Sunday, 2 March 2008

What the Caked Crusader chose to bake to this week (1 Mar 2008)

Having mentioned him in my music post last week, I decided to listen to Johnny Mercer this week. Many people know of him as a master lyricist – and goodness me, what lyrics they are! Too many wonderful songs to list and for every masterpiece such as “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” there are hundreds of others that deserve equal mention.

The mark of a great lyricist as opposed to a merely good one, is the speakability of the lyric. What that means is whether you can comfortably speak the lyric rather than sing it. Lesser (but still good) lyricists play around with word order to get the rhyme or the rhythm right and this makes the lyric sound clumsy when spoken, for example, this couplet from Ira Gershwin’s lyric in “Someone to Watch over me”:

Although he may not be the man some girls think of as handsome.
To my heart he carries the key.

The words just aren’t in the right order. Johnny Mercer never does this and this is why I think he’s the second greatest lyricist ever (Sorry Johnny, it’s close but Irving Berlin is THE man!). Although not my favourite song of his – that would have to be “Fools Rush In” – possibly his greatest technical lyric is “The Days of Wine and Roses”. A whole song where the lyric comprises of only two sentences!

The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play, through the meadow land toward a closing door, a door marked "nevermore" that wasn't there before.
The lone-ly night discloses just a passing breeze filled with memories of the golden smile that introduced me to the days of wine and roses and you

What many people don’t realise about Johnny Mercer is that he was also an awesome singer. His deep, relaxed vocals could provide the dictionary definition of “easy listening”. Nothing is ever strained or hurried and the result is singing of the absolute highest quality.

My favourite album is the album of duets he recorded with Bobby Darin called “Two of a Kind”. Both terrific singers in their own right, something magical happens on the album – two people sparking off each other resulting in recordings that are slick, sometimes silly, frequently funny, always excellent – just joyous to listen to.

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