Friday, October 24, 2008

"Light up you li'l ol' bug o' lightning"

In response to my mention of Johnny Mercer's "Glow-Worm" in yesterday's post, Patrick Kurp of the wonderful Anecdotal Evidence sent me a link to this clip of the Mills Brothers performing the song on "The Nat King Cole Show":

The performance is enthusiastic, yet retaining an element of cool. The smile on Donald's face when he takes the lead seems fully genuine: these guys are having fun with this song.

Gene Lees's biography of Mercer, Portrait of Johnny (2004), offers this account of the writing of "Glow-Worm" from singer Betty Bennett:
When I was singing with the Alvino Rey band, we had a vocal group called the Blue Reys. Because we recorded for Capitol, Johnny was going to do a tune with us. He was writing special lyrics to "Glow-Worm." We met with him and rehearsed the tune, the first two choruses. But there was a chorus missing. So he said, "Wait a minute, I'll run down to my offiec, I think it's on my desk." So he was gone fifteen minutes and came back with a wonderful lyric--having just written it.
Not to question Ms. Bennett, or to criticize one of my favorite songwriters, but if the verse she's referring to is this one--
Glow little glow-worm, turn the key on
You are equipped with taillight neon
You got a cute vest-pocket Mazda
Which you can make both slow and fazda
I don't know who you took a shine to
Or who you're out to make a sign to
I got a gal that I love so
Glow little glow-worm, glow
Put on a show worm
Glow little glow-worm, glow
--well, let's just say I bet Mercer had better fifteen-minute inspirations over the years. Yet the essential silliness of the lyrics doesn't really matter: "Glow-Worm" is an utter trifle, some fun wordplay serving as an excuse to trot out a nice little jump beat, but like so many Mercer songs, once you hear it, it stays with you.

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