Andy’s non-rock collectibles

Mar 2020 Andy’s non-rock collectibles

By Pat Murphy

Andy Williams was a consummate albums artiste.

If you were searching for the quintessential non-rock American album artiste of the 1960s/70s, Andy Williams would definitely be on your shortlist. Between 1960 and 1972, he put 19 different albums onto Billboard’s US Top 40. A dozen made the Top 10.

In the UK, the chronological pattern was a little different but the results were equally impressive.

As with virtually any artiste, a starter collection should commence with a judiciously chosen Greatest Hits. Reflections, originally released in the late 1970s and subsequently re-issued on CD, would be an excellent choice. In addition to signature songs like Moon River, the 20 tracks include seven UK Top 10 hits. However, if your appetite extends beyond that, the Sony Collectable twofer series is hard to beat.

Here are five that I can personally comment on. All chart references pertain to Billboard’s US album listing.

Days of Wine and Roses/In the Arms of Love
1963’s Days of Wine and Roses entered the Top 40 in April, hit the summit in early May and subsequently stayed there for 16 weeks. Overall, it spent 61 weeks on the chart.
Listened to, after all these years, it comes across as emblematic of American early 60s MOR. It’s also very uneven. The ballads generally work well, although the Mercer/Mancini title track would have benefited from junking the vocal chorus.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco
is nice, as is the reading of My Colouring Book. At the time, Cliff Richard picked it as one his favourite recordings. And the inclusion of the hit single Can’t Get Used to Losing You is a definite plus.
However, the up-tempo swinging pieces are another matter entirely. Limp and tinny is a fair thumbnail description.

In the Arms of Love
comes from the tail-end of 1966 and had to be content with a peak position of No. 21 and an 11-week Top 40 run. It was lucky to do even that. It’s boring.

Call Me Irresponsible/My Fair Lady
This can be aptly described as a pairing of companion pieces.
Both were issued in 1964 and both peaked at No. 5. While Call Me Irresponsible featured movie themes, My Fair Lady’s focus was on Broadway. All in all, the epitome of establishment show business.

Call Me Irresponsible’s best cuts are the title track, More, Gigi and the Song from Moulin Rouge (otherwise known as Where Is Your Heart). Yes, the selection could do with more variety of tempo but there’s nothing jarring in the programme.

The first six tracks on the second album come from My Fair Lady, which boasts one of the very best musical scores of the era. And Williams does respectable justice to the material.
Of the remaining half-dozen, two relatively new pieces (as of 1964) stand out – for better or worse. Without indulging in Streisand vocal fireworks, People holds up nicely; however, the rendering of Hello Dolly has a distinctly old-fashioned sensibility.

Bottom line, if you’re amenable to smooth, non-edgy renditions of melodious popular music, this twofer might do the trick.

Dear Heart/The Shadow of Your Smile
Dear Heart was the big Williams album of 1965, peaking at No.4 during a 45-week Top 40 sojourn. Retrospectively, it’s easy to understand its success. Never less than pleasant, it’s a relaxing and undemanding listen: nothing wrong with that.

And while the hit single Almost There is the standout, there are other nice bits. For instance, the title track, Who Can I Turn To and a Ray Charles-influenced I Can’t Stop Loving You.
1966’s The Shadow of Your Smile – No.6 and 18 weeks in the Top 40 – starts to break some new ground, courtesy of two Lennon/McCartney songs and a couple of bossa novas. Williams was beginning to edge towards contemporary pop. Interestingly, another easy listening troubadour, Johnny Mathis, issued a similarly titled album within a month or so of the Williams release. Containing four of the same songs, it, too, penetrated the Top 10. I guess savvy folks could see which way the wind was blowing.

Honey/Happy Heart
By 1968/69, Williams had fully migrated into easy listening interpretations of contemporary pop. The Impossible Dream was the only show song on 1968’s Honey, and there were none on the following year’s Happy Heart.

Over the two albums, Jimmy Webb songs appear five times and the roster of other contemporary writers includes Bobby Russell, Paul Simon, John Hartford and Lennon/McCartney. If there’d been any Bacharach/David and Bob Dylan, it would have been an exposition of the late 1960s American songbook.

Devotees of the originals won’t want to replace them with these versions. Still, Williams brings his trademark smoothness to the table, doing acceptable readings that undoubtedly expanded the audience reach of the material.

Commercially, it worked. Both albums made the Top 10, peaking at No.9 during runs of 24 weeks (Honey) and 10 weeks (Happy Heart). Although the music business was in a state of upheaval, Williams was still selling records.

You Lay So Easy on My Mind/The Other Side of Me
Six years on, the situation had changed. The commercial viability of Williams’ US albums dropped precipitously after 1971/72. By the time these two were released in 1974/75, the Top 40 – never mind the Top 10 – had receded into memory.

You Lay So Easy on My Mind was country flavoured, recorded in Nashville under the direction of ace producer Billy Sherrill. Down tempo in pace, it was generally undistinguished.
To be sure, Williams sang with his usual impeccable style. But apart from fine versions of I Honestly Love You, I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song and My Elusive Dreams, there was little you’d want to hear a second time.

Because the overall material is stronger, The Other Side of Me is considerably better. Neil Sedaka – then at the peak of his mid-70s revival – has five writing credits and other well-known songs include My Eyes Adored You, Feelings and Mandy. I’m also fond of the version of Danny O’Keefe’s Quits.

Alas, after a lengthy run littered with RIAA-certified gold albums, Williams was no longer a major US seller. It’s a fate that eventually happens to most successful artistes.

A native of Ireland, Pat Murphy now lives in Toronto, Canada.