Mona Lisa (Nat King Cole song)

"Mona Lisa"

Nat King Cole, circa Mona Lisa's release
Single by Nat King Cole
Released May 1950
Recorded March 11, 1950
Genre Traditional pop
Length 3:27
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Ray Evans
Jay Livingston[1]
Nat King Cole singles chronology
"Nature Boy" (1948) "Mona Lisa" (1950) "Unforgettable" (1952)

Academy Award, Best Original Song, 1950

"Mona Lisa" is a popular song written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for the Paramount Pictures film Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950). The title and lyrics refer to the renaissance portrait Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1950.[1]

Nat King Cole version

Musical arrangement was handled by Nelson Riddle and the orchestral backing was played by Les Baxter and his Orchestra.[2] The recording was originally the B-side of "The Greatest Inventor Of Them All."[3] In an American Songwriter magazine interview, Jay Livingston recalled that the original advertisements for the record did not even mention "Mona Lisa;" only upon returning home from a publicity junket of numerous radio programs did the song become a hit.[3]

The soundtrack version by Nat King Cole spent eight weeks at number one in the Billboard singles chart in 1950. Cole's version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992.[4] Cole described this song as one of his favorites among his recordings.[5]

Cover versions

The Billboard sales charts of 1950 also showed significant sales on versions by Dennis Day and Harry James. Hit versions for Moon Mullican #4 (Country) and Jimmy Wakely #10 (Country) were also featured in 1950.

Various artists, including Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley 1959 (home recording), Willie Nelson 1981, Art Lund, Shakin' Stevens 1981, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, the Neville Brothers 1981, and Nat King Cole's daughter Natalie Cole 1992, have released cover versions of this song. Bruddah Iz (Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) also covered the song on the album Alone in IZ World. Harry Connick, Jr. included the song on his 2009 album, Your Songs. (Andy Williams recorded it in 1964)

A rockabilly version of "Mona Lisa" (b/w/ "Foolish One") was released by Carl Mann on Phillips International Records (#3539) in March 1959 and reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Conway Twitty recorded a version of "Mona Lisa" in February 1959, but planned to release it only as an album cut (on an EP and an LP, Conway Twitty Sings by MGM Records). Nevertheless, it peaked at number 5 in the UK Singles Chart in that year[1] and in the top 30 in the United States. Sam Phillips signed Carl Mann to record his version of the song after the Twitty version began getting radio play in early 1959.[6] This was the most successful single in Mann's career. The melody is slightly different, and the lyrics are also mostly the same as in the original version by Nat King Cole, though a few more phrases are added in that elaborate more on the girl he likes. Brian Setzer covered the Mann version in his 2005 Rockabilly Riot Vol. 1: A Tribute to Sun Records.

The singer Don Cherry recorded a version backed by the Victor Young Orchestra which reached number seven in 1952. Andy Williams released a version on his 1964 album, The Academy Award-Winning "Call Me Irresponsible" and Other Hit Songs from the Movies. In 1994, Alexia Vassiliou covered the song in the live album from Sony BMG Horis Revma.

Little Willie Littlefield recorded a version for his 1990 album Singalong with Little Willie Littlefield.

Phil Ochs, known for his protest songs in the 1960s, performed the song in 1970 at his infamous Carnegie Hall concert. The cover appears on the 1974 concert album Gunfight at Carnegie Hall.

In the early 1950s, German bandleader Kurt Henckels recorded a big band version in the pre-WWII style on the East German Amiga label.


Partygoers sing Mona Lisa in the background of one scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). In 1986, the song was used as the theme to the British film Mona Lisa. The song was used in the wedding scene of the NBC mini-series, Witness to the Mob, in 1998. The song was also used in the film by Andrew Bergman, The Freshman, in which Marlon Brando spoofs his performance in The Godfather.

Chart performance

Moon Mullican

Chart (1950) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 4

Jimmy Wakely

Chart (1950) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 10

Conway Twitty

Chart (1959) Peak
Australian Singles Chart 1
Norwegian Singles Chart 2
Belgian Singles Chart 3
UK Singles Chart[1] 5
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 29

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 134. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  2. Peter J. Levinson, September in the Rain
  3. 1 2 "Nat King Cole: Mona Lisa". song back-story. song facts. Retrieved March 2013. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. Grammy Hall of Fame
  5. Nat King Cole interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  6. Carl Mann page on Rockabilly Hall of Fame website (
Preceded by
"Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" by Vivienne Segal
Cash Box Best Sellers number-one song
(Nat King Cole version)

August 5, 1950 – August 26, 1950
Succeeded by
"Goodnight, Irene" by Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers
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