Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) is a quintessential 50s standard that has long since surpassed its original use, which was to serve as a musical number for Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew too Much (1956). Since Day’s role in Calamity Jane (1953), she had been seeking more serious movie roles.
Songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans specialised in writing songs for films, and really hit gold here. It may be sugar-coated (thanks in large part to perpetually squeaky-clean Day’s signature vocal style), like most 50s pop, but the cheeriness belies there’s something lyrically deeper going on – often a key ingredient in some of the best pop music.
‘Que sera, sera’ doesn’t actually mean anything. Livingston and Evans created it from a mix of Spanish and Italian. The Italian phrase ‘Che sarà sarà’ (translated as ‘what will be, will be’) is carved into a wall in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), and the two songwriters decided to add some Spanish to the phrase due to the language’s popularity, and probably because it rolled off the tongue easier.
Although Doris Day’s voice leaves some people cold, and is the sort of thing I’d normally run a mile from, I can’t fault her performance here, just like I couldn’t for her previous number 1, Secret Love.
Although, indeed, ‘the future’s not ours to see’, it’s turned out alright for Day in the song, as by the end she has children of her own, and they in turn are asking her about their future. Yet despite the joy in Day’s voice as the song ends, who knows how the children will turn out? What will be, will be, after all, and the message somewhat pricks the positivity in the production and performance.
It would be impossible to name all the cover versions. My personal favourite has to be Sly & the Family Stone’s suitably strung-out recording from his 1973 album Fresh. Stone had a very tough future ahead of him at that point, making his version rather poignant. I also can’t let this blog pass by without mentioning a memorable advert from my childhood, in which the song was rewritten to sell McCain Steakhouse Grills. As you can see here, the new version was sang by a group of hungry builders in a van, and ends with the chorus changed to ‘We hope it’s chips, it’s chips!’ God knows what Doris Day would have thought of it.
Like Secret Love before it, the song won an Oscar for Best Original Song. However, despite its enduring popularity, it became something of a millstone around Day’s neck, as it became the theme tune to her sitcom The Doris Day Show in 1968, which she didn’t enjoy making. By this point her film career was stalling, the permissive society was at large and she was seen as a symbol of a bygone age. Threats of bankruptcy and the death of her husband Marty Melcher also took their toll.
There were still occasional chart hits in the 60s, however. Move Over Darling, a top 10 hit from the film of the same name in 1963, had been co-written by her son, Terry Melcher. But she did herself no favours by turning down roles like Mrs Robinson in The Graduate (1967) because she deemed it offensive.
Her sitcom ended in 1973, and Day began to live a quieter life running several animal welfare organisations. The 80s did see her involved in lengthy legal proceedings over her money. Her final album, My Heart, was released in 2011.
Day died of pneumonia on 13 May 2019, aged 97. The Doris Day Animal Foundation announced there would be no funeral service, gravesite or memorial. An unusually muted end for a much-loved celebrity, but one entirely in keeping with the modest woman Day was.
Written by: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans
Producer: Mitch Miller
Weeks at number 1: 6 (10 August-20 September)
Actress Kim Cattrall – 21 August
Footballer Ray Wilkins – 14 September
Actor Tim McInnerny – 18 September
9 August: The opening of the seminal art exhibition This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which featured, among others, Richard Hamilton’s collage Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?. It is now considered to be one of the earliest examples of pop art, a decade before the movement really became popular. Hamilton went on to design the sleeve for The Beatles in 1968.
17 August: Scotland Yard began investigating society doctor John Bodkin Adams. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances.
10 September: French Prime Minister Guy Mollet visited London and proposed that France should merge with the United Kingdom. The idea was rejected by Anthony Eden.
12 September, Manchester United became the first English team to compete in the European Cup, beating RSC Anderlecht 2–0 in the first leg of the preliminary round.