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Autumn Leaves

Weekend Music

I'd like to make the argument that this is the greatest pop song ever written, but that's really a little foolish, not because it isn't unquestionably a very great song, but because there are so many great ones. Most of my favorites in this pre-rock-and-roll vein have lyrics by Johnny Mercer, who so often has a wistful melancholy touch, along with a gift for the striking visual image, which seem particularly of the 20th century.

Of the versions I found on YouTube, I couldn't decide whether I preferred Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra, so here are both.  Sinatra's is immaculately somber, a single run through the lyric with a string arrangement. Cole's is warmer, with an excellent quiet jazz accompaniment. Take your pick. Caution: risk of tears, especially with the Sinatra.



For the fascinating history of the song, see this piece by Mark Steyn, sent to me by my friend Robert. In reply to Robert, I said:

We will not see [Mercer's] like again, just as we won't see the great poets and composers of the 19th century again. It takes a whole culture to produce artists like him, and that culture is gone.

To which Robert replied: True alas, alas. At least we spent a part of our youth in its afterglow.

I heard this song when I was ten or twelve years old, I think on one of the few recordings my parents owned, and I was somehow better for it; I recognize now that the experience was of perfect beauty in art. Much has changed since the middle of the 20th century, and much of that has been for the better. Yet unquestionably something in the soul of our culture has been lost.


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I love the similarity of the poses.


Hmm, yeah, I didn't even notice that. It's especially weird because while the Sinatra one is one of those "videos" that's just one still image, the Cole one is actually a video, and I don't know why that particular frame appears. As you can see, it's not the first frame of the video.

Bill just used some FB application that told him that on the day he was born, The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, by Johnny Mercer was #1.

I wonder when the Sinatra version was made. Seems to me like you can hear old winter's song in his voice, which makes it more poignant.


I wondered about that, too, but as best I can tell, unless he recorded it more than once, this was on one of his Capitol albums from the '50s, Where Are You?, when he was at his peak.

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