Thanks to Ben Yagoda’s The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song for hipping me to an obscure song written for Nat (King) Cole by Joe & Noel Sherman. As far as I can tell, “Mr. Cole Won’t Rock ‘n’ Roll” was only performed live – no studio recordings appear to have been released:
“Mr. Cole Won’t Rock and Roll” Nat ‘King’ Cole 1960
Once upon a time a song had melody and rhyme
And lovely ballads used to fill the air
The songs were sweet and lyrical,
And sang about the miracle
Of love in bloom and love beyond despair.
But gone are the June songs,
The how-high-the-moon songs.
And baritones who used to sing romantic
Are singing songs more frantic than romantic.
A-one, a-two, a-three o’clock, a-four o’clock rock.
You gotta sing rock or else you go in hock.
Five, a-six, a-seven o’clock, a-eight o’clock roll.
Throw away your senses and your self-control.
But brother I’ve got news,
Mr. Cole won’t rock and roll!
“Mr. Cole Won’t Rock and Roll” was the final song of a set recorded live at the Sands, Las Vegas on January 14, 1960 that was – according to Discogs.com – “a special after-hours (2:30 to 5:00 A.M.!) performance for friends and entertainers who couldn’t see his regular shows because of Vegas engagements of their own. Some notable celebrities in the audience during the show: Jackie Gleason, Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Joe E. Lewis, Francis Faye & Jack Carter.”
Mark Baszak & Edward Cohen would write about this acid-tongued retort to a younger generation infatuated with the Big Beat in Such Sweet Thunder: Views on Black American Music:
“‘Mr. Cole Won’t Rock and Roll’ was a show stopper with Nat’s nightclub audiences, who were made up of well-heeled, sophisticates and society types who didn’t share the kids’ taste for rock and roll. Nat never recorded that song, and Joe Sherman privately owns the only tape known to exist. Perhaps Nat didn’t want to have that recording played on the radio because he might not have wanted to offend the people who seemed to be going along with the trend toward rock and roll.”
Marc Myers at JazzWax would also write:
“Cole also believed that rock’s simplistic, physical message was demeaning for someone of his polished stature. His distaste for the new music was so well known within his circle that a song was written for him, “Mr. Cole Won’t Rock and Roll.” But Cole wouldn’t touch it. According to biographer Leslie Gourse, Cole didn’t like songs with hidden messages.”
I have to admit, this song has prompted me to renounced the error of my ways. Ergo, I will only feature ASCAP compositions from the Great American Songbook from this point on.