Autumn Leaves

Album: single release (1955)
Charted: 35

Songfacts®:

  • Yes, this is the same Steve Allen (1921-2000) who was also a comedian, author, TV show host, and who knows what else. Allen actually had an accomplished music career, playing in the jazz/ bebop genres on piano. His typical style was what we would today consider "cocktail lounge music." This was his only charting hit.
  • "Autumn Leaves" is an old jazz standard, starting with a French song with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert, called "Les feuilles mortes." It was adapted with English lyrics in 1947 by American songwriter Johnny Mercer. French singer Edith Piaf did a broadcast version in both English and French in 1950, on the radio program The Big Show, hosted by Tallulah Bankhead. Yes, that Tallulah Bankhead hosted a radio show. From there, we get Steve Allen recording a version in conjunction with launching The Steve Allen Show, with George Cates and his Orchestra and Chorus.

    Oh, and the film of the same name used this song: Autumn Leaves was a 1956 film starring Joan ("No wire hangers!") Crawford, using the version done by Nat King Cole.
  • Steve Allen was an entertainment polymath. Among his accomplishments:

    First host of The Tonight Show, 1954.

    Played the title role of The Benny Goodman Story, 1956.

    Hosted his own show from 1956 to 1980.

    Oh, and married actress Jayne Meadows in 1954. And he had this hit single.

    While we're on the subject of The Steve Allen Show, don't miss this clip of a very young Frank Zappa playing the bicycle on the show.
  • The French version is referenced in Ian Fleming's 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond #4):

    As Bond neared the end of the corridor, he could hear a piano swinging a rather sad tune. At the door of 350 he knew the music came from behind it. He recognized the tune. It was 'Feuilles mortes.' He knocked.
  • Capitol Records paid $600 for the US rights to the song. Johnny Mercer, founder and then-president of the label, was given four months to come up with the English lyrics or else the deal would be terminated. According to Mark Steyn's A Song for the Season, Capitol's publishing exec, Mickey Goldsen, was getting antsy as the deadline was fast approaching without a scrap of a lyric from Mercer. Mercer promised he would work on the lyrics during a train trip from Los Angeles to New York if Goldsen would give him a lift to the station. Goldsen was late and found Mercer on his porch. Mercer told him: "Well, you know, I didn't know if something had happened, so while I was waiting, I wrote the lyric. Here it is."

    Goldsen told biographer Gene Lees: "We got into the car and he read me the lyric. Tears came to my eyes. Everybody I played that song for flipped out."
  • Bob Dylan recorded this for his 2015 album of Frank Sinatra covers, Shadows in the Night. Sinatra recorded the song for his 1956 album, Where Are You?
  • Jo Stafford was the first artist to record Mercer's version. In 1950, just before leaving Capitol for Columbia Records, she released it backed with "Autumn in New York."
  • Pianist Roger Williams had a #1 hit with his instrumental version in 1955. Just after signing with Kapp Records, label president Dave Kapp called Williams on a Friday and asked if he'd like to record "Autumn Leaves" that Monday. Williams told the Los Angeles Times: "I said, 'You mean 'Falling Leaves'? I didn't even know the title. I stayed up Friday and then Saturday night working on an arrangement."

    "The first thing that came to mind was to play all those runs down the keyboard," he said in another Times interview. "I tried to make it sound like falling leaves."

Comments: 2

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm
    Ray Charles, leader of the Ray Charles Singers and orchestra leader for Perry Como's television show in the '50s, died Monday (April 6) at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 96. He should not be confused with the rhythm-and-blues singer of the same name. This Ray Charles was born Charles Raymond Offenberg in Chicago in 1918, also worked on "The Muppet Show" and was the male voice on the "Three's Company" TV theme ("Come and knock on our door..."). He served as orchestra leader for the "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" and the syndicated "Sha Na Na" TV show. But he is best remembered for charting ten times with his "Singers"-- most notably with "Love Me With Al Your Heart" (#3-1964), "Al Di La" (#29-1964), and "Autumn Leaves" {#55-1955}. Ray won two Emmys for his television work and was nominated five other times...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Joshua from New Berlin, WiEric Clapton covered "Autumn Leaves" on his 2010 self-titled album, Clapton.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe ShaverSongwriter Interviews

The outlaw country icon talks about the spiritual element of his songwriting and his Bob Dylan mention.

Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles

Timothy B. Schmit of the EaglesSongwriter Interviews

Did this Eagle come up with the term "Parrothead"? And what is it like playing "Hotel California" for the gazillionth time?

Trucking Songs That Were #1 Hits

Trucking Songs That Were #1 HitsSong Writing

The stories behind the biggest hit songs about trucking.

Chris Squire of Yes

Chris Squire of YesSongwriter Interviews

One of the most dynamic bass player/songwriters of his time, Chris is the only member of Yes who has been with the band since they formed in 1968.

Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)

Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)Songwriter Interviews

Richie talks about producing the first two Kiss albums, recording "Brother Louie," and the newfound appreciation of his rock band, Dust.

Adele

AdeleFact or Fiction

Despite her reticent personality, Adele's life and music are filled with intrigue. See if you can spot the true tales.