade. In some years, he had a song in the Top Ten during every week of the year, the songwriter’s equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, and his songs were number one a record thirteen times. In the course of his career he would write the lyrics, and sometimes the music as well, for 1,088 songs; of these, 18 would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song, and four would win the Oscar.
For the past few years, I have wanted to write some sort of novel revolving around the glory days of music, roughly the 1930s until the mid to late 1970s. But every time I try to do it, it doesn’t work out. I did one NaNoWriMo around a fictional concert hall in the 1960s and 70s with the main protagonist being a high school girl.
The girls wanting to read it for the boy drama would not care about the music and the older crowd wanting to read it for the music would not care about the boy drama. Also, does it work without the accompanying music?
I tried it again with a guy as the protagonist, but he sounded like too much of an adult, and I got bored writing the same story.
Now, after reading this article about One Direction fans not knowing who The Who are, I want to write something. Because it’s not just the classic rock bands, but the songwriters and lyricists from the big band and swing era of things that will be forgotten, too. How many of you read this post and, upon seeing the name Johnny Mercer, thought, “Who?”
There will come a time when people won’t know Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, or singers like June Christy, Jo Stafford, and Ella Fitzgerald. They won’t be able to distinguish between the Mills Brothers, the Ames Brothers, and the Ink Spots. Or between the Modernaires and the Pied Pipers and the Merry Macs.
And it gets even scarier when you think about that happening with bands like The Who and Pink Floyd.
…This post turned a little depressing, didn’t it? I get a little carried away with my music sometimes. I feel like when people look at me and see a twenty-something-year-old girl, they immediately think new music. They don’t know that I freaked out when I found out John Mayall is in town in October. They don’t know that one of my favorite songs is “My Sugar is So Refined” by Johnny Mercer, or that my favorite song of all time is from 1941 and by Tommy Dorsey.
And I don’t believe good music should ever be forgotten.
All the things Johnny Mercer did in his life summed up in the quote I posted were phenomenally impressive, yet not many people know his name.
So it comes down to this: Can anything really be preserved and remembered?