Music: J. Mercer. Lyrics: S. Vimmerstedt.
September 9, 2021 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Sadie Vimmerstedt, who was a resident of Youngstown, Ohio, wrote a letter to Johnny Mercer in February of 1957 suggesting that Mercer write a song entitled “When Somebody Breaks Your Heart,” suggesting the theme “I want to be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart.” Mercer responded to Vimmerstedt’s suggestion, wrote the song, sharing authorship with her on a 50/50 basis. Here is Mercer's demo recording of the song.

Sadie Vimmerstedt loved Frank Sinatra. A widow and beautician, Sadie had been outraged when Frank Sinatra threw over his wife and the mother of his children for actress Ava Gardner in 1950, and felt vindicated when Gardner divorced him in 1957. She had an idea for a song, so she sent it to the most famous song writer she could think of. She didn't know his address, though, so on the envelope she wrote, "Johnny Mercer, Songwriter, New York, N.Y."

Mercer originally kept the Sinatra connection secret because they thought that Frank's temper might flare and get the song killed.

Tony Bennett's recording of I Wanna Be Around was its first hit, in 1963. Sadie's first royalty check was for $50,000, allowing the widow from Ohio to travel the world. She and Johnny Mercer maintained a correspondence for years.

Sinatra seemed to have held no grudge, recording the song with Count Basie and his Orchestra in 1964.

For more recordings, see Secondhand Songs.
posted by fedward (10 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
At some point in the pre-internet days, paging through a songbook, I remember seeing the credits on this song and wondering who the heck "S. Vimmerstedt" was, since it wasn't a name I'd seen on any other song. I went through the whole book to see if it appeared anywhere else. Every time I hear this song the story tickles me all over again.
posted by fedward at 12:05 PM on September 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

What a great song -- really packs a punch, especially in the superlative, (definitive?) Tony Bennett version. As much as I'd prefer to listen to Dinah Washington over Tony Bennett most any day, I've really got to hand it to him.

Also interesting (?) are assorted versions by some magical sort of who's-who: James Brown, John Cale, Peggy Lee, Brenda Lee, the Impressions, Blossom Dearie, and the supremely under-rated Perry Como.
posted by saintjoe at 12:41 PM on September 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

this made my lunch break - what a great story, esp that he gave her credit and they kept in touch. Beautiful sweet song and I love Mercer's version, he's an underappreciated singer himself (with the exception of his disco album, that was perhaps a bit misguided....)
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:49 PM on September 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

OK, you can't just refer to "the supremely under-rated Perry Como" and walk away. That's an opinion that absolutely calls, no, croons out for evidence. (I don't have a negative opinion, I just don't have much of an opinion at all).
posted by fedward at 1:12 PM on September 9, 2021

I know this song from the Larry Sanders Show episode in which producer Artie wanders around the TV studio after-hours getting increasingly drunk after Larry hurts his feelings. At one point he stumbles upon a karaoke machine and then proceeds to belt out this song to the empty bleachers. It's one of the more memorable episodes. Nice post!
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:30 PM on September 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

the supremely under-rated Perry Como.

I can die happy now. I thought I was alone, but...
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:53 PM on September 9, 2021

The mention of Blossom Dearie by saintjoe reminded me of a time in 1962 when we high school kids would hang out at a local pizza parlor. One side was booths, and the other side was tables with plastic flowers on the table. One afternoon after a football game we all trudged thru the snow...Buffalo... to the pizza joint. As we entered, I noticed a baby grand piano with a waif like woman playing very softly. The name on a little card on the piano said Blossom Dearie. I thought what an unusual name. Only years later did I onder if she was still paying her dues that she had to accept a gig in a pizza parlor....I still enjoy her performances.
posted by Czjewel at 7:26 PM on September 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Sorry, saw this a little too late, but as far as Perry Como goes, give "We Get Letters" a spin.

If supreme vocal-jazz authority Will Friedwald enjoys him, how can I object? ;> Granted, he's failed to appreciate Astrud Gilberto.
posted by saintjoe at 6:10 AM on September 10, 2021

Johnny Mercer was a groovy cat, with a nod in act one of Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil...

'I Wanna Be Around' was written in our buddies' set-list as 'ANGRY TONY BENNETT'.

Perry Como, well he's something. I don't wanna be snobby, but okay, I'll be a bit snobby: his tracks were often overlooked in our old lounge/kitsch playlists because we didn't really like his singing very much.
posted by ovvl at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2021

But hey, Perry Como did sing Burt Bacharach's first hit composition.
posted by ovvl at 6:19 PM on September 10, 2021

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