Autumn Leaves (song)

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"Autumn Leaves"
("Les feuilles mortes")
Music by Joseph Kosma
Lyrics by Jacques Prévert (French)
Johnny Mercer (English)
Published 1946
Written 1945
Original artist Yves Montand and Irène Joachim
Recorded by Jo Stafford, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, The Melachrino Strings, Roger Williams, Nat King Cole, Eric Clapton

"Autumn Leaves" is a much-recorded popular song. Originally it was a 1945 French song "Les feuilles mortes" (literally "The Dead Leaves") with music by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert, and the Hungarian title is "Hulló levelek" (Falling Leaves). Yves Montand (with Irène Joachim) introduced "Les feuilles mortes" in 1946 in the film Les Portes de la nuit.[1]

Recordings and covers[edit]


The American songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics in 1947 and Jo Stafford was among the first to perform this version. "Autumn Leaves" became a pop standard and a jazz standard in both languages, both as an instrumental and with a singer. There is also a Japanese version called Kareha (枯葉) sung by Nat King Cole in his Japanese album version and 高英男 (Hideo Kou).


On December 24, 1950, French singer Edith Piaf sang both French and English versions of this song on the radio programme The Big Show, hosted by Tallulah Bankhead.[2] The Melachrino Strings recorded an instrumental version of the song in London on August 18, 1950. It was released by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalogue number B 9952. In 1955, pianist Roger Williams recorded "Autumn Leaves", the only piano instrumental to reach #1 on Billboard's popular music chart.[1] It sold over two million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The film Autumn Leaves (1956) starring Joan Crawford featured the song, as sung by Nat King Cole, over the title sequence. Frank Sinatra included a popular version of the song on his 1956 album Where Are You?. On the 1950s US television series Your Hit Parade, in which the Top 7 songs of the week were performed, the song was performed in several episodes during 1955. In one episode, Thelma "Tad" Tadlock danced to an instrumental version of the song, while in another episode, Gisele MacKenzie sang the French version (though with the final line in English).

Andy Williams released a version of the song on his 1959 album, Lonely Street. The Coasters released a version of the song on their 1960 album One by One.[3] The same year Patti Page also sang the song in the album indiscretion.


In 1961, the French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg paid tribute to this song in his own song "La chanson de Prévert".[4]

Al Hirt released a version on his 1965 album, They're Playing Our Song.[5] Italian-American tenor Sergio Franchi recorded his version on the 1968 RCA Victor album I'm a Fool to Want You.[6] The British Invasion band Manfred Mann released a rock version on their 1966 album As Is.[7]

The 2003 Vanguard reissue of Joan Baez' 1967 album Joan contains a French interpretation of the song "Autumn Leaves".


Ben Webster and the Georges Arvanitas Trio released a version in 1972 on their Autumn Leaves album.[8][9] Raquel Bitton recorded a version in 2000 that appears on her album Raquel Bitton sings Edith Piaf. Jerry Lee Lewis released a version that can be found on the 2000 album The Jerry Lee Lewis Show.[10] Chet Baker released a version in 1974 on his record She Was Too Good to Me.

Patricia Routledge sings it on her 1975 album Presenting Patricia Routledge Singing the Classics.


"Autumn Leaves" is the corps song of the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.[11]


The Electronic duo Coldcut recorded a cover of the song for their 1993 album Philosophy, featuring guest vocalist Janis Alexander on vocals. Greek-Cypriot recording artist Alexia Vassiliou recorded the song for her first 1996 album, In a Jazz Mood. A version by Eva Cassidy is one of the highlights of her seminal live album Live at Blues Alley (1996).


Raquel Bitton recorded a version in 2000 that appears on her album Raquel Bitton sings Edith Piaf.

Progressive house duo Way Out West used the main chord progression and final line of the second verse for their single "The Fall"; it reached #61 on the UK Singles chart in 2000.

Jerry Lee Lewis released a version that can be found on the 2000 album The Jerry Lee Lewis Show.[12]

Andrea Bocelli released a version of Les Feuilles Mortes on his 2006 album Amore.

The song also appears on Iggy Pop's 2009 album Préliminaires as the opening track and Jason Kouchak's 2010 album Comme d'Habitude.


British blues/rock guitarist Eric Clapton recorded a cover of "Autumn Leaves" for his 2010 album, Clapton.

In 2013, Emmy Rossum released a cover of the song on her album Sentimental Journey.

Mark Lanegan recorded a version of the song in his 2013 album Imitations.

Passenger recorded an altered version of this song, entitled Golden Leaves, in his 2014 album Whispers.

Bob Dylan recorded a version for his 2015 Frank Sinatra covers album Shadows in the Night.

Chart appearances[edit]

In 1955 Roger Williams made the song a number-one hit in the United States, the only piano instrumental to reach number one.[13] Billboard ranked this version as the No. 4 song of 1955.[14]

Structure and chord progression[edit]

Sample of a recording of "Autumn Leaves" by Eva Cassidy from the album Live at Blues Alley (1996)

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The song is in AABC form.[15] "Autumn Leaves" offers a popular way for beginning jazz musicians to become acquainted with jazz harmony as the chord progression consists almost solely of ii-V-I and ii-V sequences which are typical of jazz. It was originally, and is most commonly, performed in the key of G minor, but is also played in E minor and other keys. Eva Cassidy's version (clip on the right) is played in B-flat minor.

Its iv7 – VII7 – IIImaj7 – VImaj7 – ii7(b5) – V7 – i chord progression is an example of the circle-of-fifths progression.[16]


  1. ^ Massin B. Les Joachim – Une famille de musiciens. Fayard, Paris, 1999.
  2. ^ The Big Show. "BigShow-02". BigShow. Archived from the original on 26 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-25. As carried on Internet radio at 
  3. ^ The Coasters, One by One Retrieved February 8, 2012.
  4. ^ François, Corinne (2000). Jacques Prévert, Paroles. Editions Bréal. p. 109. ISBN 978-2-84291-702-9. 
  5. ^ Al Hirt, They're Playing Our Song Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  6. ^ "Sergio Franchi". 
  7. ^ "As Is". 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Jerry Lee Lewis, The Jerry Lee Lewis Show Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  11. ^ Anonymous. "1987 Programs & Ticket Stubs". The Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps. Retrieved 2006-11-07. As listed in 1987 program. 
  12. ^ Jerry Lee Lewis, The Jerry Lee Lewis Show Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  13. ^ Anonymous. "Roger Williams". Nebraska Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2006-11-07. In 1965, Williams added a chorus and charted it again at no. 10 Billboard Easy Listening as "Autumn Leaves - 1965." 
  14. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1955
  15. ^ Spitzer, Peter (2001). Jazz Theory Handbook, p.81. ISBN 0-7866-5328-0.
  16. ^ Kostka, Stefan; Payne, Dorothy; Almén, Byron (2013). Tonal harmony with an introduction to twentieth-century music (seventh ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 46, 238. ISBN 978-0-07-131828-0. 

External links[edit]