Accentuate the Positive

Accentuate the Positive Bob  DylanPerhaps the first cover version Bob Dylan ever seriously took on was the Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen tune, “Accentuate the Positive.” He sang it for relatives, at the age of four, after first insisting that everyone must keep very quiet. It became a part of Zimmerman family lore: it was the moment when people first said, “That kid’s a genius!”

People have been saying the same thing ever since, along with many more colorful things.


That story is recounted in the first serious Dylan biography (and arguably still the best), Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan.

I don’t know whose rendition the young Bobby Zimmerman might have heard which inspired him to learn the song. There were plenty out there, including by the redoubtable Bing Crosby. But it would also be cool if it were this one: Louis Armstrong, from a live radio broadcast on New Year’s Eve in 1945. (Bob Dylan would have been three years old.)

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

Keep on the sunny side.