“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” — Jools Holland’s Rhythm And Blues Orchestra ft Rumer
Accentuate the positive…that’s a skill I was better at. Sometimes it’s hard to see the positive while things are going off-piste. You just need to believe there’s some positive in there somewhere and keep going regardless.
Easier said than done, I know. Believe me, I’m the last person to lecture anyone about this. I’m just sharing my thoughts on the subject.
Well, not technically even my thoughts…more the thoughts of the immensely talented Johnny Mercer who wrote the lyrics for “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive”.
Harold Arlen wrote the music…not a name you hear much any more, but he wrote some of the 20th Century’s most celebrated tunes. If you’ve ever hummed “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to yourself, or sung it as a lullaby to your children at bedtime, that’s one of his, along with “Let’s Fall In Love”, “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road), “Stormy Weather” and around 500 other songs for stage and screen.
And of course, Johnny Mercer was no passenger in the song-writing process. The four-time Oscar-winner penned lyrics for classic songs like “Moon River”, “Jeepers, Creepers!” and “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening”.
He collaborated with the finest songwriters of his time…in addition to Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer wrote alongside composers like Jerome Kern, Jimmy Van Heusen and Hoagy Carmichael.
But back to our story…
“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” was written in 1944 after Johnny Mercer’s manager told him about attending a sermon given by a particularly upbeat minister.
I think we can all agree that accentuating the positive in life is an excellent principle to live by…however hard it is to deliver in practice…
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
When you know the song started off as a sermon, it all fits into place nicely. Johnny Mercer even worked in some biblical references…told you he was a great lyricist…
To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do
Just when everything looked so dark?
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that they focused on the positive in their respective situations…
“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” was written in 1944.
Although I’m sure Johnny Mercer’s life in Hollywood was only tangentially disrupted by the conflict, he was an astute lyricist and realised plenty of people were having a tough time, whether directly involved with the fighting or stuck at home wondering what was happening to loved ones in far-flung corners of the world.
1944 was in many ways, “the darkest hour before dawn”. At least until 6th June, when Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and began a process that, in a little under a year, would bring peace again to war-torn Europe.
For the troops abroad and their loved ones at home, Johnny Mercer gave some great advice…
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene
No matter what’s happening in your life…whether you’re stuck in a trench somewhere ready to engage the enemy, or stuck at home worrying about your friends and family far away…spreading joy up to the maximum and bringing gloom down to the minimum is good advice.
And if it’s good advice for people in the midst of a global conflict, it’s also good advice for all of us today.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives, on the downsides of life. All manner of influences encourage us to do that…newspapers, TV, social media. At the moment, the world seems to be full of people shouting at one another about something.
Shouting…but rarely listening to another point of view.
Both left and right do this…albeit on different topics for different reasons…so this isn’t a party political point. It’s just an observation that there’s not a lot of accentuating the positive going on at the moment…seeking agreement where it’s possible, and finding ways to respectfully disagree where it isn’t.
That’s hard to do if you disrespect your opponents and believe that your perspective is the only right one.
My golden rule of dealing with people is that if I come across anyone who is 100% convinced that they’re right on every subject, I know I’m dealing with an idiot who hasn’t thought all the issues through, and hasn’t taken the time to appreciate that some issues don’t have definite answers one way or the other…just personal beliefs and preferences.
Truth is you can’t respect people you don’t necessarily agree with unless you accentuate the positive in them.
Everyone is a mixture of good and bad…positive and negative…
If you can’t find a single drop of good in another human being, the likelihood is you’re not looking hard enough. There’s at least a speck of goodness in everyone. Keep looking and you’ll find it…
Many fine singers have performed “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” over the years, including Johnny Mercer himself…he was a pretty decent vocalist in his own right, although more famous today for his lyric-writing…Bing Crosby, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin.
All fine versions in their own right, but my favourite version of “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” is a more recent one…mainly for the swinging brass on the track, which I absolutely adore.
It’s from Jools Holland’s 2012 album ,“The Golden Age Of Song”, and features Rumer…a vocalist I really like…on vocals.
Jools Holland is a British musical institution, with his long-running BBC TV show having introduced some of the finest artists of the last 30-years or so to the British public, as well as reminding us of the talents of artists from other genres and generations.
I’m a regular viewer — last week’s show had Soft Cell and Ralph McTell on, for example, alongside performers who weren’t born when “Tainted Love” or “Streets Of London” were on every radio station in the country.
For the last few years, Jools Holland has performed with what he calls his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra which has a reputation for amazing live performances…although sadly I’ve never been fortunate enough to see them in person.
There’s no doubt that the ex-Squeeze keyboard player has assembled a group of world class musicians to play alongside him, and that Jools himself is an equally brilliant piano player.
And I love the tone to Rumer’s voice. It’s got a chocolately-smoothness which works really well as a bit of a counterpoint to the swinging brass. If you like swinging brass as much as I do, you’re in for a treat with this version of “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive”.
This sounds just as good today…maybe even better…than it did back in the 1940s. And there’s no prizes for guessing that the performance in the video below took place close to Christmas-time…
It’s Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, featuring Rumer, with the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive”…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/2W2wbW6pdWATNGMQIJWORI
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.