The song “Laura,” so beautiful that both Cole Porter and Irving Berlin wished they’d written it, originally had a lyric by Irving Caesar. If David Raksin hadn’t adamantly rejected Caesar’s original lyric, Johnny Mercer’s life might have been radically different.
Johnny Mercer: If a fellow plays me a melody that sounds like something, well, I try and fit the words to the sound of the melody. It has a mood, and if I can capture that mood, that’s the way we go about it. Laura was that kind of picture. It was predesigned, because Laura was a mystery. So I had to write “Laura” with kind of a misterioso theme. That’s hard, because there are so few notes. And because the intervals are tough, the key changes are strange. And at the time it came out, it was most strange. But since it has become so popular, it’s easier now. That kind of song is always difficult because you have to write a lyric that’s going to be a hit, and you don’t have many notes to work with.