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Sunday Morning Sinatra - “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road)”

It has been a long while since I’ve posted a Sunday Morning Sinatra. Feels like it’s time.

Scott Johnson, a one-man Grove Dictionary of American standards, observes that yesterday, November 18, was the anniversary of Johnny Mercer’s birth. Mercer is a poet whose name is not widely known. But his words have sopped the heart of any American who has taken even a wayward glance at his country’s musical history. Jeepers creepers, where’d you get those peepers. P. S. I love you. Moon river, wider than a mile. That old black magic that you weave so well. Two sweethearts and the summer wind. Elim-my-nate the negative. Californ-eye-ay. Fools rush in. Goody goody for him, goody goody for me. I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you, come rain or come shine. Any place I hang my hat is home.

The discussion begins and ends, though, with One for my baby, and one more for the road. Many forces conspired to immortalize that pretty and sad song. There’s Harold Arlen, who wrote the music but always knew that his notes lingered in the shadow of Mercer’s words. There’s Bill Miller, the self-taught pianist from Brooklyn whose weeping, careless introduction to the song—trickled out as though from the tap—stole your attention in a single bar because, in a single bar, it told the whole story. And there’s one particular man whose attention it stole: Frank Sinatra, who knew rightness when he heard it and told Miller to remember that riff and to use it from then on. Finally, though, it is all about the words that the fellow says to Joe—Mercer’s words.

If you want to hear that timeless piano introduction, have a look at Scott Johnson’s post. He’s presenting Frank Sinatra’s performance of the song from an early-seventies concert at Royal Festival Hall. Sinatra is standing there in front of Bill Miller’s piano. A full orchestra, Debussy mer swells at the ready, sits in blackness behind.

Below, I have attached an earlier performance from a Sinatra television special. There’s no orchestra and no Bill Miller. Just Frank, a barman, and the most famous plaint in the American songbook.

See past Sunday Morning Sinatra installments here.


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