49. Doris Day – Whatever Will Be, Will Be (1956)


From 9 August until 9 September, the seminal art exhibition This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery 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 later went on to design the sleeve for The Beatles in 1968.

One day later, a very 50s-sounding song, and one of the most enduring of the era, knocked Who Do Fools Fall in Love from number one. Whatever Will Be, Will Be (usually now known as Que Sera, Sera) has long since surpassed its original use, which was as a vehicle for Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew too Much. Songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans specialised in writing songs for films, and really hit gold here. It may be sugar-coated (courtesy of perpetually squeaky-clean Doris), 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 one, Secret Love. Although, indeed, ‘the future’s not ours to see’, it’s turned out alright for Day, 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.

Whatever Will Be, Will Be is now a standard, and 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. 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. 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, and she was seen as a symbol of a bygone age. Since the sitcom’s end in the 70s, Day has lived a quieter life, but did release her first album in years in 2011, aged 89. These days, she runs several animal welfare organisations, using her celebrity status to raise awareness. A symbol of more innocent times, Doris Day is no doubt a living legend.

During her second and final stint at number 1, Scotland Yard began investigating society doctor John Bodkin Adams. Between 1946 and 1956, more than 160 of his patients died in suspicious circumstances. On 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. And on 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.

UPDATE (13/5/19): Well, even living legends die eventually, sadly. The showbiz world mourned today when Doris Day passed away from pneumonia, aged 97.

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

3 thoughts on “49. Doris Day – Whatever Will Be, Will Be (1956)

  1. Pingback: 81. Shirley Bassey – As I Love You (1959) – Every UK Number 1

  2. Pingback: Every 50s Number 1 – Every UK Number 1

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