SONG: Nature Boy
ARTIST: The Nat King Cole Trio
Listen to it here:
Nature Boy was written by eden ahbez (yes, not capitalized) in Palm Springs in 1941. Ahbez followed philosophies called Naturmensch (nature person) and Lebensreform (life reform). Followers of the philosophies had long hair and beards, ate nothing but raw fruit and vegetables and referred to themselves as “Nature Boys”. The song is semi autobiographical and inspired by ahbez’s mentor.
In 1947 ahbez approached Nat King Cole’s manager at a performance and asked to give a copy of his song to Nat to perform. The manager shooed ahbez away, so he left the copy with Nat’s valet and left. Nat ended up knowing the song, loving it and wanting to record it, but needed ahbez’s permission, but unfortunately ahbez had disappeared. Eventually ahbez was found living under the Hollywood sign, and gave Cole permission to record his song.
Nature Boy was the first song that Nat King Cole put to tape, and was released in 1948. It reached #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and was considered the song of the year. Nat King Cole used the success of the song to disband his trio and embark on a solo career, and often stated that Nature Boy was one of his favourite songs to perform. The song ended up being considered a jazz standard, covered far and wide by many genres.
To read about Nat King Cole, please refer back to song 28, (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66!
The song’s composer eden ahbez’s birth name was George McGrew.
Billboard noted that concert goers would attend Nat King Cole shows just to hear Nature Boy performed, and leave immediately afterwards.
That is some orchestration! Sounds like they got the whole Boston Pops there to back him up. This song grew on me. At first I was like ‘mehhhhh’, but the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. Nat had such a smooth, beautiful voice and it’s a no wonder his OG version was so popular. We even get a Nat piano solo! I thought the song sounded familiar, and then realized it was on one of the many Harry Connick Jr Christmas albums that I own. Harry’s version is good, but I think Nat’s is better. I really like the melody of the song, I find it really interesting and a little more complex than some of the other songs we’ve heard from the book so far. I also thought the origin story of the song was really interesting and had never heard of those proto-hippy Nature Boys before. I actually first listened to a live version of the song with Nat on piano and a bandmate playing a beautiful rich-sounding hollow body Gibson or Gretsch and that version is effective too (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq0XJCJ1Srw) I would recommend this song as part of a jazz standards collection!
This song is whimsical and weird and suits Nat King Cole’s voice so well. Apparently this was a number 1 hit in the US for The Nat King Cole Trio, but I’d never heard it before. I kept thinking I recognized this song from somewhere, and the book says that the melody is modeled after Dvorak’s piano quintet. I thought maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I know the Dvorak so well, that that’s where I recognized it, but then I realized that David Bowie does a super over dramatic version on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. The melody is haunting, and the guitar in this version makes it even more so. On first listen I thought it was ok, but it really grew on me. I think Nature Boy is probably one of my favourite Nat King Cole songs now.
Average mark out of 10:
*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!
Other notable versions of this song
Sarah Vaughan’s version is also considered a classic:
David Bowie for Moulin Rouge:
Celine Dion for some Canadian content:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: