June 10 – #1 Hit Left A Bitter Taste In Davis’ Mouth

Isn’t that sweet? After being a star for three decades and being dubbed “Mr. Show Business”, Sammy Davis Jr. finally had a #1 hit song this day in 1972. A song he hated. “The Candy Man” was on top of the charts 50 years ago.

By then Davis was an entertainment rarity in every way. He was a movie star and popular singer, a Las Vegas fixture and a household name sort of celebrity in an era when such people were few and far between. To top it off, he’d risen to the top as a Black man during the tumultuous times of the Civil Rights protests. He was a member of the so-called “Rat Pack”, hanging with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and starring in movies like Oceans 11 with them. And like them, he’d been recording for years, his first album coming out in 1955. He spent most of the ’60s recording for Sinatra’s Reprise Records, though by the early-’70s he’d been lured away by MGM Records. He’d scored some popular songs with his takes on mostly Broadway-style standards, but by ’72 his star was falling, musically at least. His last taste of success had been 1968’s “I Gotta Be Me”, which hit #11in the States.

Perhaps that’s why he was persuaded to record this song which he clearly disliked, considering it “too saccharine.” The song had been written by the team of Anthony Newley  and Leslie Bricusse (who’d co-written “Goldfinger”) . They wrote “The Candy Man”  for the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the bizarre adaptation of the Roald Dahl kids book featuring Gene Wilder. Which in the context of the story, makes the song make total sense. In the film, it’s sung by candy store owner Aubrey Woods.

However, almost no one liked the way Woods sang it; it’s said Newley had requested to record it himself instead at his own expense but was refused. So there was a catchy, if silly, singalong ditty from a hit movie but one no one figured could sell on its own. Enter MGM who somehow got Davis to do it.

Davis sang about making everything he bakes satisfying and delicious with a satisfied gusto, backed by the Mike Curb Congregation, about as easy-listening and vanilla-sounding group of voices as one could find. When it was done, apparently it left a bitter taste in Sammy’s mouth. “This record is going straight down the toilet,” he told friends, “and it may pull my whole career down with it!”

That it did not, even though at least a few naysayers probably thought it would have had just cause to do so. The song rocketed up the charts like nothing else he’d sung, and spent three weeks at #1, ending up winning him a gold single and it finishing in the top 5 of the entire year. It’s popularity extended to Canada and Australia as well, where it got to #2 and #3 respectively. It even got him a nomination for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Male; we’re glad to announce he ended up losing to Nilsson and his “Without You” though. Perhaps in the long run Davis was right with his bathroom prophecy though; he never again had a hit song.

The Candy Man” lives on in a number of TV shows and movies, sometimes in the original Davis version, sometimes in goofy parodies…with a song that made the Osmonds sound punkish by comparison and lyrics about eating the dishes, it’s easy to see why that happened. One of the more noteworthy remakes was by Barry Manilow who sampled Davis’ voice in 2013 to make a duet with the by-then deceased Vegas star.

Interestingly, it was one of the things scrapped when it came time to remake the movie in 2005. Danny Elfman who did the soundtrack for the Johnny Depp-starring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chose to come up with all new music for the film. “I had no trouble divorcing myself from those songs,” he said when asked why it didn’t make a reappearance behind Depp.

May 28 – Cara Danced Back Up Charts In ’83

What a feeling, having a #1 hit! That was probably what Irene Cara was thinking this day in 1983. The New Yorker had sung and danced her way to the top with the theme from Flashdance, “What A Feeling.” It was a good time for Irene, and a good time for movie music – especially movies about dance.

At the time, Cara was only 24 but a seasoned performer. She’d been taking piano, song and dance lessons since she was five, and by 11 she was a regular on PBS’ kids’ show The Electric Company. In 1980 she’d made her way onto the Silver Screen and Billboard charts, with a role in the movie Fame and a top 5 hit with the theme song to it. She’d even had a shot at starring in a sitcom called Irene!, but that one never got beyond the pilot taping. So finding her tied into a movie about a blue collar girl trying to make it as a ballerina in Pittsburgh – Flashdance – was no surprise. However, this time around she didn’t act in the movie, with Jennifer Beals starring as the dancer. Irene however was picked by Giorgio Moroder to sing the title track, and she co-wrote the lyrics with Keith Forsey, who at the time was known for producing Billy Idol records.

While the soundtrack also had another #1 single in Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” and tracks by Kim Carnes and Donna Summer, it was Cara’s one song that put it over the top. The album itself (on Casablanca, Summer’s record label) was a chart-topper in the U.S. and much of Europe, selling past 10 million copies, and Cara co-ruled the airwaves with Sting for much of the summer around the globe. “What A Feeling” hit #1 in the U.S. and spent six weeks on top, before being knocked out by the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” It also went to #1 in Canada and when all was said and done, was the third biggest single of the year in the States – and 26th biggest ever, according to Billboard. It also won her a lot of swag for her mantelpiece – the song took the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song and helped her take home a Grammy for Best Female performer. What a feeling that must’ve been.

May 11 – Public Was Crazy For Madonna If Not Flick

The public were crazy for Madonna back in 1985, and for movie music too. The two came together on this day 37 years back when she scored her second American #1 hit song, “Crazy for You”.

It was from the movie Vision Quest…or if you prefer, the movie Crazy For You. The movie about a high school wrestling star, played by Matthew Modine, who falls for a slightly older and more experienced woman (Linda Foretino) wasn’t a smash hit with movie-goers or critics and was noteworthy for its soundtrack more than anything. And so popular was this song that the movie company changed the name of the film in many countries to Crazy for You. Fair enough, we suppose since it was the selling point to the movie for many and Madonna actually had a small part in the movie, as a singer performing it in a bar. Besides this one and another Madonna song (“Gambler”) the soundtrack boasted “Only the Young” by Journey (an outtake from their Frontiers album, but which made it into the U.S. top 10 after being put out on this album) , “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider (a prior hit in Canada) older songs by John Waite and Foreigner, and “Shout to the Top” by the Style Council, a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. The Berlin song “No More Words” appeared in the film but not the soundtrack LP but was put on the b-side to the Madonna hit, curiously enough making a rare example of a 45 with different artists on either side.

The passionate love song Billboard termed “the ultimate slow-dancing song” had good genes, so to speak. It was written by the duo of John Bettis and Jon Lind. Lind composed it, as he had songs like “Boogie Wonderland” for Earth, Wind and Fire and other songs for the Temptations and Cher. Bettis wrote the lyrics, something he was good at doing. He’d been in a band with Karen and Richard Carpenter at one time, and when they went out on their own, he penned the words to “Top of the World” and “Goodbye to Love” for them as well as a quite a few other hits like “Human Nature” for Michael Jackson. Then Jellybean Benitez was called in to produce it, which was a bit of a stretch for him. Just as Madonna herself at that point was known for upbeat, dance pop songs, so too was Benitez. “I was tense because I had never done a record like that,” he said later.

Madonna loved it (and the publicity of being in the movie) but her regular label, Sire and its owner, Warner Bros. Weren’t. With her Like A Virgin album still doing well for them, they were reluctant to green-light the project, and especially its release as a single, because they worried about cutting into her other record sales. Eventually they relented, wisely deciding that the publicity would help her career and the slower song might broaden her audience for future albums.

Which it no doubt did. It became her second #1 single – “Like a Virgin” was her first, about five months earlier – at home and also went to the top in Canada and Australia, and #2 in Britain where she’d score her first chart-topper a few months later with another movie tune, “Into the Groove” from Desperately Seeking Susan.  It ended up in the top 10 for the year in North America and garnered her her first Grammy nomination, for Best Pop Performance by a Female (losing out to Whitney Houston.)

Crazy for You” was the first movie song to make it to #1 in ’85, but it wouldn’t be the last. In fact, it was knocked out of the top spot by “Don’t You Forget About Me” from the Breakfast Club and by year’s end, there’d be seven songs from soundtracks that hit #1.

May 11 – Entering With Bells & Whistles. Or At Least Bells

On this day in 1974, a totally “tubular” instrumental was ringing loud and clear- the single “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield peaked at #7 on Billboard. The haunting melody sent shivers down the spines of millions when it was used as the theme for The Exorcist, something Oldfield apparently wasn’t all that impressed with!

Like it or not, it certainly kicked careers off in a big way – both his and Virgin Records. The instrumental album of the same name was the very first release on Virgin and hit #1 in his native UK as well as Canada. In Britain alone, it ended up selling over 2.5 million copies, ranking it one of the 40 biggest-sellers ever there, certainly a unique success among instrumental prog-rock works. It won him a Grammy for Best Instrumental and has topped the ten million mark in worldwide sales.

Oldfield was only 19 when the album first came out, and 17 when he began working on it. “I was so focused, I put all of my concentration, and all of my energy…into it,” he says of the work which in its full, LP form runs 25 minutes. “There’s a lot of joy in it, and a lot of suffering.” The cover, illustrating a tubular bell (one of a myriad of instruments played by Oldfield on the album; essentially drums were the only thing on the record he didn’t play) was picked by the Royal Mail to be depicted on a postage stamp in 2010.

Since then, Oldfield’s stayed busy, putting out 25 more albums, which have had decent success in Europe (he had three #1 songs in Germany for instance) but little notice in North America. Nonetheless, Tubular Bells was a ringing success, a monumental album progressing progressive rock!

May 1 – Maybe A Little Richer After Hit

Sixpence was an old British coin, withdrawn in 1981, worth perhaps a quarter in today’s American money. Methinks Matt Slocum and Leigh Nash were richer than that twenty or so years ago. The duo collectively known as Sixpence None the Richer got to a high-water mark of #2 on this day in 1999 with the likable little song “Kiss Me.”

Kiss Me” was from the self-titled album many would assume was the band’s debut, but actually it was their third…and it had been out for about a year and a half at the time that the song finally took the Billboard elevator. They were a testimony to the value of being true to your ideals and persevering, having been around most of the decade by that time, having their first label go bankrupt and being quickly tucked into the niche musical genre of “Christian Rock.”

The pair cut their musical teeth along I-35 in central Texas, meeting in a church where Nash sang as a teen, near San Antonio, having Slocum (the main writer and guitarist for them) relocate to go to school in Austin, being turned down by bars there and even by SXSW until they more or less made it, but finding early acceptance in Dallas. Although both are Christians, they looked at themselves as musicians first and foremost; Slocum name-checks U2 in an interview as another band who have strong faith but don’t get pigeon-holed and says that the likes of XTC and The Smiths are his musical influences, as well as the writing of classic poets. Nash said she was obsessed with Patsy Cline at one time and was compared to the voice of a female Van Morrison by the Texas magazine.

Despite extensive touring beginning around ’94,sometimes opening for 10000 Maniacs, they got signed to a Nashville Christian label, which did fine at getting them airplay on specifically Christian radio stations but nothing much else. Problems ensued with the label, and Slocum told Texas Monthly “Christian music really is like any business” adding that “it ended up being really confining for us.” Their name may not have helped in that- Sixpence None the Richer is a phrase from a C.S. Lewis story in his seminal work of faith, Mere Christianity.

That began to change with the 1997 self-titled release, which included both secular and spiritual songs. One song was a Neruda poem “Puedo Escribir”, (tonight I write the saddest words) set to music. It did about what they expected, selling 38 000 copies through 1998, largely to their core Christian music fanbase.

Luck or good marketing took off for them in 1999. Somehow “Kiss Me” got put into the movie She’s All That. People noticed, the album soared to 100 000 copies and among the fans were producers of Dawson’s Creek. The show used it twice and included it in a soundtrack to the TV show … and Sixpence None the Richer were richer. The record went gold within weeks and the song rose and rose up the charts, to the point it hit 23 years back. It slowly seeped into people’s subconscious and spent 16 weeks in the top 10, being one of the top 10 singles of the year (being played in video of Prince Edward’s royal wedding that summer didn’t hurt either). In Canada and Australia it got to #1; the album ended up platinum in the U.S. and being nominated for Grammys in both pop and “gospel” categories. A spot on the Lilith Fair that summer followed, as did one more mainstream hit, a cover of the ’80s La’s hit “There She Goes” which was hastily added to latter pressings of the album. Slocum said not all were happy at their newfound fame and broader appeal, even if it meant more ears for their spiritual message.

You say you’re Christian, but you play your guitar so loud we can’t hear the lyrics,” he says he’s been told. Others complained about them allowing the song to be used on Dawson’s Creek due to its positive depiction of gays and yet more had issues with them being part of Lilith Fair since the name “Lilith” has pagan connotations.

Sixpence None The Richer never hit the heights of ’99 again but have worked on and off since then, at times touring with another Christian band who flirted with mainstream stardom, Jars of Clay.

April 21 – Golly Ma, I Wish We Could Have A Prom!

Michael Jackson taught the world to “moonwalk” in videos from his massive hit Thriller. What could possibly topple that from the top of the charts… maybe a kid who taught a town how to dance? That’s what happened this day in 1984, when Jackson’s mega-selling album was finally toppled from the top of the U.S. album chart for the last time. It had been #1 the entire year thus far and for 17-straight weeks, plus 20 weeks earlier on in 1983. Its cumulative 37 weeks at #1 is second only to West Side Story in the history of Billboard charts. And the album that dethroned it? The soundtrack to the movie Footloose.

Footloose was a reasonably typical teen coming-of-age flick with Kevin Bacon starring as Ren, a rebellious lad from Chicago relocated to a small town by his family. There he falls for the minister’s daughter, but alas, her dad has successfully passed a law in their town banning dancing! Oh no! Sounds like trouble! Well, the rebel shows her the joys of dance, pleads his case biblically to the preacher and eventually stages a high school prom. Not Shakespeare or Schindler’s List, but a surefire date night attraction which ended up taking in $80M that year, making it the seventh-biggest hit of the year at the box office. And, what’s more, a movie about sweet moves! Hollywood learned well from Saturday Night Fever and Grease the previous decade; movies about dancing were ideal vehicles for multi-million selling soundtracks.

Dean Pitchford, the screenwriter (and something of a songwriter himself) assembled an A-list cast to make original songs for the movie, and subsequent album. In the end, only nine were used and the soundtrack ran barely more than a half hour. But, in Michael Jackson-like success, seven of the nine songs were released as singles and most of them were hits. Pitchford credited himself as a co-writer on all the songs, but the others involved were varied and the album lists 11 different people as having producer credits including Jim Steinman, David Foster and the record’s star, Kenny Loggins.

Loggins, who’d had success with movie songs before with “I’m Alright”, off Caddyshack, was given two songs, including the title track (as well as “I’m Free.”) That more or less helped get it noticed by rock radio, but what’s a dance without a steamy slow dance number? Enter Ann Wilson (of Heart) with Mike Reno (from Loverboy) who paired up for “Almost Paradise.” Something for the more R&B-oriented listeners? Maybe “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” by Deniece Williams. A big, epic number? Who better than big epic writer Jim Steinman, who did “Holding Out for A Hero” for Bonnie Tyler. And headbangers, you weren’t forgotten either; Sammy Hagar let us know “The Girl Gets Around”, one of the couple of songs which didn’t make it out as a 7” single.

With so many writers, producers and genres, the effect was a little choppy, but it was chock-full of radio hits. “Let’s Hear it For The Boy” went to #1 in the U.S. and Canada. “I’m Free” was a top 30 hit at home, but Loggins other song, “Footloose” itself was a major #1 hit in North America and Australia and although it only hit #6 in the UK, it was still platinum-selling there and his biggest hit in Jolly Ol’ England. They liked Bonnie Tyler even more, with her song getting to #2, and #1 in Ireland. “Almost Paradise” got into the top 10 in North America. Hollywood gave its nod of approval, with “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” both getting nominations for the Oscar for Best Original Song, although they lost to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from the Woman in Red.

The soundtrack didn’t erase Michael Jackson’s records, but it did spend ten weeks at #1 before being displaced by Huey Lewis & the News’ Sports. It went gold in the UK, 6X platinum in Canada and 9X platinum in the all-important, all-powerful U.S. Columbia really wanted you to be able to hear it so they put it out not only on LP, CD and cassette but also on 8-track and reel to reel tape. There aren’t stats on how many of the 12 million or so copies of it sold were on those formats.

If you’re itching to cut the rug shopping for the soundtrack, you might as well look around for the 1998 re-release. It has several tracks added on, including a 12” mix of Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets” plus songs by John Mellencamp, Quiet Riot and Foreigner.

April 19 – Blondie Heeded The Call

Forty-odd years ago Americans were loving hearing the hottest female sex symbol of the time singing behind one of the hottest male sex symbols on the big screen. Blondie climbed to #1 in the U.S. on this day in 1980 with “Call Me”. The single was the theme to the Richard Gere movie American Gigolo, in which Gere is a (logically enough given the title) gigolo. With Pretty Woman about a decade later, Gere is probably the only prominent actor to have starred in two movies about prostitution. Make of that what you will. 

Italian Giorgio Moroder had been contracted to do the movie’s soundtrack. He was known for largely Euro-style disco which he wrote and often created in his own studio in Munich. But perhaps more famously, he was known for his collaborations with the late-’70s most successful female singer, Donna Summer. He produced (and at times wrote) most of her smash hits like “Hot Stuff” and “MacArthur Park.”

He had the theme music pretty much worked out in his head, but not the lyrics…nor a singer. His first choice was Stevie Nicks, but she declined his offer citing contractual problems. Some reports have said that, not surprisingly, he asked his long-time friend and collaborator, Summer. At some point, he decided on Debbie Harry of Blondie. She/they accepted.

Harry wrote the lyrics fairly quickly, after watching the film without sound. She “pictured the opening scene, driving along the coast of California.”

The song was included in the Polydor movie soundtrack in its full eight-minute plus length, and edited to a little less than half that for release as a 7” single on Blondie’s label, Chrysalis. The music was a little more danceable and disco than Blondie’s usual output, and just how much the guys in the band contributed is debatable. Moroder did much of the music for the rest of the movie himself, with a little help from a few session musicians like Harold Faltermeyer. Regardless, it’s doubtful the lads in Blondie cared too much once the royalty cheques starting coming in. And roll in they did.

Call Me” went to #1 for six straight weeks in the States, making it not only the biggest-seller of the year but the eighth top single of the whole decade. It also spent six weeks atop Canadian charts later that spring and would be another #1 for them in Britain, where it was their seventh top 10 in under two years.

Blondie would go on to score two more chart-toppers in the States over the next year or so (“Rapture” and “The Tide is High”) but not with Moroder’s help. They had brought him in to produce their next album but he… didn’t like them. “We went to the studio, and the guitarist was fighting with the keyboard player… I called their manager and quit.”

The band called it quits not longer after (although they have rebanded since) but the popularity of their hits from the beginning of the ’80s remains to this day.

 

April 18 – Eastwood Did Second-take Hearing Flack Song

Sometimes having just one fan can be enough to get your career rolling… if that fan happens to be a star themselves. Ask Roberta Flack. She had the #1 song 50 years ago today in 1972, with a song that had been rattling around for three years and had gone all but unnoticed – “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Thankfully, the one person who had noticed it happened to be Clint Eastwood.

By then, Flack was in her mid-30s and had put out a handful of albums, to little real avail. One wonders if she wasn’t thinking about giving up and going back to what she’d done before – teaching music. She grew up in a Baptist household in Virginia, raised on gospel music and Sam Cooke, and had shown not only a great voice but a real talent for piano while young. She got a music scholarship to university and became a teacher. Eventually though she began playing and singing in a few clubs and got signed to Atlantic Records. This song had been on her first album, First Take, which came out in ’69…to very little initial notice. The only single off it at the time, “Compared to What”, failed to chart anywhere and the album seemed to go ker-plunk. She had one minor chart hit with her friend and frequent duet partner, Donny Hathaway, with their take on Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend”. Like that one, “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is a cover, but the original wasn’t well-known. It was written by Irish political folkie Ewan MacColl, who also adapted the popular version of the song “Scarborough Fair” for Simon & Garfunkel. (That song was based on an old traditional folk song but the arrangement and some of the lyrics were modernized by him.) He’d record it, as would Peter, Paul and Mary and Gordon Lightfoot, but it wasn’t ever a hit.

Meanwhile, neither was Flack’s career … until Clint Eastwood was making a movie about a DJ. He directed and starred in Play Misty For Me, and being that the main character in it worked in radio, he needed music for it. He’d heard Flack’s song and decided it was perfect for “the only part of the movie where there’s absolute love,” according to him, a love scene between him and his girlfriend, played by Donna Mills.

She willingly agreed, and Eastwood paid her $2000 for its use (not a bad amount back then for a relatively obscure song.) But she and her record producer, Joel Dorn both wanted to re-record it for him; make it faster and more upbeat like some of the earlier versions by others had been. Eastwood disagreed and kept it just as it was. A very good decision for all involved. It became one of the most popular bits of the hit movie and once in hit the screen, the song itself became very popular. Atlantic wisely put it out as a single, and this time it hit. It got to #14 in Britain, #2 in South Africa and topped the Canadian charts for three weeks. More importantly, at home, it went to #1 for six weeks, and ended up the top-selling single of the year, pushing First Take back onto the charts with it. The album went gold, the first of ten of hers to do that in the U.S. Later it would win the Grammy for Record of the Year…an award which she amazingly enough won the following year as well, for “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”

And that’s how, with luck, one fan can help you make millions of fans. And why sometiems it’s good to do a double-take on a “first take.”

April 1 – Much Of Adam’s Talent Was Hidden Under Fountains

Today we remember a “one hit wonder” who was well on his way to becoming a rare EGOT Winner – that’s Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, an accomplishment only about 20 people, like Barbra Streisand and Cher, have ever pulled off. But perhaps Adam Schlesinger might have too had he lived longer – he was already halfway there and had nominations for all four categories. The guy from Fountains of Wayne died two years ago today, one of the first high-profile deaths from Covid.

Although most music fans only knew Schlesinger from the early-2000s alt rock group Fountains of Wayne, if they knew him at all, there was a lot more to his multi-faceted career than that. He was a producer, songwriter and a major player in creating music for movies and TV.

Adam grew up in a musical but fairly strict Jewish family near New York City. Although he learned to play a wide range of instruments, including guitar, piano and drums, he went to college and got a philosophy degree. Around that time he formed a band called Ivy, which didn’t achieve a great deal of recognition, then Fountains of Wayne. They took their name from a lawn ornament store they saw in New Jersey. That band started with just him and school friend Chris Collingwood, but after they put out a demo and got signed to Atlantic Records, they added Pixies drummer Brian Young and a second guitarist, Jody Ponder; Schlesinger typically played bass and keyboards and was the lead vocalist as well as producer and writer, sometimes sharing those jobs with Collingwood. Allmusic describe them as “one of America’s strongest power pop acts” putting out “British-influenced pop songs, lo-fi production and wry lyrics.” Be that as it may, their first two albums did next to nothing and Atlantic dropped them around the millennium. Their third album, 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, on the new and small S-Curve label would have likely met the same fate were it not for one song…and the fact that Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Rachel Hunter was, well let’s be honest, pretty good-looking. The song was the Cars-like  “Stacy’s Mom”, a fun ditty about a teenage lad being rather, umm, attracted to his buddy’s mother. Ms. Hunter got the role of Stacy’s mom in the video which helped the song take off. It hit #21 at home and was all over alt rock radio that year, and earned them both a gold single and a Grammy nomination in the pop category. Brits liked it even more, with it going platinum there and peaking at #11. The Fountains kept going for another decade but never had anything resembling that level of success again and broke up in 2013.

But Schlesinger’s never been one to do nothing, with or without a band. In the pop or rock field, he was friends with James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (who helped out on Welcome Interstate Managers) and formed a short-lived band with him called Tinted Windows. An interesting lineup it had, those two plus former Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos and one of the Hanson brothers! He’s written songs for artists ranging from the Monkees in their reunion phase to Bowling For Soup, and Katy Perry covered one of his songs (“Hackensack”). In the studio, he produced records for the Monkees, Verve Pipe, Fastball and others. But his greatest success, and it would seem, career love, was making music for screens and stages.

Schlesinger got into movie work in the ’90s and carried on with that for most of the rest of his life, creating music for films including Shallow Hal, Because of Winn Dixie (he and Iha did one song themselves from that, “Splish Splash”), Ice Age and most significantly, the Tom Hanks movie That Thing That You Do. He wrote and produced the title track for that one, being nominated for an Academy Award as a result.

He wrote for the Stage as well, co-writing the music for the Broadway musical Cry Baby (which got him Tony nominations) and was in the middle of writing a musical adaptation of the old TV sitcom The Nanny when he passed away. His Broadway connections got him the opportunity to create music for the 65th and 66th Tony Awards, and ironically that won him an Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music both years. Besides those he did music for TV shows as varied as Sesame Street to Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital. He eventually won a Grammy for doing the music and subsequent album for a Stephen Colbert TV special.

Schlesinger was divorced but left behind two daughters when he passed away at just 52 years of age, after spending a week on a ventilator only weeks after Covid first showed up in North America. There was an outpouring of love and grief upon his death, as much from the acting community as the music one. Hugh Grant called him “a bona fide genius and a lovely person,” while Fran Drescher noted how he’d been working on a stage adaptation of her old TV show and said she was “devastated. My prayers are for you.” Stephen Colbert remembered Adam as “a great and patient and talented artist with whom it was my good luck to work.” Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi noted “you’re never just a kid from somewhere when you’re a kid from New Jersey. The music world lost a good one.” As did the movie, theater and TV ones … and apparently the rest of it as well.

March 27 – People ‘Bond’ed With Bassey Song

American charts were shaken, not stirred, this day in 1965. That’s when Shirley Bassey‘s “Goldfinger” peaked at #8 on the singles chart, starting the ongoing tradition of having popular theme songs for James Bond movies.

James Bond, aka “007” was of course the super-suave, super-sexist British secret agent with a dazzling array of tools at his disposal to catch bad guys, created by author Ian Fleming in the 1950s. In the early-’60s, Hollywood realized they obviously adapted well to big screen thrillers, and filming them, initially with Sean Connery in the starring role. Dr. No was the first one, Goldfinger, released late in 1964, was third. It generally was about Bond trying to stop an evil gold smuggler (named “Goldfinger” – how convenient that!) who has plans to poison America’s Fort Knox in order to steal its gold. Along the way he kills Bond associate Moneypenny by coating her in gold gilt, and we meet the famous “Odd Job” as well as the memorably-named “Bond girl” Pussy Galore. It was the first real smash Bond movie, raking in $125M at the time, which adjusted for inflation runs near one billion dollars and makes it the third most successful of the 27 (to date) movies in the series. Perhaps some of that lies in the soundtrack. Unlike the previous two, the film-makers decided it needed a big, bold, and popular theme song and score. They got John Barry to do the composing and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley to write lyrics. To do that, they didn’t get to see the movie but were given a brief description of the plot including the death by “gilting”. They certainly succeeded in coming up with one of the more memorable and impactful of Bond songs. Then they needed to get it recorded.

They picked well. They brought in then-young Beatles producer George Martin to produce and Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (later half of Led Zeppelin) to be among the session musicians to play it. And the voice? Well, Shirley Bassey was their first choice, a good one as it ended up. Bassey was at the time 28 and already a very popular singer in Britain. She’d been recording for about eight years and scored her first #1 song there (“As I Love You”) in ’59. And she had the powerful voice the song demanded. Barry said “nobody could have sung it like her. She had that great dramatic sense.” He says it gave him “goose bumps” when he heard the finished record for the first time. Most agreed, but not movie producer Harry Saltzman, who hated everything about it. He felt it “too old fashioned for the 1960s youth” and many a heated argument apparently took place before it finally ended up in the film.

Strangely, the Welsh gal singing a song for a fictional British super-hero didn’t go over that well at home. The song reached just #21 there, actually one of Bassey’s least-popular singles to that point. But elsewhere, it took off, hitting #8 in the U.S. and Germany and being a substantial hit with staying power in many other places. It was the first big “Bond song” and so far only four have done better in the States – “A View To A Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Live and Let Die” (which was also produced by Martin) and “Nobody Does It Better.” And despite not being huge in the UK at the time, in 2002 BBC listeners put it as the 46th best British song of all-time. Perhaps Barry was half-right… maybe it was too ahead-of-its-time for 1960s youth.