Behind The Song: “Que Sera Sera” by Livingston & Evans

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Written for a Hitchcock film, it was first recorded by Doris Day, who hated it, and also by Sly & The Family Stone, who didn’t

“Que Sera Sera” was written by the legendary team of Livingston and Evans, and became Doris Day’s signature song although, as explained here, she didn’t like the song at all at first.

And in one of the greatest reinventions of a famous pop song, Sly Stone created a delightfully exultant, soulful rendition of it in 1973 with Sly & The Family Stone. It
brings the song to life in a whole other way, and it’s wonderful.

Doris Day
Sly & The Family Stone, “Que Sera Sera.” 1973.
Guitar, Keyboards, Vocal, Producer: Sly Stone; Guitar and vocal: Freddie Stone;

Drums: Andy Newmark; Keyboards: Rosie Stone; Bass: Rusty Allen;
Saxophone: Jerry Martini; Trumpet: Cynthia Robinson

I interviewed the songwriters, Livingston & Evans, back in 1987. Speaking to songwriters of standards is always a thrill, as their song is everywhere at once and known throughout the world. But these guys wrote standards such as “Silver Bells,” which seemed to have existed forever, like a folk song. They also wrote “Mona Lisa,” “Tammy,” “To Each His Own” and “Buttons and Bows.”

Talking to them was like talking to a married couple who had been together for decades. They were so familiar with each other that one knew the other’s opinions by heart, could easily finish the other’s sentence, and they would fall into occasional squabbles only to return to a strong appreciation for the other. The overriding sense I got was one of great love: for each other, for their remarkable catalog of songs, and for a life lucky enough to be spent making music.

Not only did Livingston and Evans write songs for the movies, they were in the movies. Only one, actually, but a classic: Sunset Boulevard, in which they make a brief appearance  – as songwriters at the piano playing their song “Buttons & Bow.” at a party.

They also made an impact on television, writing the theme songs to both “Bonanza” and “Mr. Ed.” “Bonanza” has a full set of lyrics, which were not used. And for the “Mr. Ed” theme song, the voice of Mr. Ed was provided by Jay Livingston.

Livingston and Evans at their office at Paramount, Hollywood.

The title of “Que Sera Sera” was found by Jay Livingston in the film The Barefoot Contessa, where those words are seen carved in stone, translated in the film by Rosanna Brazzi as “What will be, will be.” Jay recognized a good title when he saw it, and the team wrote the song, one of their only hits written without an assignment. Two weeks later, a call came from Alfred Hitchcock’s office saying the director needed a song for a movie in which Doris Day would sing to a little boy.

Livingston, knowing this just-completed song was ideal, waited for two weeks so it appeared they wrote it expressly for Hitch, and went to play it for him.

Hitchcock’s famous response was, “Gentlemen, I didn’t know what kind of song I wanted, and that is the kind of song I want!”

Doris Day, however, didn’t want it at all. She felt it was all wrong for her, and refused to do more than one take in the studio.

“This is a child’s song,” she said, declaring that this would be the first and final time she’d ever sing the song. She didn’t like anything about the song, and was especially unhappy with the title, which she felt nobody would understand (although the translation is in the chorus itself).

Doris Day, “Que Sera Sera,” a song she so disliked she didn’t want to record it.

She was wrong, of course, as it became her theme song, and she sang it thousands of time.

Asked what this experience taught them, both men said in unison, “Nobody knows!”—meaning that nobody can predict what will become a hit.

As an example, they related a story about Paramount telling songwriters Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer that “That Old Black Magic” was too long and, therefore, worthless.

“It had a 64-bar melody,” Livingston explained, whereas most tunes were usually half that length or less.

“But they were big enough to say, ‘We’re gonna do it anyway.’”

Evans, ever the wordsmith, summed it up with the ultimate songwriter’s advice, coming from real experience:

Never give up. Nobody knows.”

“Que Será, Será
(Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”
Words by Ray Evans, Music by Jay Livingston

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to meQue sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will beWhen I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart, what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows
Day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart saidQue sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will beNow I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
I tell them tenderlyQue sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
Que sera, seraSource: LyricFindSongwriters: Jay Livingston / Ray EvansQue Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) lyrics © Wixen Music Publishing, Jay Livingston Music, Inc

Leave a Reply

Bringin’ It Backwards: Interview with Miko

Gibson Adds Respected Amp Manufacturer Mesa/Boogie To Its Family