My editor at Billboard Books emails me.
He’s thrilled with the result of my first book, The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television…
And tells me he can’t wait to hear my next proposal.
“Huh?! What?!” I think to myself. I had no plans to do a second book.
But since he liked my initial foray, maybe I should try. And fast. Strike while the iron is hot, I believe the saying goes.
Figuring Out What to Do
I surveyed what titles Billboard Books had published and obviously, most involved music.
Specifically, my friend Fred Bronson kicked off a series with his Billboard Book of Number One Hits, first published in 1985.
Which Fred co authored after the writer needed more help.
I considered if any genres were left to be covered?
And then it hit me: Adult Contemporary.
Also known as easy listening.
That chart had a good mix of artists and familiar and not-so-familiar records that I could cover.
Additionally, having a copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Contemporary Hits 1961-1993, I knew that there would be probably no more than 700 songs to cover. That publication had 653 number ones at the time of publication.
So, I proposed the idea and told the editor I could get a manuscript to him in a year. He said yes.
And I gulped again.
Doing the Research
I promised that like the other Billboard music books, I would interview as many artists, producers and songwriters as I could find.
With the internet still young in 1998, this was challenging – but not impossible.
For one, I used Billboard’s professional publication listing booking agents, managers, PR contacts and other sources for active artists.
Some people had their names listed in the online white pages on the internet. That helped too.
Even my father assisted me. Working at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the health and physical education department, I asked him to relay a request to John Swofford.
Swofford was commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and brother of one of my subjects. The result was that I interviewed Swofford’s brother.
Known professionally as “Oliver.”
His hit “Jean” was planned as an album cut until radio stations played it after the success of his version of “Good Morning Starshine.”
“Jean” caught him off guard. Rod McKuen, who sang the song in the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, bombed with his take on it.
Oliver retired professionally in 1984 and told me he had a very good life. Glad to hear that.
Oh, and I had one more connection … I worked as the assistant for KC, of KC and the Sunshine Band at the time.
KC dueted with Teri DeSario on the 1980 hit remake of “Yes I’m Ready” and told me about it. I also learned from him that another author with Billboard doing a book on Number Two Pop Hits had contacted him.
That prodded me more to meet my deadline and get my book out first.
(Yeah, I can be that petty sometimes.)
But you’re not reading this about the process as much as results. So, here are some facts and figures about writing this book.
Getting Revelations and Disappointments:
Longest waits for interviews: Due to their schedules, it took me nearly all 12 months to finally speak to Helen Reddy and Al Jarreau.
Al was a good interviewee discussing “Moonlighting.”
As for Helen, she had plenty to say about her eight adult contemporary hits.
Her manager husband Jeff Wald persuaded her to sing “Delta Dawn” despite her initial reservations.
She had a tough time doing “Keep On Singing,” which she recorded in tribute to her recently deceased father, because her mother and a close friend died not long after the recording.
Most amusing to me was when I asked her about “I Can’t Hear You No More,” which she hated because she felt it was Capitol’s effort to get a disco hit out of her.
I noted that it only made number 29 pop and might have done better if its B-side “Music in My Life,” had not gotten some airplay on radio stations at the same time.
When I mentioned “Music in My Life,” Helen’s voice fell quiet for what seemed longer than the few seconds it was and let out, “Another true piece of tripe! Those were songs I was pressured to sign. I would rather not have a hit than do them.”
In my mind: For that comment alone, she was worth the wait.
Favorite stories told:
I have four of them:
1. Andy Williams, Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis all wanted a crack at recording “Where Do I Begin,” the vocal version of the theme from the hit movie Love Story. They were all signed to Columbia, so to be fair in giving each one a chance at success, the label released their versions the same day.
However, Andy had an advantage.
…In that he had his own weekly TV series in 1971 where he could promote the song.
And he did. He left the other gentlemen behind with that advantage.
Bennett’s version only made the bubbling under chart at number 114, while Johnny’s take never registered in Billboard.
2. Bread ended 1972’s “The Guitar Man” with a live recording of an audience, only the attendees weren’t at a Bread concert.
Listen to the fadeout and you can hear the announcer say “The Doors!”
Yep, Jim Morrison has a connection on record to David Gates. Who knew?
(Incidentally, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. told me that for their remake of “Never My Love” as part of the 5th Dimension, the audience applause was dubbed there too. They also talked with me about their group’s other four adult contemporary chart toppers including… ahem, “Wedding Bell Blues.”)
3. Knowing almost everything else about “Love Will Keep Us Together,” I asked the Captain and Tennille about their memories winning the Grammy for 1975’s Record of the Year, presented to them by Stevie Wonder and Joan Baez.
The latter apparently wasn’t a fan of the win. “She looked at us like we came out from under a rock,” Toni Tennille told me.
4. Kenny Rogers told me that his song “What About Me?” was planned as a three-way love song with Lionel Richie and Barbra Streisand, only to see them drop out. He then tried Jeffrey Osborne and Olivia Newton-John, but they had albums coming out soon and didn’t want this to compete with those releases.
So, he settled with his third choices, James Ingram and Kim Carnes.
Ironically, “Penny Lover” by Lionel Richie replaced “What About Me?” at the top of the adult contemporary chart in November ’84.
Almost all were down to earth and enjoyed recollecting their accomplishments.
But the ones that I really felt a connection with were Rudy Wolfgramm of the Jets and Richard Marx.
Rudy was delightfully soft spoken and forthcoming.
While Richard Marx was an engaging storyteller.
Most difficult interview:
Asking Al Stewart about his inspiration for writing “Time Passages,” he started with “It’s one of those sort of nebulous things.”
Already, I knew I was going to have a tough time. I concentrated on other aspects of his life and got more out of him, but it wasn’t easy to do.
Want to know more?
Order your copy of The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits.
And feel free to ask me any questions you may have here.
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