Mona Lisa

Album: The Greatest Hits (1950)
Charted: 1


  • In this song, Nat King Cole compares his love to the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The Mona Lisa if famous for her smile and her mystique, as the portrait has become one of the most famous works of art in history.
  • This song was written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for the movie Captain Carey, U.S.A. It won an Oscar for Best Song. Others songs Evans and Livingston wrote include "Silver Bells," "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" and "Buttons And Bows." They also composed the theme songs for the TV shows Bonanza and Mr. Ed.

    Livingston told American Songwriter Magazine July/August 1988 the story behind this song: "There was a picture called OSS, which took place during World War II, and Alan Ladd was in a little Italian town where the clandestine radio was, and they needed a song to warn them that the German patrol was coming. There was this blind accordion player who wasn't blind playing on the street and every time he saw the Germans coming he would play a certain melody, so we wrote 'Mona Lisa' and they said that it sounded Italian and they liked it. Then they called us and said they had changed the title from OSS to After Midnight and we had to write a song with that title. They loved title songs because it sold their picture. So we threw away the lyrics of 'Mona Lisa' and wrote 'After Midnight.' A month later we picked up Variety and read where Alan Ladd's new picture was going to be called Captain Carey, USA.

    We went back to the studio and asked for 'Mona Lisa' back, and then pitched it to Nat King Cole and he liked it and recorded it on the back of 'The Greatest Inventor Of Them All.' So we went on a junket for Paramount about that time, and we took the records with us and we must have been on 25 or 30 radio shows, and when we got back the song was a hit. But the original ads for the record didn't even mention 'Mona Lisa,' just 'The Greatest Inventor.' I think us pushing it really made the difference in that song being a hit."
  • Before this big hit Nat King Cole was better known as a pianist. Until 1947 when he was credited as a solo artist on "Nature Boy," he recorded as a member of the King Cole Trio. "Mona Lisa" helped establish his reputation as a top vocalist of the era, although many Jazz aficionados consider Cole one of the best piano players of the time.
  • This soundtrack version by Nat King Cole spent eight weeks as #1 in the Billboard chart in the USA in 1950.
  • In 1987, this was used as the theme of the British film Mona Lisa.
  • Nat's daughter Natalie Cole waited until after college to begin a singing career, and when she first started performing, "Mona Lisa" was the only Nat King Cole song she included in her set. She found that performing the song was very emotional, and while it got a very strong reaction from the crowd, it was too much for her. She eventually dropped the song and started singing one of her father's more upbeat selections: "L-o-v-e."
  • Cole recorded this song in March 1950 at the recording studios owned by Capitol Records on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Les Baxter played the arrangement at the session, but didn't write it - a young arranger named Nelson Riddle did. It was a while before Cole realized that Riddle wrote this arrangement, and the one for his next hit, "Young Love." Riddle's orchestrations soon became the choice for top artists at Capitol (notably Frank Sinatra), and in 1952 he did the arrangements on Cole's hit "Unforgettable."
  • This was used in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. In one scene, partygoers across the courtyard sing the tune.

Comments: 4

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 8th 1963, Leonardo da Vinci's painting titled "Mona Lisa" was exhibited in the United States for the first time at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
    Four years earlier in 1959 two rocking covered versions of "Mona Lisa" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; Carl Mann's version peaked at #25 {for 1 week} on August 10th and then three weeks later on August 31st Conway Twitty's version reached #29 {for 1 week}...
    R.I.P. Mr. Twitty, born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, {1933 - 1993} and Mr. Mann will celebrate his 73rd birthday come next August 22nd {2015}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyNat King Cole's first No. 1 song came when he was the leader of the The King Cole Trio; the song was "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons", it reached No.1 on February 15th, 1947 and had a one week run!!! {In 1958 a cover version by Sam Cooke peaked at No. 17}
  • Mike from Franklin County, PaThe song is refered to the painting , Mona Lisa (real name: "La Giaconda" ), a well known popular paingting by Italian - Renaisance artist Leonardo da Vinci . The woman in the painting is the wife of the Italian Merchant , Francisco di Giocondo ; a merchant Leonardo met. He asked him if he could paint a picture of his wife , and was giving permission . Leonardo actually painted the picture with her sitting at the left and facing right ; but because his vision caused everything to look the opposite way , he saw and painted her sitting right and facing left. ..The reason why she (Mona)doesn't have any eyebrows , is because it was a fashion back in that time for women to pluck them. ..When da Vinci drew the outline of the figure before painting , he drew over the same drawing until he got the picture he wanted ; then he painted over the drawing. Leonardo da Vinci was known as an artist , inventor , mathmetician , scientist , and architech. One of his iventions was the very first "Flying Machine".
  • Darrell from EugeneI admit it, I have often had dreams about commandeering a jet or a helicopter, flying to France, stealing the Mona Lisa, selling it to a filthy rich Middle Eastern oil sheikh and getting away with it scot-free. By the way, that was before 9/11 and the seemingly endless strife, terrorism and military involvement in the Mideast and the security at the Louvre, which I liken to that of a "supermax" federal prison.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

British Invasion

British InvasionFact or Fiction

Go beyond The Beatles to see what you know about the British Invasion.


LecraeSongwriter Interviews

The Christian rapper talks about where his trip to Haiti and his history of addiction fit into his songs.

Angelo Moore of Fishbone

Angelo Moore of FishboneSongwriter Interviews

Fishbone has always enjoyed much more acclaim than popularity - Angelo might know why.

Leslie West of Mountain

Leslie West of MountainSongwriter Interviews

From the cowbell on "Mississippi Queen" to recording with The Who when they got the wrong Felix, stories from one of rock's master craftsmen.


U2Fact or Fiction

How did The Edge get his name? Did they name a song after a Tolkien book? And who is "Angel of Harlem" about?


PrinceFact or Fiction

Prince is shrouded in mystery, making him an excellent candidate for Fact or Fiction. Is he really a Scientologist? Does he own an exotic animal?