Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive

Album: The Very Best of Bing Crosby (1944)
Charted: 2
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Songfacts®:

  • With help from the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby delivers a sermon on happiness in this tune from hit songwriters Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Crosby and co-star Sonny Tufts introduced the song in the 1944 musical comedy film Here Come the Waves as part of a blackface routine, an unfortunate fad in many musicals of the era. Mercer, a singer as well as a lyricist, recorded the single with the Pied Pipers and Paul Weston's orchestra at Capitol Records two months before Crosby cut his at Decca. Both versions peaked at #2 on the pop chart, but Mercer's lasted 13 weeks compared to Crosby's nine.
  • When Arlen and Mercer were planning songs for the Navy-themed musical, an old idea jostled loose in Mercer's mind. He told the BBC: "When I was working with Benny Goodman back in '39, I had a publicity guy who told me he had been to hear Father Divine, and that was the subject of his sermon, 'Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.' Well, that amused me so, and it sounds so Southern and so funny that I wrote it down on a piece of paper. And this was, what, five years later? And Harold Arlen and I were riding home from the studio after a conference about getting a song for the sailors. … And Harold was singing me this little tune he had sung me before. Now, that's a strange thing about your subconscious, because here's a song that's kind of lying dormant in my subconscious for five years, and the minute he sang that tune, it jumped into my mind as if it dialed a phone number. Because it doesn't really fit. The accent is all different. I just think there's some kind of fate connected with it."
  • Tying in with the sermon theme, the lyrics reference two biblical stories: Jonah and the Whale and Noah and the Ark. In the Book of Jonah, the title figure flees God's command to warn the corrupt city of Nineveh of their impending doom, and he ends up in the belly of a whale. Similarly, in the Book of Genesis, Noah was commanded to build an ark for his household and specific animals to escape a devastating global flood. The song asks, "What did they do just when everything looked so dark?" The answer is simple:

    Man, they said, we better
    Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
    E-lim-i-nate the negative
    Latch on to the affirmative
    Don't mess with Mister In-Between


    Most versions retain the biblical references, but many - including Crosby's single - eliminate the opening verse that introduces the song as a sermon on "the attitude of doing right."
  • This was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1945, but lost to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring" from the movie State Fair.
  • Several artists covered this, including Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Connie Francis, Dean Martin, Paul McCartney, and Dr. John. Clint Eastwood recorded a version for the 1997 movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
  • This was used in the movies The Mighty Ducks (1992), Mrs. Winterbourne (1996), L.A. Confidental (1997), and Blast from the Past (1999). The cast of Frasier sang it in the 1999 episode "Shutout in Seattle: Part 2," and the TV show Gotham featured Bing Crosby's version in the 2014 episode "Spirit of the Goat."

Comments: 3

  • Topal from MontréalEnglish is not my mother tongue and I have sometimes difficulties to understand the references in a song. In this song I do not understand who is the "Mister In-Between". Is it God or is it the emotion between happiness and sadness?
  • Frederic from VirginiaThe song appeared in a movie entitled "Here Come The WAVES". Note the all caps. This is usually missed. Even Wikipedia gets it wrong. It doesn't help that the poster for the movie has all of the title in all caps. WAVES stood for "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services" – and was the women’s branch of the United States Navy which served during World War II. The group was created in 1942 and disbanded in 1946.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 23rd, 1945, exactly seventy five years ago today, Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters' "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive" peaked at #2 {for 1 week} on Billboard's 'Best-Selling Retail Records' chart, for the week it was at #2, the #1 record for that week was "Rum and Coca-Cola" by The Andrew Sisters...
    According to Billboard, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive" was tied at #2 with "Don't Fence Me In" by Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters...
    The remainder of the Best-Selling Records' Top 10 on February 23rd, 1945:
    At#3. "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive" by Johnny Mercer and The Pied Pipers
    #4. "Rum and Coca-Cola" by Abe Lyman and His Orchestra
    #5. "Cocktails For Two" by Spike Jones and His City Slickers
    #6. "Candy" by Johnny Mercer withJo Stafford and The Pied Pipers
    #7. "I'm Beginning To See The Light" by Harry James with vocals by Kitty Kallen
    #8. "A Little On The Lonely Side" by Frankic Carle with vocals by Paul Allen
    #9. "Don't Fence Me In" by Sammy Kaye with vocals by Billy Williams
    #10. "I Wanna Get Married" by Gertrude Niesen
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