This week’s Tuneful Tuesday is a song that I often hear people quote as their favorite, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!” The jazz song was written by Joe Zawinul in 1966 for Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and his album Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at 'The Club'. It became a surprise hit, soaring to #2 on the Soul chart and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The first part of the theme is played twice and is completely made of notes from the major pentatonic scale of the first degree. The song is in the key of B-flat major and has a 20-bar structure with four distinct sections. The bluesy feel comes from the chord progression. It is mainly made of dominant-seventh chords on the first, fourth and fifth degrees. In the beginning section, the subdominant chord makes a point of this. In the second section, the tonic chord alternates with a second-inversion subdominant chord, creating a parallel to the twelve bar blues progression.
The original version was performed by, Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), Nat Adderley (cornet), Joe Zawinul (piano, Wurlitzer electric piano), Victor Gaskin (bass) and Roy McCurdy (drums). Fun fact the Wurlitzer was previously owned by Ray Charles. Although it has been cover many times the most famous is by The Buckinghams, who reached #5 in August 1967, adding lyrics to the tune. Lincoln Mayorga again used a Wurlitzer electric piano for their version
The album itself received the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Group or Soloist with Group in 1967. Another fun fact is the original liner notes state that it was recorded at the Club DeLisa in Chicago, but it was actually recorded at Capitol's Hollywood studio with an open bar and live audience. In the CD reissue, it notes that Adderley and the new manager of Club DeLisa (which had been renamed "The Club") were friends, and Adderley offered to give the club a bit of free publicity!
You can check out both version of the song here: