Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Top 40 Entry 1/8/72: Three Dog Night - "Never Been to Spain"

Three Dog Night—“Never Been to Spain.”Dunhill 4299; Top 40 debut: 1/8/72. Peak date: 2/12/72. Written by Hoyt Axton. Produced by Richard Podolor. B-side: “Peace of Mind.” LP: Harmony. Charts: Billboard Hot 100 (#5), easy listening (#18).

Oklahoma songwriter Hoyt Axton’s fried nursery rhymes were a natural fit for early ‘70s AM radio. It’s possible that no one would have known this if Three Dog Night (always crafty song pickers) hadn’t taken a chance with his “Joy to the World,” which ended up seeping deeply into the era’s singalong culture. Axton’s bluesy “Never Been to Spain,” the group’s twelfth Top 40 hit, had a similar appeal abeit in the form of a slow boil. It took three full verses for all three throats to start wailing together and for the church of what-does-it-matter’s revival meeting to get into full swing.

Like the most memorable of the era’s hits, “Never Been to Spain” made people want to join hands and sing away their troubles. Popular taste for such fare made for a blurred boundary between the adult and youth markets and generated an influx of borderline novelty songs, a situation songwriters like Jim “Spiders and Snakes” Stafford and Loudon “Dead Skunk” Wainwright III were watching closely. It also cultivated a taste for stage-friendly “show band” rock, the kind all ages could enjoy, and which Three Dog Night did better than just about anyone. Rock critics tended to chafe at the mega-successful outfit’s finesse. Robert Christgau called them the “Kings of Oversing,” a criticism that would have raised Engelbert Humperdinck’s eyebrows, and comes off today as something of an oversling, shall we say, amid our digitally-enhanced emoting.

“Never Been to Spain” appeared as the opening track for their Harmony LP, and it called on Cory Wells to do lead duties for the trio of similar-sounding singers. The album tends to hold a fond place in TDN fans’ hearts for its variety and structural integrity, with standout tracks such as Moby Grape’s “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” and Joni Mitchell’s “Night in the City.” The 45, a bookend job, showcased the Harmony album’s opener on side A (“Never Been to Spain”) and closer (“Peace of Mind”) on side B.

About the B side: Former New Christy Minstrel Nick Woods had composed “Peace of Mind,” and Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson both recorded striking versions of it in 1968. In contrast to those, Three Dog Night gave it a spare and reverent rendering with only Jimmy Greenspoon’s piano and Chuck Negron’s voice. It also tacked on an introductory Negron recitation of a poem called “Mistakes and Illusions” written by his wife Paula, who received credit on the album packaging but none on the 45 label. In short order this recording would serve as an elegy for Woods, who died of an accidental drug overdose at the home of his friend, the arranger and producer Kirby Johnson, on February 17, 1972, at the age of 33. (Source: San Diego Union, Feb 23, 1972, B-3)

As for subject matter, “Never Been to Spain” catalogs places the singer has never been, including Spain and England (whose Beatles he kinda likes). The last verse focuses on songwriter Axton’s home state of Oklahoma, which he at first seems to equate with heaven. He actually played some football at Oklahoma State University, where the marching band now blasts “Never Been to Spain” during the 4th quarter. If you listen to Axton’s original 1971 recording of the song, though, you’ll hear him sing “from Oklahoma, born in a coma,” a somewhat less glowing declaration that mostly brings the concussive football connection into sharper focus. (Three Dog Night changed it to “Oklahoma, not Arizona.”) The group would bring one more single (“Family of Man”) from Harmony into the Top 40 before pumping out a new album in March 1972. (The image above is what the picture sleeve looked like in Spain.)

Side A: "Never Been to Spain"

Side B: "Peace of Mind"

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Top 40 Entry 1/1/72: Elton John - "Levon"

Elton John — “Levon”. Uni 55314. Top 40 debut: 1/1/72. Peak date: 2/5/72. Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Produced by Gus Dudgeon. B-side: “Goodbye.” LP: Madman Across the Water. Charts: Billboard Hot 100 (#24).

The Elton John we saw before us at the end of 1971 was a complex case: An explosive live performer devoid of leading man looks; a demonstrative pianist whose pop chart track record showcased reflective ballads; a musical purveyor of earth-toned frontier Americana while dressing up for gigs in tights, gold lamé and battery-powered accessories. Those are just a few of his contradictions, and there’s more, but all of them only strengthened the popular appetite for him.

The fruitful collaboration between John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin kept consumers well fed. The music poured out, filling up three studio albums, a soundtrack LP, numerous non-album tracks, and a live album all between 1969 and 1971. The Madman Across the Water album, with its title implication, blue denim cover and the antique photos in the gatefold booklet, kept the Americana vibe alive, as did “Levon,” its leadoff single. It was a song about a war vet, son of one Alvin Tostig, who kept the lucrative family balloon business going, and whose quirkily named son Jesus, a rocket man at heart, fantasized about breaking free and flying to Venus.

Although lyricist Bernie Taupin told Rolling Stone magazine that he’d only intended to tell the story of a “guy who wants to get away from his father’s hold over him,” he was underselling the richness of meaning in the symbols he chose. “War wounds” evoked Vietnam and so much more, “Jesus” tapped into one of pop music’s favorite preoccupations of the day, and the balloons signified the escapism and whimsey of childhood, another of the era's topical biggies. So yes, there was a generation gap meaning at heart, but one rife with the metaphorical tools of independent interpretation. (Taupin and John had previously treated that dad theme in a number called “In My Old Man’s Shoes,” the UK B-side for “Your Song.”)

My favorite personal reading of "Levon" involves the transformative nature of Jesus as a concept, His flexibility as an icon in different parties’ hands. This gets fuel from the lyrical bit about the New York Times declaring “God is dead,” because many listeners, in fact, from the standpoint of the early seventies Jesus revival, remembered the provocative 1966 Time magazine cover asking, “Is God dead?” People can get a tad testy about this sort of thing, which is certainly why Taupin attempted to clear the air.

As for the song title, Taupin surely latched on to the contemporary Americanism of The Band’s southern-drawled singer-vocalist Levon Helm. His given name was memorable enough (or perhaps he was just so vain) that he thought the song was about him. One word in “Levon” glares, though, and that’s John’s first-syllable British emphasis in “garage,” but only because it disclosed his non-American pedigree, which no one really begrudged. Listen to Mary McCready’s 1974 version of the song, though (one that John had declared to be better than his own), and you’ll hear her singing that word like a proper American. Come to think of it, perhaps the two songwriters didn’t realize that naming your kid “Jesus,” as in hay-SOOS, was more of a Mexican-American thing, and maybe John misappropriated that one too.

Musically, “Levon” surged with additional invitations to give it meaning, namely Elton John’s elegaic piano and the movie magic orchestration by Paul Buckmaster. The Madman Across the Water album, in fact, laid those solemn cinematics thick by leading off with “Tiny Dancer” and following right up with “Levon.” These were two sister songs that stirred one’s soul in similar ways. “Tiny Dancer,” dedicated to Bernie Taupin’s girlfriend Maxine Feibelman, likely fell short of the top 40 (peaking at #41) as the follow-up 45 due to its perceived over-familiarity. Both songs would enjoy long lives, though, as FM album rock staples, with "Tiny Dancer" racking up bonuses for its singalong sequence in Almost Famous (2000). In his autobiography, John explains why so few of his future albums swelled with the strings of Paul Buckmaster: He washed his hands of rock’s favorite arranger when he spilled an inkpot on a stack of notations just before the Madman sessions were to begin. “An expensive mistake,” writes Sir Elton.

The Madman Across the Water album is notable for two more things worth mentioning here: 1) It contained a song called “All the Nasties,” in which concerns about the artist in question's sexuality get assessed out in the open; and 2) so distinct was the album chart position discrepancy between the UK (#41) and the US (#8), that Elton John decided to base himself in the US—and to focus his efforts there—for good. “Levon” was the surging singer-songwriter’s third Top 40 hit, after “Your Song” (#8) and “Friends” (#34). “Rocket Man” was next, so the way from here was up.

Side A: "Levon"

Side B: "Goodbye"

Top 40 Entry 1/1/72: The Partridge Family —“It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)”

The Partridge Family Featuring Shirley Jones Starring David Cassidy —“It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)”. Bell 45160. Top 40 debut: 1/1/72. Peak date: 1/29/72. Written by Tony Romeo. Produced by Wes Farrell. B-side: “One Night Stand.” LP: Shopping Bag. Charts: Billboard Hot 100 (#24), Easy Listening (#2).

Strangely enough, the Partridge Family’s “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes Love)” came and went—peaking in late January ‘72—before its supporting album ever reached stores in March. It was in March, too, when the episode featuring the TV family’s single finally aired (“The Partridge Papers,” about sister Laurie’s stolen diary). It seems like a better synchronized push might have helped it.

What’s significant about this song, though, is that it peaked at #20 on the pop charts, but climbed to #2 on the easy listening charts. This was their most lopsided and therefore most revealing teenage vs. adult audience ratio yet. In spite of David Cassidy and company's so-called bubblegum appeal, the music, in sound and sales tactics, never wavered from targeting the buying power of the mom and dad demographic. None of their music really raged with the kind of adolescent libido that even the Osmonds could summon, and the chart performance of “It’s One of Those Nights” puts this reality into sharp focus. You always wondered why only adults seemed to attend their TV supper club music segments, right?

Partridge staff writer Tony Romeo gets sole credit for “It’s One of Those Nights,” which tapdanced around the essential chord structure of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” (#1, 1966—itself a descendant of “Tea for Two”), from the pantheon of grandparent-friendly hits. Keeping with their tradition of the concept package, the supporting Shopping Bag album—the group’s fourth—included an actual plastic tote decorated with the album cover’s blue, yellow, and bubblegum-pink swirls, along wth the duotone faces of each member.

Also consistent with their recorded products, Shopping Bag’s full billing appeared on labels as “The Partridge Family Starring Shirley Jones Featuring David Cassidy,” and featured the production of future Tina Sinatra hubby Wes Farrell. Along with “It’s One of Those Nights,” the album included one more glaring template song in “Hello Hello,” which nabbed its title, various hooks, and arrangement ideas from Sopwith Camel, whose original “Hello Hello” reached #26 in 1967.

Shopping Bag offered up just one additional single for Hot 100 consideration a few months later, Irwin Levine and Russell Brown’s “Am I Losing You,” which stopped short at #59. Low memorability was as much to blame as was competition from David Cassidy’s second solo album. The still-viable TV group would be back in the Top 40 one more time before the year of ‘72 was over, though, with their version of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” from a new album.

The "One Night Stand" b-side came from their previous album, The Partridge Family Sound Magazine, but didn't show up on an episode until March '73 ("Diary of a Mad Millionaire," featuring John "Gomez Addams" Astin as an eccentric, Howard Hughes type). The song's lyrics emphasized the traveling band aspect of the title phrase more than the bedroom one.

Side A: "It's One of Those Nights (Yes Love)"

Side B: "One Night Stand"

Top 40 Entry 1/1/72: Carly Simon - "Anticipation"

Carly Simon — “Anticipation” (#13). Elektra 45759. Top 40 debut: 1/1/72. Peak date: 2/12/72. Written by Carly Simon. Produced by Paul Samwell-Smith. B-side: “The Garden.” LP: Anticipation. Charts: Billboard Hot 100 (#13), Easy Listening (#3).

Carly Simon’s debut single (“That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be, #10 in 1971), a quiet ballad with a big, Bacharach-style chorus, broke new ground for pop songs by looking at relationships from a psychoanalytical perspective. Fittingly, its sophisticated musical roadmap also offered rewards to those listeners with grown-up attention spans. The record practically demanded, on its own, the creation of a radio format to be known as “adult contemporary." Simon’s next single, “Anticipation,” which led off her second album, gave it its title, and did almost as well, peaking at #13. It followed the lead of "That's the Way" by reinforcing her reputation as pop music’s star reporter in the trenches of modern romance. She had lots of material, and you can read about it in her Boys in the Trees (2015) memoir.

Here’s one tidbit: “Anticipation” came from a date night with Cat Stevens, with whom she’d often shared the stage and also a producer in former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith. She had cooked dinner, but because the Teaser and the Firecat album icon took his time getting there, she at least got a song written while she waited. Such a well-crafted result, which became one of the quintessential radio hits for the singer-songwriter era, says as much about her creative skills as it does about right place/right time factors. (Stevens would sing background vocals on the album’s “Julie Through the Glass.”) The radio heyday of “Anticipation” coincided with Simon winning the Best New Artist Grammy for 1971, a ceremony that also handed Carole King the Record of the Year (“It’s Too Late”) and Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”). A golden age for women singer songwriters was evidently underway.

“Anticipation,” though—and this is not in Simon’s memoir—would become best known as a Heinz ketchup TV commercial theme from 1973 well into the eighties. In the present day, hit songs rent themselves out for commercial usage as standard practice. In the sixties and seventies, it tended to go the other way around, with popular commercial themes turning into jingle singles for radio. Simon’s record, then, anticipated a whole new era in pop music marketing.

The only other single from the Anticipation album, “Legend in Your Own Time,” missed the Top 40, peaking at #50. That song was almost universally understood, especially in light of her next big hit “You’re So Vain,” as a takedown of some male subject in a “legend in your own mind” kind of way. Her memoir, though, makes clear that she wrote it, with tenderness to boot, about future husband James Taylor, whom she had met when they were much younger and whose mother, apparently, didn’t have a music career in mind for her boy. He would become a legend, then, according to his own timetable.

Side A: "Anticipation"

Side B: "The Garden"

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Top 40 Entry 1/1/72: "Once You Understand" (1971) - Think

"Once You Understand" (1971) - Think * Written and produced by Lou Stallman and Bobby Susser * 45: "Once You Understand" / "Gather" * LP: Encounter * Label: Laurie * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #23 in 1972; #53 in 1974)

Even before Nixon officially declared war on drugs in the summer of 1971, nervous record industry voices were sounding off with self-policing CYA initiatives in the pages of Billboard and other trades. Mike Curb at MGM, for one, took attention-getting steps, sending anti-drug promo materials to record stores and dropping eighteen “hard drug” artists from the label. Pop culture reflected parental anxiety in films on teen addiction such as Joe (1970) and The People Next Door (1970) and the best-selling book Go Ask Alice (1971), while a single by Bloodrock called "D.O.A." (also 1971) managed to crack the Top 40 by leading listeners through a dreary musical O.D.

Those who remember “Once You Understand,” a topical novelty record by Think, tend to place it in the hysteria-mongering camp, but it actually attempted to strike a balance by censuring parents, who were the likeliest hysterics. It's a generation gap record, part of the lineage of Victor Lundberg's "Letter to My Teenage Son" (1967). Producers Lou Stallman and Bobby Susser (an early Tico and Triumphs-era cohort of Paul Simon) were the names behind the Think alias, crafting a series of exchanges between exasperated teenagers and their reactionary, hard-nosed folks. Dad tells son to get a haircut or live somewhere else. Mom tells daughter to get home by ten or to not come home at all. Mom tells daughter not to mix with kids from the wrong neighborhood. Dad tells son there’s more to life than playing guitar in a band. Behind all this, a growing chorus of voices repeat the simplistic, Coke commercial-worthy refrain of “things get a little easier once you understand.”

In sound and effect, it feels like a Jesus-rock singalong and a mantra, two forms very much in vogue. Eventually the chorus stops, and an officer tells the father that his son has died of a drug overdose. A lone voice then concludes the refrain behind the father’s sobs. KQV Pittsburgh and WIXY Cleveland are two stations credited with breaking the single, but its window-rattling popularity and frankness spooked enough stations elsewhere to blacklist it, thereby preventing it from climbing higher than #23. In 1974, the Big Tree label would re-release it and watch it take another ride up the charts to #54, proving that it still had work to be done and thoughtless parents to agitate.

Stallman and Susser’s accompanying Think album is a timepiece called Encounter, worth giving a listen for its unscripted field recordings of parents and teenagers (the last one focusing excusively on drugs) that appear between compostions with simple arrangements and positive messages. Come to think of it, it's the music that's most curio-esque. The spoken recordings actually lead one to wonder if parent-teenager relations have changed at all since then. A soul version of “Once You Understand” appeared in 1972 on the Spectrum label by Lily Fields and the Family and it provides a notable perspective shift, with music that really cooks and parent-teenager banter coming off as far more slice-of-life. The ending is also less severe, with the kid merely winding up at the police station.

Biz Markie sampled the chorus of Fields' “Once You Understand” for his 1989 “Things Get a Little Easier,” while a London duo called 4hero got good mileage out of the officer’s utterance (in the Think version) of “Mr. Kirk?” and the parent’s “Yes?” for their “Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare." And you thought it was a Star Trek tribute. (A close listening of the source indicates that the parent’s name is actually “Mr. Cook.”) Stallman and Susser would go on to work with educational and children’s recordings.

Side A: "Once You Understand"

Side B: "Gather"

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Osmonds (Plus Donny, Marie, and Jimmy): The Early ‘70s Charting Singles and More

The Osmond family from Ogden, Utah, played a high-profile but somewhat complex role in the story of early '70s pop. This is because, in aggregate, they made waves in all five of the era's commercial hit radio categories: Top 40, album rock, easy listening, soul, and country. The brothers Alan, Wayne, Merrill and little Jay, with the eventual addition of even littler Donny, had already become a well-known collective entity to viewers of the Andy Williams Show during the '60s. That show and the boys' long-standing presence as a Disneyland attraction gave them early recognition and formidable skills as entertainers. (This 1970 Disney Showtime episode shows how polished the brothers' rock and roll act had become, and how they hadn't necessarily sprung out of the earth, as their 1971 MGM album cover suggestedwith no warning.)

Here are two interesting pre-1970s field reports: The Lennon Sisters, in their Same Song-Different Voices book, tell of an unannounced appearance at the Lawrence Welk Show darlings' doorstep by the very-driven Osmond family, with Donny in diapers, asking for advice in their earliest family-band incarnation; and veteran family-bander Billy Cowsill, in a 1995 edition of Vancouver Magazine, reports of catching them in their much later teenage era at Disneyland, after which he gave MGM head Mike Curb, who had taken the label's reins in 1969, his strongest recommendation. (See more about Cowsill's connections with them below.) By early 1971 the Osmonds had released "One Bad Apple," a lovable Jackson 5 soundalike featuring Donny in the Michael Jackson role of prepubescent energizer. Enter Osmondmania, the conquest of Tiger Beat and 16 magazines, an animated cartoon, and a multi-format pop chart odyssey including sister Marie andas the record labels would bill himLittle Jimmy Osmond.

Osmondmania emphasized a curious early '70s entertainment fascination with large families, preceded in the late '60s by the Cowsills and the Jackson 5, followed by the DeFrancos and Five Stairsteps, among others, and accompanied by made-for-TV clans such as the Partridges, Bradys and Waltons. This trend possibly reflected a collective yearning for old-fashioned home life at a time when, as I wrote in Early '70s Radio, traditional super-sized families became more of a scarcity with working mothers and single-parent households on the rise. In 1992, the British band Denim depicted the dichotomy in song: "In the '70s there were Osmonds, there were lots of Osmonds, there were lots of little Osmonds, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere."  

The Osmonds also stood out for being openly devoted to their Mormon faith, known for a moral strictness that had virtually no known precedence for compatibility with pop music stardom. This undoubtedly intensified the fishbowl consciousness they lived with, but it also gave them the benefit of the doubt when they dabbled, as all pop stars will do, in double-entendre. Aside from that they were a well-run, well-behaved force to be reckoned with, and no examination of hit music in the early '70s holds up without giving them a good look and listen. 

The Osmonds - "One Bad Apple"

Written by George Jackson * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "One Bad Apple" / "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother" * LP: The Osmonds * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #1) (soul, #6) (easy listening, #37) * Entered: 1971-01-02 (Hot 100), 1971-02-06 (soul), 1971-01-30 (easy listening)

In his Soul Country: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (pp. 118-124), Charles L. Hughes writes that the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple” was as “controversial as any piece of US popular culture.” This was because its successful mimicry of the Jackson 5 sound came off to some as participation “in the white rip-off of black cultural resources.” Its inclusion in soul station playlists, too, seemed to fly in the face of “soul’s extramusical meaning.” Songwriter George Jackson did, in fact, write the song for the Jackson 5, only to have it turned down by the Motown label's Berry Gordy, Jr.

Hughes points out that the single can also be seen as a model specimen for the “racial and stylistic crisscrossing” going on at the FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The record was, after all, the product of a white producer (Rick Hall) and a black songwriter (George Jackson) who had been recommended to Hall by another white producer (Billy Sherrill). The record’s multiracial Fame Gang studio musicians backed five white young men singing in a black idiom for a label run by a conservative white man (Mike Curb). And yes, more than a few radio listeners who had first gotten familiar with "One Bad Apple" were likely surprised to connect it with the image of the five living Mattel dolls on the album cover. 

In spite of any controversy, the song would launch ongoing successes for everyone involved, and lives on as a cheerful signifier of seventies youth. An Osmonds cartoon created in 1972 used the song for its opening sequence. The "apple" symbol, intentional or not, invites thoughts of the Book of Genesis's tree of knowledge of good and evil and the brothers' religiousness. Side B is a version of "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother" (written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell), a concurrent #7 hit for the Hollies that became a lifelong concert staple for the Osmonds. Lead singer Merrill gets the full spotlight out front, with no Donny tradeoffs. 

The Osmonds' debut album would be the only one to get reviewed by Rolling Stone, where Lester Bangs, whose tongue flopped in and out of cheek when it came to pre-teen market products, praised its "earthiness." The album in fact maintains the strongest soul-country Muscle Shoals vibe out of anything else they recorded, and also wears its time stamp most proudly. "Think," with its steel guitar and tasteful strings, angled with minimum winces toward the Merle Haggard "freedom isn't free" sentiment; "Motown Special" memorialized their stage routine in which they paid tribute to their chief rivals' label; and "Catch Me Baby" was a downcast seducer. The Osmonds, if anything, was an apt and respectable indicator of the format-o-rama approach the family would thenceforth pursue.
Side A: "One Bad Apple"

Side B: "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother"

The Osmond Brothers - "I Can't Stop"

Written by Jerry Goldstein and Wes Farrell * Produced by Jerry Goldstein * 45: "I Can't Stop" / "Flower Music" * Label: Uni * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #96), UK (#12) * Entered: 1971-03-13 (Hot 100), 1974-04-20 (UK)

Before the Osmonds signed with MGM, they'd already had a history with the label, having released their first five albums as young barbershop prodigies on The Andy Williams Show. After this first tenure, a popularity surge in Japan had them releasing two albums out there (The Wonderful World of the Osmond Brothers on CBS and Hello! The Osmond Brothers on Denon) sprinkled with songs in the tongue of the rising sun. One of the highlights on Wonderful World was a version of Bill Cowsill's own "Make the Music Flow," which perhaps they played for him as an unreported part of the anecdote above. (In Donny's Life Is Just What You Make It, he mentions working directly with Cowsill for their "I've Got Loving on My Mind" single, a report that doesn't seem to hold up. Maybe he was thinking of "Make the Music Flow." He also mistakenly refers to Bill, the oldest Cowsill brother, as the family's father.)

Just before the release of those two albums, though, the five brothers recorded a single with former Strangelove and McCoys manager Jerry Goldstein on the Uni label (owned by MCA). McCoys singer and guitarist Rick Derringer did his first freelance session work on the two songs, and recalls in a 2002 book called Gallagher, Marriott, Derringer and Trower how Goldstein warned him to watch his language because the brothers were "gentlemanly" and "very religious." Both sides of the recordthe A-side "I Can't Stop" with its catchy Donny-centric "stop" hook, and the B-side "Flower Music"feature the lead vocals of brother Alan, which sound a bit strained in comparison with the soon-to-be familiar rasp of Merrill. Although the record went nowhere in '67, it made a quick dent at #96 in Billboard as an early '71 cash-in after "One Bad Apple" took off. In Osmond-friendly England, though, it would reach #12 as a 1974 reissue.

"Flower Music," co-written by Goldstein and the British hipster DJ Lord Tim Hudson along with Russ Regan, happened shortly after the same team had a go with "The Flower Children," a single showcasing Marcia Strassman (Welcome Back Kotter's "Julie") that bubbled under at #105. Perhaps other "flower" offerings by those writers exist somewhere.

Side A: "I Can't Stop"

Side B: "Flower Music"

Donny Osmond - "Sweet and Innocent"

Written by Billy Sherrill and Rick Hall * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "Sweet and Innocent" / "Flirtin'" * LP: The Donny Osmond Album * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #7) * Entered: 1971-03-27

One song on the Osmond's Fame Studios debut LP sounds a bit out of place, and that's "Sweet and Innocent," a showcase for 13-year-old Donny Osmond. Its wood flute hook signified childlike hits such as Vanity Fare's "Hitchin' a Ride" and Ms. Abrams' "Mill Valley," and the whole record sounded sweet and innocent through and through. 

Osmond, in his 1999 autobiography, writes of Rick Hall not getting a positive response from the older brothers about the song, then proposing a parallel recording career for Donny's "audience within an audience" with an alternate song strategy. "Sweet and Innocent," then, would launch this dual initiative, appearing on both the brothers' and Donny's debut LPs (with a slightly different mix including an extra guitar for Donny's). The upshot was that Osmonds concerts would need to cater to both audiences, to whatever secret chagrin the brothers may have harbored. The single climbed to #7, and disk jockey Jeff McKee has claimed credit for breaking it while at WRIT in Milwaukee.

The song first appeared as a laconic 1958 B-side for a different Big-ORoy Orbison, before he became a regular chart institutionwith different verse lyrics and a "Teenager in Love" feel. In the mouth of Osmond, the sentiment of passing on a girl because she's too "sweet and innocent" for the grizzled likes of him sound both cute and absurd, having the appeal of a child pretending to be an adult. But this was an appeal that enabled such bubblegum treats to cross over into easy listening chart territory, which most of Donny's future hits would do. The B-side, songwriter Kenny ("I Like Dreamin'") Nolan's "Flirtin'," was a brother-heavy track taken directly from the Osmonds LP featuring the line "I'm gonna get a rope and tie you down."

Here's a helpful key for you to compare the Sweet and Innocent album's versions with their originators (if a song's not here, then Donny or his brothers were the first to record it): "Sweet and Innocent" (Roy Orbison, 1958); "I'm Your Puppet" (James and Bobby Purify, 1966); "Hey Little Girl" (Dee Clark, 1959); "Don't Say No" (David and the Giants, 1970); "Lollipops, Lace and Lipstick" (Jimmy Gilreath, 1963, Jimmy Hughes also did it as a Fame label B-side for "Steal Away" in 1964, which got it on producer Rick Hall's radar); "Burning Bridges" (1970, The Mike Curb Congregation); and "Wake Up Little Susie" (Everly Brothers, 1957).

Side A: "Sweet and Innocent"

Side B: "Flirtin'"

The Osmonds - "Double Lovin'"

Written by George Jackson and Mickey Buckins * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "Double Lovin'" / "Chilly Winds" * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #14) * Entered: 1971-05-15

Co-written by "One Bad Apple" George Jackson, "Double Lovin'" also sounded like an ideal Jackson 5 offering, and followed a bubblegum trend of sexual double-entendre (cf. "Yummy Yummy Yummy," "Jam Up and Jelly Tight") disguised in chime-bell innocence. "I've got a double stroke of lovin' I've been dyin' to use on you," they sing, while elsewhere on the Homemade album ("The Honey Bee Song" written by Mickey Buckins) they use "King Bee" Slim Harpo metaphors ("if you want a taste of honey, you gotta get next to the bee"). A track off the Osmonds debut, "Find 'Em, Fool 'Em, Forget 'Em," anticipated this naughtiness by celebrating the traditional rock 'n' roll one night stand. Such messaging, however unintentional, indicated the perils of washing clean feet in dirty water. 

As is written in the Book of Donny, pg. 82: "...there weren't a few songs in our repertoire you could read something into if you were so inclined." He also says "my parents and my older brothers trusted Mike Curb to make decisions about our recordings," and the B-side of "Double Lovin'" demonstrates how far that trust could stretch. In some alternate timeline (Star Trek foreshadowing alert), the Osmonds’ “Chilly Winds,” with its folky arrangement, philosophical lyrics and gorgeous vocals (possibly their finest on record) would have been a stage show staple, right up there with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” In the less pleasant timeline we inhabit, though, the song is an embarrassing poison pill in the famous Mormon family’s history, something they were likely tricked into doing and have quite plausibly striven to block from memory.

Written by Lalo Schifrin and the pseudonymous conservative Curb (as M. Charles), it appeared as the theme for Roger Vadim’s 1971 movie Pretty Maids All in a Row, accompanying an opening sequence where a teenager (John David Carson) ogles his schoolmates. Cynically salacious, even by sexual revolution standards, the film barely escaped the era's qualifications for an X rating, depicting Rock Hudson as a high school counselor who has his way with female students (minors) before murdering them. Along the way, Angie Dickinson seduces Carson (a minor), while a pre-Kojak Telly Salavas, James Doohan (Star Trek's Scotty), and William Campbell (Star Trek character actor alumnus) do hapless police investigations.

The whole thing glows with inviting, vibrant Star Trek colors and associations, with production and screenplay credited to none other than Gene Roddenberry. John David Carson would later appear as the lead role in the Mormon church-funded short film John Baker’s Last Race (1976), contributing yet another bizarre angle to this nightmarish, mixed-moral matrix. An alternate, more upbeat version of the song plays during the closing credits, and Merrill's vocal feels wolfishly complicit in the events just witnessed. (He touches upon it in this 2015 video, indicating that he's made a sort of peace with the situation. It's wonderful to see and hear him singing it along with the audience.) 

On the Homemade LP the bubblegum-cum-country-soul method carries over, but with more seams showing. "Carrie," written by Merrill and Wayne, as well as Paul Williams's "She Makes Me Warm" do the era's Caribbean pop trend justice, while Alan and Merrill's "If You're Gonna Leave Me" sails with steel guitar poignancy. "Sho Would Be Nice" and "The Promised Land," though, tend to make the Muscle Shoals mandate feel problematic. Otherwise, the front and back cover images of streams, mountain farms, berry cake, and milk cows (the back of The Donny Osmond Album featured some of these, too) make an American heartlander's heart sing. They also express a certain solidarity with official dairy spokespeople the Cowsills. 

Side A: "Double Lovin'"

Side B: "Chilly Winds"

Donny Osmond - "Go Away Little Girl"

Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "Go Away Little Girl" / "The Wild Rover (Time to Ride)" * LP: To You With Love, Donny * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #1) (easy listening, #14) * Entered: 1971-08-07 (Hot 100); 1971-08-14 (easy listening)

In his Life Is Just What You Make It book, Donny Osmond tells of Elvis Presley regularly phoning Osmond matriarch Olive, whom he had seen as a surrogate mother figure. Another thing the family had in common with the King was costume designer Bill Belew, who first started working with Presley on his 1968 TV special and dressed him in the tricked out jumpsuits that the Osmonds would also adopt. Donny sports a first-rate one of these on his second LP, To You With Love, Donny, which also contained his biggest hit, "Go Away Little Girl." 

Written by the redoubtable team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the song had already hit the top of the charts in 1963 in the double-tracked voice of Steve Lawrence, then made an encore at #12 in '66 by the Happenings. The song presented Donny in gentler croon mode, which was more than his legions of never-going-away little girls could resist. It would be the first song ever to top the charts twice by different artists (only eight more would do the same), and would be Donny's first to reach the easy listening charts. After this success, the tactic of reviving pre-Beatle teen idol fare, whose innocence spoke to pre-teen girls and whose nostalgia factors pleased parents, would calcify as a Donny Osmond given. 

Side B was not a version of the old Irish folk song, but an original track by Hal David and M. Charles (the Mike Curb pseudonym) asking listeners to envision 13-year-old Donny as a mysterious, renegade biker and smuggler of women. It also called for young Donny, surprisingly, to sing higher than his normal range, which was saying something.

Originator key for To You With Love, Donny: "I Knew You When" (Billy Joe Royal, 1965), "Go Away Little Girl" (Steve Lawrence, 1962), "Sit Down, I Think I Love You" (Buffalo Springfield, 1967), "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (The Monkees, 1967), "Bye Bye Love" (Everly Brothers, 1957), "I'm Into Something Good" (Herman's Hermits, 1964).

Side A: "Go Away Little Girl"

Side B: "The Wild Rover (Time to Ride)"

The Osmonds - "Yo-Yo"

Written by Joe South * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "Yo-Yo" / "Keep on My Side" * LP: Phase III * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #3) * Entered: 1971-09-11

"Yo-Yo" is primo Osmonds and one of early '70s radio's giddiest delights. Written by Joe South (in his book, Donny credits it to Joe Simon, which is an honest ballpark mistake), the song first charted in 1966 for Billy Joe Royal, bubbling under at #117. The Osmonds' treatment would be the last charting hit by the brothers act to be produced by Rick Hall, who manufactured a seamless combo of country-soul and bubblegum vibes for it, then decorated it with human-voice calliopes. Those vocal arrangements, especially the Merrill-to-Donny vocal interplay, are at the quintessential level here, as are the horn arrangements by the Fame Gang's Harrison Calloway, Jr. Watching the brothers do it with their elastic dance moves on The Flip Wilson Show will help you get a sense of their appeal. (The animators of the 1972 Rankin/Bass Osmonds cartoon intro definitely watched that clip closely.) 

Someonepossibly Donny himself?felt an understandable inclination toward puppet-on-a-string metaphors such as "Yo-Yo." He'd recorded a rendition of James and Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet" for his debut LP, then did the Chairmen of the Board's "You've Got Me Dangling from a String" in 1977. The B-side contained a bouncy non-album track called "Keep on My Side" that wouldn't have harmed their strong, forthcoming Phase III album at all. Joe South recorded his own gritty version of "Yo-Yo" for his 1971 Joe South album, a collection of his takes on songs he'd written but that others had made famous.

Side A: "Yo-Yo"

Side B: "Keep on My Side"

Donny Osmond - "Hey Girl"

Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "Hey Girl" / "I Knew You When" * LP: Portrait of Donny * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #9) (easy listening, #21) * Entered: 1971-11-27 (Hot 100); 1971-12-04 (easy listening)

Donny Osmond - "I Knew You When"

Written by Joe South * Produced by Rick Hall * 45: "Hey Girl" / "I Knew You When" * LP: To You With Love, Donny * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #9) * Entered: 1971-11-27

Donny Osmond's third hit single came off as a tribute to the songwriters who brought them their most recent successes. "Hey Girl," like "Go Away Little Girl," was a top ten hit from 1963 written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King (peaking at #10 for Freddie Scott), while "I Knew You When" showcased the pen of Joe South, whose "Yo-Yo" had gone up to #3 for the brothers act. Billboard policy, at this time, listed both sides of a record in the Hot 100, like a two-for-one, if they were both receiving significant airplay.

"Hey Girl" is the more memorable of the two tracks, a sultry ballad that could work well as a medley with the Turtles' "You Showed Me," Three Dog Night's "Easy to Be Hard," and Dusty Springfield's "All Cried Out." "I Knew You When," which first appeared as a B-side on Billy Joe Royal's 1965 version of Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away," then on songwriter Joe South's 1969 Games People Play album, used an arrangement that sounded much more '63 than '71, which suits the song considering its inspirational debt to Bacharach and David's "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (or Ben E. King's "I (Who Have Nothing)," also '63). The single would be Donny's last chart offering to feature the production work of Rick Hall. 

Side A: "Hey Girl"

Side B: "I Knew You When"

The Osmonds - "Down By the Lazy River"

Written by Alan Osmond and Merrill Osmond * Produced by Alan Osmond and Michael Lloyd * 45: "Down By the Lazy River" / "He's the Light of the World" * LP: Phase III * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #4) UK (#40) * Entered: 1972-01-22 (Hot 100), 1972-03-25 (UK)

While Crazy Horses or The Plan vie for supremacy among O-Bros listeners, Phase III makes a forceful argument for being their pinnacle. This is because it functions as a fantasy rock and roll concert lineup with no Donny ballads, Little Jimmy intrusions, Merrill on banjo, or cornball banter. It's not a live album, but its cover images and energy encourage you to approach it like one, thereby putting in perspective just how much their variety show approach to concerts (as heard developing on their next album, Osmonds Live) compromised what might have been more of a rock fan's wince-free evening. 

"Down By the Lazy River," written by Alan and Merrill, opens the album and rivals "Yo-Yo" for being one of the era's most joyous pop singles. It spoke well of Alan, Wayne and Merrill's production smarts, as did "Business," "Don't Panic" (with the great "come on in, Merrill" fadeout), and Jay's "My Drum." In my Early 70's Radio book, I referred to that last song as a masturbation metaphor, which I apologize for on one hand, but remind you on the other that pop music is a dirty-minded medium, and its chroniclers can be the worst of the bunch. (Chuck Eddy's "Cactus-doing-Funkadelic" summation of "My Drum" in his Stairway to Hell book should otherwise suffice.) 

The ballad "In the Rest of My Life," with its true-to-life bridge ("everywhere I go I meet a million pretty women all wanting to be loved by me"), is a track by Doug Thaler, who played keyboards with Ronnie James Dio in his pre-Black Sabbath group Elf, and who would later manage Mötley Crüe. (The New York band Wool did a worthwhile version of the song in 1972.) Rick Hall's production on "Yo-Yo" and "A Taste of Rhythm and Blues" stand side by side as his final productions with the family. The Osmonds would thank him for his services after this and wave goodbye to Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The song "He's the Light of the World," written by Kay and Helen Lewis, comes from a 1971 rock opera called Truth of Truths, in the vein of Jesus Christ Superstar. This ambitious double album was headed up by Ray Ruff (who also co-produced the Osmonds' revamped version) and it tackled the Old and New Testaments. It also featured the voice, perhaps too recognizable for the role, of Jim "Mr. Magoo" Backus as God. (Donnie "Mission Bell" Brooks is the guest vocalist on the original "He's the Light of the World.")

Side A: "Down By the Lazy River"

Side B: "He's the Light of the World"

Donny Osmond - "Puppy Love"

Written by Paul Anka * Produced by Don Costa and Mike Curb * 45: "Puppy Love" / "Let My People Go" * LP: Portrait of Donny * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #3) UK (#1) * Entered: 1971-03-27 (Hot 100), 1972-06-17 (UK)

Portrait of Donny, his highest charting LP on Billboard at #6, gave fans of the Osmond family's charmed seventh son nothing less than what they wanted: A gorgeous cover, bonus photo inserts, and ballads that yearned, with the gentle musical touch of simpler times, for the attentions of young, romance-minded girls. 

"Puppy Love," the leadoff single, revived Paul Anka's 1960 hit and became a signature song for Donny, expressing his listeners' exact sentiments. The track would anathematize rock fans of the day, who would never understand the heartstring effect the acapella words "someone help me, help me, help me, please" had on the pop idol's people. It peaked at #3, just like Paul Anka's did, which is another little numerological tidbit that reminds us that Billboard's charts were not self-determining entities, but depended on editors. Along those lines, too, it's interesting that the highly nostalgic "Puppy Love" didn't make the easy listening charts at all.

At this stage, the team of Don Costa and Mike Curb were a standard presence at all of Donny's recording sessions and would also oversee Jimmy's. Costa was already a legendary music industry name, credited with discovering Paul Anka and producing classics for him such as "Diana," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "Lonely Boy" and more (but not "Puppy Love"!). He also did production and arrangement for Frank Sinatra, including Sinatra and Strings and My Way, with its famous title track. Curb and Costa's work with Donny as well as Sammy Davis Jr.'s "The Candy Man," that quintessential, emblematic and most metaphoric of early '70s pop hits, earned them Billboard's 1973 "producer of the year" honors.   

The "Puppy Love" single's B-side is the only non-romance song from the album, another Lewis Sisters Bible rock song from the Truth of Truths rock opera (the brothers had done "He's the Light of the World" for Phase III), which cast Donny as the Old Testament's Moses, foretelling his future tenure as the star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. The opera's creator Ray Ruff was brought in to co-produce this track the same way he had for the brothers' "He's the Light of the World."

The other out-of-sync track on Portrait of Donny was Alan, Merrill, and Michael Lloyd's "Love Me," which envisioned him singing for Chicago. The rest of the tracks, for better or worse, all fell into line. The record would be the first to appear on the family's new MGM subsidiary Kolob, with its distinctive hand-full-of-clay logo. The word comes from the Latter-Day Saint book of scripture The Pearl of Great Price, which references Kolob as a star nearest to the "residence of God."

Originator key: "Puppy Love" (Paul Anka, 1960), "Hey Girl" (Freddie Scott, 1963), "Going Going Gone (To Somebody Else)" (Storm, 1971 - Donny's version may of preceded this, but it was produced the same year by songwriter Larry Weiss),  "All I Have to Do Is Dream" (Everly Brothers, 1958), "Hey There Lonely Girl" (Eddie Holman, 1969), "Big Man" (The Four Preps, 1958), and "This Guy's in Love with You" (Herb Alpert, 1968).

Side A: "Puppy Love"

Side B: "Let My People Go"

Little Jimmy Osmond with the Mike Curb Congregation - "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool"

Written by Christopher Kingsley * Produced by Mike Curb and Perry Botkin, Jr. * 45: "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" / "Mother of Mine" * LP: Killer Joe * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #38), UK (#1) * Entered: 1972-04-22 (Hot 100); 1972-11-25 (UK)

Little Jimmy Osmond - "Mother of Mine"

Written by Bill Parkinson * Produced by Alan Osmond, Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" / "Mother of Mine" * LP: Killer Joe * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #101) UK (#1) * Entered: 1972-04-15 (Hot 100)

Children's voices populated early '70s more than in any other era, as did childhood topics. This had to do with American post-sixties cultural realignment and its reassessments of what "traditional family life" meant, which also helped explain, to some degree, the era's persistent pull of nostalgia. Jimmy Osmond, whose appeal had none of the romantic aspects of older brother Donny, found spotlight time in this new milieu simply by looking and sounding like a little kid. Donny reports that mother Olive had heard the song "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" on the radio (KMPC, no doubt, if it happened in LA) and thought it would be an ideal song for her youngest boy to record, proving her to have reliable show biz instincts.

"Long Haired Lover from Liverpool," in fact, had ties to Mike Curb, the man to whom the Osmond family had entrusted so many of their repertoire selections. The Texas songwriter Christopher Kingsley had released the song sometime around 1968 on the small California label Winro, and listed Mike Curb Music Corp. as co-publisher. By 1970, Curb's music business activities had expanded far beyond publishing to label management (at MGM) and recording. This was the year the Mike Curb Congregation, essentially a chorus tailor-made for the cheerful singsong sounds post-sixties pop audiences consented to, had their first hit ("Burning Bridges," #34) as a tie in for the WWII all-star-cast film Kelly's Heroes. 

After "Burning Bridges," the Mike Curb Congregation would bubble under with the maddeningly catchy song "Sweet Gingerbread Man" (#108, easy listening #16) from the teen sexploitation film The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, starring a young Don Johnson. In a year's time, this would be the first of two films Curb participated in that barely escaped an X-rating. The other was Roger Vadim's Pretty Maids All in a Row, for which the Congregation had test-run "Chilly Winds" before his Osmond protégés got the nod. On the B-side of the 1970 "Gingerbread" single was the Congregation's own version of "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool," which may well have been the version Mrs. Osmond had heard on the radio. (For completeness' sake: Mike Curb would co-produce and sing on Sammy Davis Jr.'s 1972 "Candy Man" single, which was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Newley had recently starred in the film Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), which did not escape an X-rating.) 

Released in March 1972 and barely reaching the US Top 40, Jimmy's rendition of "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" found its way later in the year to UK radio, which went bonkers for it. Sounding as it did like an old Drury Hill music hall standard, it sat atop the singles chart for five weeks and gained the distinction of being the year's Christmas #1 (that's a sentimental thing over there). It also gave Jimmy the crown of youngest singer (age 9) to ever top the British singles chart. Billed to "Little Jimmy Osmond featuring the Mike Curb Congregation," the record's success ensured a lifetime spot for both Jimmy and "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" in the live Osmond family cabaret. 

Side B of the record actually preceded "Long Haired Lover" on the US charts. It was a maudlin rendering, with double-tracked voice, of a song called "Mother of Mine," and it certainly nabbed the most eager airplay in anticipation of Mother's Day. The differences in the two songs, in any case, gave the product an aura of repentance, with randiness on one side and reverence on the other. To fully understand the appeal of "Mother of Mine," you'll need to hear it as sung by Scottish 12-year-old "Wee" Neil Reed, whose 1971 performance of it on the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks is a British cultural touchstone. Reid happens to be the youngest singer to ever top the UK album charts.

Killer Joe originator key: "Killer Joe" (The Rocky Fellers, 1963), "My Girl" (The Temptations, 1964), "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" (Elvis Presley, 1957), "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" (Christopher Kingsley, 1968), "Tweedlee Dee" (LaVern Baker, 1954), "Mother of Mine" (Neil Reed, 1971), "Rubber Ball" (Bobby Vee, 1960).

Side A: "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool"

Side B: "Mother of Mine"

Donny Osmond - "Too Young"

Written by Sid Lippmann and Sylvia Dee * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Too Young" / "Love Me" * LP: Too Young * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #13) (easy listening, #23) UK (#5) * Entered: 1972-06-10 (Hot 100), 1972-06-24 (easy listening), 1972-09-16 (UK)

The production team of Mike Curb and Don Costa knew what Donny Osmond's audience needed from him, and they saw that those needs got met. Song selections tilted toward the familiar regions of the 1950s and early 1960s (8 out of 10 on this one), which early 1970s ears had a predilection for. Arrangements kept just shy of the melodrama line and Donny never sounded insincere. His audiences were his for life, and cynical assessments of him as a commercial object tend not to take his inherent star power and ability to deliver the goods into account.

"Too Young" had been a hit for Nat King Cole in 1951 and it found an apropos second life in the Donny Osmond repertoire. Side B of the single contained the track "Love Me," from Portrait of Donny, which still sounded like an errant venture into horn rock (blood, sweat, tears and sugar).

Too Young originator key: "Donna" (Ritchie Valens, 1958), "Too Young" (Nat King Cole, 1951), "Pretty Blue Eyes" (Steve Lawrence, 1959), "Teenager in Love" (Dion and the Belmonts, 1959), "Lonely Boy" (Paul Anka, 1958), "Why" (Frankie Avalon, 1958), "Run to Him" (Bobby Vee, 1961), "Take Good Care of My Baby" (Bobby Vee, 1961).

Side A: "Too Young"

Side B: "Love Me"

The Osmonds  - "Hold Her Tight"

Written by Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond, and Wayne Osmond * Produced by Alan Osmond and Michael Lloyd * 45: "Hold Her Tight" / "Love Is" * LP: Crazy Horses * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #14) * Entered: 1972-07-01

According to Jay Osmond in his memoir Stages (2013), Led Zeppelin dropped in on the Osmond family at a London date during the height of Osmondmania. A "Stairway to Heaven" jam of some sort, according to Jay, took place. No footage apparently survives, nor does any clarification of whether it was a mid-concert happening or a backstage scenario. But a promo clip of the Osmonds doing "Hold Her Tight" helps to demonstrate the brothers' admiration for Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," with its memorable tribal drum rhythms-on-guitars intro.

"Hold Her Tight" was refreshingly heavy, with rumbling amps, bruising drums by Jay, and rasping caterwauls by Merrill. Horn arranger Jim Horn, too, had been given carte blanche. "Hold her like a baby," they wailed alongside fuzz and wah wah lead lines. The single came out in July and promised much loudness for the forthcoming Crazy Horses album in September. Co-producer Michael Lloyd, formerly of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, worked on Phase III and previous Donny sessions, and would help Alan shape the big sounds on the upcoming album. 

Alan, Wayne and Merrill's conversely un-noisy "Love Is" B-side, which was also part of the Phase III track list, builds on the type of sentiments making the cultural rounds thanks to the Love Story movie and a popular comic strip featuring two nude cherubs by Kim Casali. The brothers gave all of this a generous harps-and-oboes musical backdrop. 

Side A: "Hold Her Tight"

Side B: "Love Is"

Donny Osmond - "Why"

Written by Peter De Angelis and Robert P. Marcucci * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Why" / "Lonely Boy" LP: Too Young * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #13) (easy listening, #19) UK (#3) * Entered: 1972-08-26 (Hot 100), 1972-09-23 (easy listening), 1972-09-11 (UK)

Donny Osmond - "Lonely Boy"

Written by Paul Anka * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Why" / "Lonely Boy" * Label: MGM/Kolob * LP: Too Young * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #13) * Entered: 1972-09-16

"Why" was a chart-topper with an eminently hummable melody for teen idol Frankie Avalon in 1959, and it made for perfectly marketable material circa 1972. Shortly after release it was clear that the A side's easy going nature had a rival in the dynamic and more urgent B side, a version of Paul Anka's "Lonely Boy," which was also a chart-topper from 1959. Three weeks after it first entered the Hot 100, then, Billboard started treating the record as a double A side, finally peaking at #13. With this one, co-producer Don Costa was given the opportunity to produce two hit versions of the same song, having overseen Anka's original "Lonely Boy."

Side A: "Why"

Side B: "Lonely Boy"

Steve and Eydie Featuring the Osmonds - "We Can Make It Together"

Written by Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond and Wayne Osmond * Produced by Don Costa and Mike Curb * 45: "We Can Make It Together" / "E Fini" * LP: The World of Steve and Eydie * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #68) (easy listening, #7) * Entered: 1972-09-16 (Hot 100),  1972-08-26 (easy listening)

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme married in 1957, then carried on making records and show appearances as solo artists and as a duet. In all incarnations, they scored their biggest hits in the early '60s: Steve with the future Donny staple "Go Away Little Girl" (#1, 1962), Eydie with "Blame It on the Bossa Nova" (#7, 1963), and as a duet with "I Want to Stay" (#28, 1963; like "Go Away Little Girl," this was another Goffin-King track).

Throughout the rest of the '60s and into the '70s they kept a steady presence on both the easy listening charts and variety show TV. Eydie had a special knack with foreign language material, being able to maintain an aura of imprecise ethnicity. (Her father was Italian, her mother was Turkish, and they were both Sephardic Jews.) As signees to Mike Curb's MGM in the early '70s, they demonstrated this versatility on the couple's The World of Steve and Eydie, on which seven of its ten tracks feature a different foreign language (Italian, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Portuguese, Japanese, and German). Decidedly less exotic than Gorme, Jimmy Osmond can be commended for following a similar course with his own future multilingual career.

Among the three English-only offerings, the Osmond Brothers deserve kudos for composing and participating on "We Can Make It Together," the album's radio single and most contemporary-sounding one of the bunch. It showcases Alan, Wayne, and Merrill nearing the top of their songwriting game. This would be Steve and Eydie's last Hot 100 hit (#68, easy listening #7). The B-side, the Italian "E Fini," is a Mike Curb and Don Zarilli original not to be confused with Eydie's 1953 hit "Fini" (where she sings "we're fini! we're fini!" and which should have been covered by Nancy Sinatra.)

Side A: "We Can Make It Together"

Side B: "E Fini"

The Osmonds - "Crazy Horses"

Written by Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond, and Wayne Osmond * Produced by Alan Osmond and Michael Lloyd * 45: "Crazy Horses" / "That's My Girl" * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #7) UK (#2) * Entered: 1972-10-21 (Hot 100), 1972-11-07 (UK)

The Osmonds' Crazy Horses was their heaviest album and least controversial to rock audiences. The pre-teen voice contributions by Donny at this point were a thing of the past while the doctrinizings of The Plan were yet to make themselves manifest. It also had their best album cover, which Chuck Eddy, in his Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe (1991) described as "drug-crazed Electric Company rejects." Yes, the graphics did resemble the hip PBS show for preteens (which debuted in 1971) and also elements of the Yellow Submarine film (the Rankin/Bass Osmonds cartoon, incidentally, debuted the same month as Crazy Horses). Eddy ranks the album at #66.6 and (as translated and paraphrased from his papyrus's advanced rockpressperanto) expresses disbelief that a Utah Mormon family could rock so convincingly.

"Crazy Horses" was their wildest-sounding track to date (and, arguably, ever), with the kind of militant multi-guitar charge that sounded more like future Judas Priest than Jimmy Page. Jay's lead vocals and jungle drums betray a certain venting effect, a possible sense of redirected aggression that gives the record power. Its chart stampede peaked at #7 in the US and #2 in the UK, with its "cra-zy hor-ses" chant and simulated whinnies becoming instant soundbites.

The song joined the chorus of early '70s pop songs that expressed concern for the ecology. Back when Republicans pretended, at least, to care for such things, the Nixon Administration created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the same year that Earth Day became an official annual happening. "There's a message floating in the air, crazy horses riding everywhere," the Osmonds sang of these portentous, apocalyptic Book of Revelation figures. "There they go, what a show, smoking up the sky... If they keep on moving then it's all our fault." It was a strange time in which environmentally-conscious pop stars could also play a pro-GOP fundraiser the way they would do in October 1972. (MGM's Mike Curb was a budding right wing politico, and the Osmonds, with their upbringing in patriarchal authority, were the type of Utah Mormons who rooted for Republicanism as incontrovertibly as Bostonians rooted for the Red Sox.)

Co-produced by Alan Osmond and rock veteran Michael Lloyd, the Crazy Horses album demonstrates the brothers' proclivity for the Beatle brand of songcraft, the valuation of melody and flavor varieties that fueled the nascent power pop movement (Raspberries, Hudson Brothers, etc.). The album's rockers ("Utah," "Hold Her Tight," "Crazy Horses," "Hey Mr. Taxi," the Black Sabbath-like "Life Is Hard Enough Without Goodbyes"), its ballads ("Julie," "What Could It Be," "And You Love Me," and Alan's "Crazy Horses" B-side "That's My Girl"), and wild cards ("Girl," "We All Fall Down," and "The Big Finish") all cohere, nonetheless, in the language of a single rock band, a sense of unity that we'd only hear again on The Plan. One got the sense while listening that these time-strapped brothers somehow had all the time in the world, or at least permission, to experiment and grow within their own studio walls. It's clear that the post-Plan Osmonds went lacking in such time, freedom, or something else.

Always adored in the United Kingdom (the land of their family roots) more than anywhere else, the Osmonds would see a version of "Crazy Horses," remixed by the aptly-named British electronic group Utah Saints, chart at #50 over there in 1995, then resurface at #34 in 1999, thanks to its inclusion in a Virgin Atlantic Airlines ad campaign. 

Side A: "Crazy Horses"

Side B: "That's My Girl"

Little Jimmy Osmond - "Tweedlee Dee"

Written by Winfield Scott * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Tweedlee Dee" / "Mama'd Know What to Do" * LP: Killer Joe * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #59) UK (#4) * Entered: 1973-01-13 (Hot 100); 1973-03-31 (UK)

Little Jimmy Osmond's Killer Joe album took its title from a sassy 1963 hit by a young Filipino quartet called the Rocky Fellers. Having been taken under the wing of Scepter Records, their disc had a New York street sound and subject, which was influential dance instructor "Killer Joe" Piro. Fluteness and cuteness dominate Jimmy's version, and the album generally follows suit. Five of the ten songs update well-known 50s/60s tunes, three are about Mom (2) and Dad (1), with the other two being his UK smash "Long Haired Lover from Liverpool" and a supposition that "Little Girls Are Fun." 

His followup single to "Liverpool" was a version of LaVern Baker's classic 1954 hit "Tweedlee Dee," written by Winfield Scott (a frequent collaborator with Otis Blackwell). Scott must have liked the song "Brazil," the 1939 composition from the eponymous South American country that Americans began humming after it appeared in the 1942 Disney film Saludos Amigos. The bouncy rhythms, silly words, and gruff, commanding delivery by Baker made for an irresistible candidate for airplay. (Texas radio personality Cactus Pryor did a parody in 1955.) 

Jimmy's "Tweedlee Dee" underperformed in the US at #59, but in Osmond-crazy England it bobbled up to #4. Flutes led the charge on this one too, with Mike Curb's Congregation on background chaperone duty while young Osmond Number Nine hammed it up with memorable growls. Its aural congeniality shimmered with the same cinematic surrealism as "The Candy Man." As with the previous single, a "mother" song does penance on side B for the crazy horseplay on side A. Written by Don Costa associate Phil Zeller, its R&B-vibe title mismatches its Italian Festival ballad sound and "Fly Me to the Moon" chord changes. After this, Jimmy's US chart days were done, but he'd reach the UK charts twice more in '74.

Side A: "Tweedlee Dee"

Side B: "Mama'd Know What to Do"

Donny Osmond - "The Twelfth of Never"

Written by Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "The Twelfth of Never" / "Life Is Just What You Make It" * LP: Alone Together * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #8) (easy listening, #7) UK (#1) * Entered: 1973-03-03 (Hot 100), 1973-03-17 (easy listening), 1973-03-10 (UK)

By March 1973, 15-year-old Donny's voice change was a done deal, and he weathered the changes smoothly, professional that he was. Keys were adjusted accordingly for the Alone Together album, which had the highest ratio yet of original material. Only three of its ten songs had been heard elsewhere first, with five of them written by combinations of Alan, Wayne and Merrill, who were on a creative roll between '72 and '74. The leadoff single, though, was a version of Johnny Mathis's 1957 Top Ten ballad "The Twelfth of Never," the Great American Songbook-level standard by Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster.

Side B contained a bouncy Alan and Merrill cut, produced by Alan, that also served as a worthy album opener. Donny would borrow the title for his 1999 autobiography. It's a clear standout, next to Alan's Nilsson-esque "It's Hard to Say Goodbye."

Side A: "The Twelfth of Never" 

Side B: "Life Is Just What You Make It"

The Osmonds - "Goin' Home"

Written by Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond, and Wayne Osmond * Produced by Alan Osmond * 45: "Goin' Home" / "Are You Up There?" * LP: The Plan * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #36), UK (#4)* Entered: 1973-06-16 (Hot 100), 1973-07-14 (UK)

In the God-rock era of "Spirit in the Sky," Jesus Christ Superstar, "My Sweet Lord" and Larry Norman, it was inevitable that the maturing pop idol Osmonds would get in the game. Their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with its tight moral standards, was a persistent enough press topic that the brothers felt it time to roll out a concept album touching upon their core beliefs. They had also developed enough skill and confidence in their own song- and studiocraft to do such a project justice. Alan's original Plan album plan burned up in a Memphis hotel fire in July 1972 (along with their full array of jumpsuits), which gave the brothers' redraft effort an added sense of must-do.

The Osmond family's Mormon roots ran deep. The grandfather of Osmond patriarch George Osmond, also named George, converted to the religion as one of the church's earliest proselytes in England. He then migrated to the US, with no uncertain personal sacrifice, and involved himself for the rest of his life in church leadership. Such blood memory has a powerful effect on Mormon families and the Osmonds were no exception. That the brothers chose the summer of '73 to unveil an album that would pay tribute to their fathers' faith was fortuitous in that they were at their most adept, most confident, and least distracted by new marriage and family scenarios that would characterize their immediate future.

Considering tendencies in the context of their entire catalog, The Plan was a miracle of self-assured understatement. The cover, against a plain white backdrop, depicted their visages in pencil-drawn elegance, minus any Bill Belew costumes. The gatefold included an overleaf with lyrics on one side and, on the other, a montage of moody illustrations depicting the stages of a family-centered life. At the top right appeared the phrase "As man is, God once wasas God is, man may become," which were familiar words to Latter-Day Saints written by church president Lorenzo Snow (d. 1901) as a paraphrase of doctrines taught by church founder Joseph Smith. The back cover showed the clay-in-hand logo of their Kolob subsidiary label, confirming its symbolic import.

Being in the spotlight as they were, the Osmonds had a firm clay-in-hand grasp on the basic message of their religion, which was what Mormons knew as the "plan of salvation." This was the process of "going home"living life on earth in a way that gives us humans knowledge and credentials to progress and get back to our heavenly, god-like origins. It was, in essence, the introductory message given by LDS missionaries, with explorations of what constituted proper "knowledge" to come later. To followers of any religious creed, the Osmonds' message was entirely palatable and not unrecognizable.

Considering their exposure to the praise-God musical pageantry of rock operas like Ray Ruff's Truth of Truths, from which the family covered two tracks ("He's the Light of the World" and "Let My People Go," co-produced by Ruff himself), the Osmonds might have mimicked such stagey musical idioms. Instead, they pursued their own studio-bound vision of a rock concept album. It starts with the "War in Heaven," which fades in with mystical twinkles and the words of Jesus ("let me take care of you and keep an eye on you") and Satan ("gonna tame you, make you mind"), then progresses into the pensive "Before the Beginning," which features that most Mormon of all sounds: the crying of a baby. These openers reflect the twist on John Milton's depiction of the two key figures in Paradise Lost that's more in line with the Book of Moses from The Pearl of Great Price (the same volume that references Kolob), wherein Satan's rebelliousness is clarified as a power-hungry hostility toward free agency.

After this, The Plan is all about the importance of choosing correctly. Although we will struggle with confusion (as heard in the heavy "Traffic in My Mind," the central soliloquy "Are You Up There," and in "One Way Ticket to Anywhere"), and suffer consequences (the disturbing "Mr. Kite" tribute "Movie Man," "Mirror Mirror," and the apocalyptic "The Last Days," wherein the US Constitution is given implication as a scriptural factor), we will, happily, also maintain the ability to get access to God ("Let Me In", "It's Alright," and "Darlin'"). For this last category, they treated God in the lyrical form of a romantic interest, but so did St. John of the Cross and Kabir.

The music traveled, as concept albums will do, through a variety of styles, from ballads to Beatle quotes and quirks to big heavy rock. (They'd never, in fact, rock so hard again after "The Last Days," except for on Brainstorm's "Gotta Get Love" (1976).) Segues kept the journey notion in mind, with the most memorable being a boldly unfashionable Eagles refutation: "Don't take it too easy." The album's first single was also its closer, a track that's as hopeful and sugary as the best bubblegum from both Super K and Circle K. But as it fades out, the Osmonds leave us with a replay of that most sobering of segues: Don't take it too easy. None of the era's jean patches or bumper stickers ever bore those words.

Critical weigh-ins were impressed, as they should have been with an album of such tonal consistency. The New Musical Express in the UK floated it as the "Osmonds' Sgt. Pepper" and Billboard praised it as a "spectacular production" with "songs questioning and analyzing one's life" that were strengthened by "sterling sweetening." The hip American rock press mostly ignored it. Zoo World's Toby Mamis, though, a Phase III-ist who didn't like The Plan or its "propagandistic" nature (pointing to Live as evidence that their showstheir bread and butterwere "among the best in rock 'n' roll history"), declared they had nonetheless "earned their stripes" and deserved critical leeway to experiment and grow. Some LDS church authorities revealed discomfort, with one of them, as Michael Hicks tells us in Mormonism and Music (1989), summing up the album as "celestial truths in terrestrial garb." Donny, whose participation in it is surprisingly hard to discern, writes that as far as his family is concerned, The Plan was the "project that still means the most to all of us."

Donny also admits that they likely "miscalculated" their audience's readiness for a "serious" album from them "on any subject." It was, indeed, their only album during the Osmondmania years not to earn a gold record, and the Billboard singles chart waved the red flag on both "Goin' Home" and "Let Me In" at #36, even though they both went Top 5 in the UK.

Side B of the "Goin' Home" single contained "Are You Up There?" which, as the album's midpoint, is possibly its keynote moment. The brothers would turn the song into a poignant closer for their live shows as a medley with "I Believe" (see Donny's "When I Fall in Love" below), with all five of them singing Merrill's lead line together. Although a promo clip of this recording, as done in the mid-70s, exists, an official release of the recording apparently does not.

Side A: "Goin' Home"

Side B: "Are You Up There?"

Donny Osmond - "Young Love"

Written by Carole Joyner and Ric Cartey * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Young Love" / "A Million to One" * LP: Alone Together * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #25) (easy listening, #26) * Entered: 1973-07-14 (Hot 100), 1973-07-21  (easy listening), 1973-08-18 (UK)

Donny Osmond - "A Million to One"

Written by Phil Medley * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * 45: "Young Love" / "A Million to One" * LP: A Time for Us * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #23) * Entered: 1973-07-21

"Young Love" was first recorded by co-writer Ric Cartey with his group the Jiva-Tones in 1956. Later that year Sonny James released a version that would become a number one country hit, soon to be superseded by teen idol Tab Hunter, who took it to number one on the pop charts as his first charting single. It was a happy-go-lucky, hooky song that was hard to go wrong with, and quite a few other versions came out before Donny, who had included it on his Alone Together album, turned it into a 1973 Top 40 hit. (The Crew-Cuts raced with Hunter in early '57 but conked out at #17. Lesley Gore, Connie Smith, and Nat Stuckey, to name a few, also did versions later on.) Sonny James, incidentally, was working with Marie Osmond, at that moment, on her forthcoming debut album.

Radio interest in the B-side turned the "Young Love" record into a double A-side. "A Million to One" had been a piano-triplet sock-hop hit for Jimmy Charles and the Revelletts that reached #5 in 1960, and for the nostalgic American public, who would soon be graced in the late summer by the American Graffiti film, the song had a welcome slot on radio playlists. Billboard had gone back to listing double-A sides separately at that point, so the B-side outpaced "Young Love" by two notches.

Side A: "Young Love"

Side B: "A Million to One"

The Osmonds - "Let Me In"

Written by Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond, and Wayne Osmond * Produced by Alan Osmond * 45: "Let Me In" / "One Way Ticket to Anywhere" * LP: The Plan * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #36),(easy listening, #4), UK (#2) * Entered: 1973-09-08 (Hot 100), 1973-09-15 (easy listening), 1973-10-27 (UK)

The Osmond brothers' "Let Me In" served as both a romantic radio ballad and a religious devotional that fit the conceptual arc of the Plan album. Its prominent horn parts likely served as audio signifiers to many an LDS listener, given to visual representations of angelssuch as the one on the spire of the Salt Lake City templeas figures bearing fanfare trumpets. Although the track barely cracked the US Top 40, easy listening stations ate it up as did British radio. "One Way Ticket to Anywhere," on side B, featured a lead vocal by drummer Jay and framed the album's free agency angle in refreshingly joyous terms. It could easily have flown as an A side.

The Plan would mark the end of a distinct era for the Osmonds. Many factors in their professional world would be changing and putting the squeeze, especially, on the brother act's creative pursuits.  

Side A: "Let Me In"

Side B: "One Way Ticket to Anywhere"

Marie Osmond - "Paper Roses"

Written by Fred Speilman and Janice Torre * Produced by Sonny James * 45: "Paper Roses" / "Least of All You" * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #5) (Country, #1) (easy listening, #1) (UK, #2) * Entered: 1973-09-15 (Hot 100 and easy listening) 1973-09-29 (country) 1973-11-17 (UK)

Marie Osmond, the sole sister of eight brothers, launched her recording career last of all, at age fourteen. Her taste for country made the marketing strategy in that direction an easy decision. Sonny James, who had scored sixteen straight country number ones as an artist between 1967 and 1971, stepped forward as her debut album's producer and oversaw her entry into the country arena.

The album, with a cover image of her looking unperturbed even unimpressed, as one might have expected the young sister of a brother circus to appearcontained five out of ten songs previously done by James himself. "Paper Roses," the biggest hit song for Anita Bryant (#5 in 1960), was chosen as Marie's lead off single. Although her vocal performance on the track can't be described as dynamic, it became her signature song, a smash hit at #5 on the pop charts that also gave her the distinction as the youngest female singer to debut at #1 on the country charts. (It also helped her snag two Grammys, for Best New Artist and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.) After this, Marie not only assured herself a spot in the family's ever-expanding act, but also launched herself, unintimidated, into a lifetime in the limelight.

Side B of the single, "Least of All You," was a non-charting song co-written, and previously recorded in 1964, by producer Sonny James, joining Rick Hall as another benevolent Alabaman in the Osmond family saga.

Side A: "Paper Roses"

Side B: "Least of All You"

Donny Osmond - "When I Fall in Love"

Written by Edward Heyman and Victor Young * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * Arranged by Don Costa * 45: "Are You Lonesome Tonight" / "When I Fall in Love" * LP: A Time for Us * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #55) (easy listening, #31) UK (#4) * Entered: 1973-11-24 (Hot 100) 1972-12-08 (easy listening) 1973-11-10 (UK) 

Donny Osmond - "Are You Lonesome Tonight"

Written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * Arranged by Don Costa * 45: "Are You Lonesome Tonight" / "When I Fall in Love" * LP: A Time for Us * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #14) (easy listening, #31) * Entered: 1973-11-24 (Hot 100) 1973-12-08 (easy listening)

Because the Donny Osmond album factory abided very little downtime, it manufactured a sixth album for his hungry audience by November 1973. It presented him in a field of daisies that were lovely and numerous, but nowhere near as numerous as those who loved him worldwide. "A Million to One" had already taken flight on the radio during the summer (as the "Young Love" B-side), so up next was another double-sided hit. Side A contained his iteration with full middle recitation of the Elvis classic "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (which actually goes back to the crackly shellac days of 1926). The lower-charting tagalong B-side was "When I Fall in Love," which dated back to 1952 and had been done by numerous artists, including fellow LDS chart makers the Lettermen in 1961. (On the easy listening charts and in the UK, however, "When I Fall in Love" was treated as the A-side.)

Strangely, no Osmond brothers contributed a song to A Time for Us, which was a strict ballads-only affair. Don Costa's easy listening arrangements indicated zero concern for pop radio, and it would be his lowest-as-yet album charter at #58 (a 32-notch drop from Alone Together). Only one song, the Costa-Gloria Caldwell co-write "A Boy Is Waiting" appeared here as a first timer.

Here's a quick origin rundown of the others: "A Time for Us" (young Romeo sings the Romeo and Juliet theme with revamped lyrics made famous by Johnny Mathis and family mentor Andy Williams); "Hawaiian Wedding Song" (an old 1926 piece made famous as a 1958 hit by Williams, and also recorded by family friend Elvis); "I Believe" (a 1953 Frankie Laine Korean War hit usually done by the brothers act as a medley with "Are You Up There?" and likely an inspiration for the song in the Book of Mormon musical); "Guess Who" (Jesse Belvin, 1959); "Young and in Love" (Dick and Dee Dee, 1963); and "Unchained Melody" (a 1952 movie theme for Unchained, then recorded by everyone but most closely associated with the 1965 Righteous Brothers). 

Side A: "Are You Lonesome Tonight"

Side B: "When I Fall in Love"

Jimmy Osmond - "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door"

Written by Aaron Schroder and Sid Wayne * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * Arranged by Don Costa * 45: "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door" / "Give Me a Good Ole Mammy Song" * LP: Little Arrows * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: UK (#11) * Entered: 1974-03-23

Although a new Jimmy Osmond album wouldn't turn up until 1975, two singles during 1974 satisfied his fans, the majority of which were over in England. "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door" made sense as a cover choice since it had been a 1961 hit (#12) for 14-year-old Eddie Hodges (of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn movie and The Music Man, for which he was a soundtrack LP cast member). The Isley Brothers had introduced the song in 1959, and both of those earlier versions relied on the noisemaking possibilities of door-knocking and bell-ringing. Curiously, Jimmy's record ignored such novelties, letting the Wurlitzer piano see him through. A non-charter in the US, it performed respectably in the UK at #11.

According to the tradition of his previous two singles, Jimmy devoted side B to Mother, with the "Mammy" title toying uncomfortably with Al Jolson blackface territory. But that word and the Vaudevillian sound is as close as it ever got. Pop culture's hunger for nostalgia had been stretching out to the pre-1950s, with music in films such as Paper Moon and The Sting (both 1973) catching the public's ear. Even before their TV variety show took off, Tony Orlando and Dawn relied heavily on the hat-and-cane vibes of yesteryear, and "Give Me a Good Old Mammy Song" seemed to have the New Ragtime Follies trio's names all over it. It literally did, actually, as part of the tracklist on their 1974 Prime Time album. The song came from the songwriting imaginations of Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown, who'd also conjured up the American schlager offerings "Knock Three Times" (another noisy knock-knock song) and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree."  

Side A: "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door"

Side B: "Give Me a Good Old Mammy Song"

Donny and Marie Osmond - "I'm Leaving It All Up to You"

Written by Dewey Terry, Jr. and Don Harris * Produced by Mike Curb * 45: "I'm Leaving It (All) Up to You" / "The Umbrella Song" * LP: I'm Leaving It All Up to You * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #7) (easy listening, #1) (country, #17), UK (#2) * Entered: 1974-07-06 (Hot 100), 1974-08-31 (country) 1974-07-24 (easy listening), 1974-08-03 (UK)

Before Donny and Marie: The ABC-TV Variety Show, there was Donny and Marie: The Brother-Sister Recording Act. With only so much time reserved to enjoy the success of her "Paper Roses," Marie found herself back in the studio to give a duet with Donny a try, wherein Marie could hit those high parts that Donny once managed. The well-blended sound and appealing visual presentation of the two heartthrob siblings proved impossible not to pursue. The experiment resulted in handsome record sales and a crossover radio bonanza involving pop, easy listening, and country.

Their leadoff single, which would be their biggest as a duo, had been a 1963 number one with a distinctive Louisiana vibe: "I'm Leaving It Up to You" by Dale (Houston) and Grace (Broussard). Those two were not a brother-sister act, but a professional one that parted ways in 1965. Donny and Marie's version of the song would sensibly add "all" to the title (sometimes in parentheses) to the version that would justify their forthcoming advance as an American '70s entertainment institution, one that would overshadow all previous Osmond projects.

As the television fixtures they would become in 1975, Donny and Marie would have the unique duty of delivering romance-heavy material, often looking deeply into each other's eyes, while viewers had the unique duty of remembering they were actually just brother and sister. Were there any brother and sister acts as dominant as these two? Nino Tempo and April Stevens (who had done an early '60s version of "Deep Purple") came close, but nowhere near.

Side B contained "The Umbrella Song," a ballad by Michael Lloyd, frequent co-producer of previous Osmond projects, about economically mismatched lovers, the same topic on Donny and Marie's "Morning Side of the Mountain." As a member of the short lived studio rock band The Smoke, Lloyd had also done a song called "Umbrella," but it wasn't the same one. Four songs on the I'm Leaving It All Up to You album were first-timers: Mike Curb's "Take Me Back Again" and "A Day Late and a Dollar Short" (co-written by Mack David and sounding like something Jim Reeves could have done), "Everything Good Reminds Me of You" (by Harley Hatcher, who had scored a 1968 film called Satan's Sadists starring Russ Tamblyn, who'd grown up LDS), and "The Umbrella Song" (see above). No Osmond brother compositions made an appearance.

The rest originated as follows: "Gone" (Ferlin Husky, a 1957 #1; also a #24 single by Joey Heatherton in 1972); "Morning Side of the Mountain" (Tommy Edwards with two charting versions in 1951 and 1957 and also Merv Griffin with a 1951 non-charter); "True Love" (a Cole Porter song introduced by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in High Society (1956)); "It Takes Two" (Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, 1966); and "Let It Be Me" (Gilbert Bécaud in 1955 as "Je t'appartiens," later popularized by the Everly Brothers in English in 1959 (#7), Betty Everett and Jerry Butler in 1964 (#4), and many others.)

Side A: "I'm Leaving It All Up to You"

Side B: "The Umbrella Song"

The Osmonds - "Love Me for a Reason"

Written by Johnny Bristol, Wade Brown, Jr., and David Jones, Jr. * Produced by Mike Curb * LP: Love Me for a Reason * 45: "Love Me for a Reason" / "Fever" * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #10) (easy listening, #2) UK (#1) * Entered: 1974-08-31 (Hot 100), 1974-09-07 (easy listening), 1974-08-24 (UK)

The Love Me for a Reason album marked a new era for the Osmond brothers, one characterized by a drop in creative ambition and ebbing popularity. The cover image seemed to say "so much for The Plan, it's time for The Mack," and the sight of them dressed up in those incongruous Bill Belew pimp outfits so soon after they seemed to have gotten comfortable with who they were exuded a certain sadness. The Plan, though, had peaked at a disappointing #58 on the Billboard album charts, which undoubtedly yanked the commercial-anxiety lever. That said, the new album's focus on contemporary soul sounds was hardly a liability, and they were in good hands with arranger H.B. Barnum.

Only one song out of the new album's eleven, their "Sun, Sun, Sun" (which featured a growling Jay Osmond monster voice possibly inspired by Bread's "I Don't Love You") came from the Alan, Merrill and Wayne songwriting division. They also rolled the producer's chair over to Mike Curb, so he could take the commercial heat this time around. Curb, whose Congregation act once sang "Nixon Now (More Than Ever)" for the recently resigned U.S. President, also faced a new phase. With MGM now under the ownership of Polygram, he was refocusing his attentions on his Curb label, providing less direct guidance over the Osmond family save for a number of returns as producer.

Marriage and family distractions also factored, most likely, into this album's too many cooks nature and the brothers' future course. Merrill married in September 1973, Alan in June 1974, and Wayne was on the docket for December 1974. These realities would influence their eventual surrender to the demands of the Donny and Marie show and, later in the decade, the family's surprising decision to raise up a TV studio in the middle of Utah farm country.

The Love Me for a Reason album placed higher than The Plan, but only just, peaking at #47. The title track, though, made it to #10 on the singles chart and #1 in the UK, which was more like what they'd been used to. The song was co-written by fellow MGM artist Johnny Bristol, who also included his own version of it on his Hang On In There Baby debut LP, released around the same time as the Osmonds' Love Me for a Reason. It was an ideal ballad for the Osmonds to do on stage in that five-in-a-row soul vocal group style so much in fashion. The song, too, sounded like something the Stylistics could have done. (It might be the only pop song with "facsimile" in its lyrics, a word that figures prominently in the Pearl of Great Price's Book of Abraham, which contains a "Detail of Facsimile No. 2" wherein the star of Kolob, that great celestial Easter egg, appears.)

The year of 1974 was a big one for the album's arranger H.B. Barnum, who also co-wrote three memorable songs on the album: "Havin' a Party" (a #28 hit for them in 1975) depicting a bash as harmless as the one in Sam Cooke's "Having a Party," but most assuredly with no Cokes in the icebox, and one which finds our young adult heroes, some of them even married, still worried about getting busted by their folks; "The Girl I Love," which sounded like lost Rare Earth material; and the Garden of Eden-centered "Peace." In addition, Barnum served as arranger on that Johnny Bristol Hang on In There Baby album (its title track sounding like something Barry White would have approved of) and it reached #8. Because "Love Me for a Reason" appeared on both albums, Barnum had the unique position of having done two arrangements for versions of the same song released concurrently.

Compared to the previous two Osmonds records, Love Me for a Reason involved the voice of Donny, especially, as well as the others', a bit more prominently. A good example was the lead off single's B-side "Fever," written by veteran songwriter Denny Randell and future "Get Dancin'" Sex-o-Lette Letty Jo Randell. Other songs on the album included the following: a worthwhile redo of the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next to You," which had been part of the earlier "Motown Medley" (they all sing their hearts out); a previously unknown song by Solomon Burke called "Send a Little Love," which was recorded by his offspring act Sons and Daughters of Solomon for MGM but never issued, and which jumps out on the Osmonds record sounding every bit as hit-worthy as Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World"; "Gabrielle," a Four Tops "Bernadette" knock-off also written by the Randells; "Ballin' the Jack," a party dance revamp of the 1913 Ziegfeld Follies song; and a number by Gary Dalton and Kent Dubarri (of the duo Dalton and Dubarri) called "I Can See Love in You and Me," which sounds like an order placed via the Spinners catalog.

To hear and see how a good portion of the songs on the Love Me for a Reason came alive for the Osmonds and cohered with their onstage family cabaret, including H.B. Barnum himself as conductor, watch their series of five simultaneous UK television specials from August 1974. 

Included here as a special bonus is the 1975 UK single for "Havin' a Party." While the A-side had appeared on Love Me for a Reason, the B-side was a song called "Wanted," which has never appeared on any album or anywhere else in the US and which had a 1975 copyright. It's a song sung by Wayne and guess what? It's one of their best. It moves back and forth between "Crazy Horses" rock and mid-seventies dreaminess and has a sublime-sounding guitar solo. Considering songs like "Wanted" that Wayne had more prominence in, and seeing his role as lead guitarist in various videos, it appears that he took quite a few, maybe more than we realize, for the team.

The difference between this strong track and the weak 1975 Proud One album is staggering. The "Crazy Wayne" joke-teller stage role he filled for the rest of their years possibly masked a frustrated penchant for interesting musical expression. The scene in the bio drama Inside the Osmonds (2001), where the otherwise quiet soldier Wayne, dressed as a crab for the Donny and Marie show, tells Merrill that his chances for a legitimate recording career had officially been dashed, might be one of its truest moments. If the family's perception of commercial expediency buried additional tracks like this, that's a very sad thing. 

Side A: "Love Me for a Reason"

Side B: "Fever"


Side A: "Havin' a Party"

Side B (UK): "Wanted"

Marie Osmond - "In My Little Corner of the World"

Written by Bob Hilliard and Lee Pockriss * Produced by Sonny James * 45: "In My Little Corner of the World" / "It's Just the Other Way Around" * LP: In My Little Corner of the World * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #102) (country, #33) * Entered: 1974-09-21 (Hot 100) 1974-09-28 (county)

Sonny James's approach for Marie Osmond's second album was to choose another Anita Bryant hit for her to cover as the leadoff single. "My Little Corner of the World," a 1960 pop top ten for Bryant, with the otherworldly orchestration unique to that era and featuring a particularly disciplined and confident vocal by her, got the nod. Marie's late '74 version, as a single and album title track, contained an additional "In" up front and a vocal less assured than Bryant's. Osmond saturation probably didn't help its chances much and, in spite of its appealing contemporary country arrangement, it underperformed, stalling at #33 in country and only bubbling under in pop. Two more things: 1) Yo La Tengo would give "My Little Corner of the World" the introverted indie treatment in 1997, thumbing their noses at vocal assuredness; and 2) three years after Marie's record, Bryant would emerge as the notoriously outspoken anti-gay activist that would becloud her musical reputation.

Other tracks on the album include two by James ("Big Hurts Can Come (From Little White Lies)" and "True Love's a Blessing") and the country classics "Crazy Arms" (Ray Price), "I Love You Because" (Leon Payne), "Singing the Blues" (Marty Robbins), "I Love You So Much It Hurts" (Floyd Tilman), and "Invisible Tears" (Ned Miller). Rounding them off were a new song by Harry Seeberg and Ronald C. Meyers called "It's Just the Other Way Around" (also the single's B side) and a version of Connie Francis's 1960 "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" minus baseball game organ. Francis would be the emulatee for Osmond's third, even lower performing, and final album with James, Who's Sorry Now (1975). Marie's chart performances would get progressively lower and lower and, in spite of her high TV exposure, she'd fade from them altogether from 1977 to 1982. Her country career, though, would get a strong reboot in 1985. 

Side A: "In My Little Corner of the World"

Side B: "It's Just the Other Way Around"

Jimmy Osmond - "Little Arrows" (UK Bonus)

Written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood * Produced by Mike Curb and Michael Lloyd * 45: "Little Arrows" / "Don't You Remember" * LP: Little Arrows (1975) * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: UK (#54) * Entered: 1974-11-02? (UK)

Eleven-year-old Jimmy Osmond (minus Little at this juncture) released his second single of 1974, "Little Arrows," in November. This borderline novelty song, co-written by Albert Hammond ("It Never Rains in Southern California"), had been a 1968 #16 hit for British one-hit wonder Leapy Lee. Jimmy's version bypasses that record's main hook and gimmick, which is Leapy's voice jumping up an octave for the words "you're falling in love again," probably because the Jimmy bird already perched on that upper branch.

Side B contained a jaunty schoolboy crush track by Alan, Wayne and Merrill (co-produced by Alan and Michael Lloyd) driven by a chipper wooden flute, the kind of thing Davy Jones would have done the Charleston-lite to. Songs like this should be intolerable but it maintains its charm. Not all British chart archives list "Little Arrows," but since the ones that do agree on position and entry date, it's here. This would be it for Jimmy on the US and UK singles charts, and the 1975 Little Arrows album would sail past the target's outer ring. As a teenager, though, he'd pursue a resourceful multilingual recording career, with Japan as his main sushi and soba.

Side A: "Little Arrows"

Side B: "Don't You Remember"

Donny Osmond - "Where Did All the Good Times Go" (UK Bonus)

Written by Michael Lloyd * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * Arranged by Mike Costa * 45: "Where Did All the Good Times Go" / "I'm Dyin" * LP: Donny * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: UK (#18) * Entered: 1974-11-09 (UK)

Donny Osmond - "I Have a Dream" (US 1975 Bonus)

Written by Solomon Burke * Produced by Mike Curb and Don Costa * Arranged by Don Costa * 45: "I Have a Dream" / "I'm Dyin'" * LP: Donny * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #50) (easy listening, #45) * Entered: 1975-02-15 (Hot 100), 1975-03-01 (easy listening)

The 1975 Donny album lists "The Osmonds" as executive producers, possibly indicating Mike Curb's fading attentions. One of two standout tracks here is "I'm Dyin'" (pronounced as "dyun'," Utah style — hear that regional "ing" quirk in "The Proud One" and many others), written by Alan, Merrill and Wayne and produced by Alan and Michael Lloyd. As the album's 8th track (out of ten), it feels like a lightened load, devoid of sweeping orchestral intros and the doubled-up vocal leads. It wasn't fair to Donny for Curb and Costa to do that to his voice so often, and this song shows why.

The other keeper on the album is the closer, his version of Solomon Burke's "I Have a Dream," the kind of stirring track everybody should try. (Burke's record includes sound bites from Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech; the track created for Donny here is one that '70s Elvis would have adored.) This would be Donny's U.S. single from the album, reaching #50 on the Hot 100 and #45 on easy listening. The U.K. single would be Michael Lloyd's stab at the era's en vogue "Seasons in the Sun"-style Euro chanson balladry called "Where Did All the Good Times Go," which went to #18 and would be, surprisingly, Donny's last charting single out there until 1987. Both singles contained "I'm Dyin'" as the B-side.

The others: "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (Hank Williams, 1949); What's He Doing in My World" (Eddy Arnold, 1965); "Sixteen Candles" (The Crests, 1962); "Mona Lisa" (Nat King Cole, 1950); and "This Time" (Troy Shondel, 1961, a rockabilly ballad with a classic quirky vocal). Also included were two filler tracks co-written by Mike Curb: "If Someone Ever Breaks Your Heart" (with Mack David) and "Ours" (as M. Charles).

It's possible that Donny's core record-buying audience was outgrowing his vinyl merchandise, if not his posters, and that the economic strategy of selling orchestrated paeans from the days of Howdy Doody was starting to wear thin because it only made it to #57. After this it was Disco Train (1976), with its ill-boding cover art, featuring four original songs from the three elder brethren. The "disco" elements on that record got at their most aggravating on side 2. Side 1 was quite a bit of fun, with the title track sounding more like Gary US Bonds’s “New Orleans” than what it implied. Although that oncoming engine on the cover did crash our Donny into the album chart swamp at #145, it also flung his lively cover of the 4 Seasons' "C'mon Marianne" into the Top 40.   

Side A: "Where Did All the Good Times Go" (UK)

Side A: "I Have a Dream" (US)

Side B: "I'm Dyin'"

Donny and Marie Osmond - "Morning Side of the Mountain"

Written by Dick Manning and Larry Stock * Produced by Mike Curb * 45: "Morning Side of the Mountain" / "One of These Days" * Label: MGM/Kolob * Charts: Billboard (Hot 100, #8) (easy listening, #1) (UK, #5) * Entered: 1974-11-16 (Hot 100), 1974-11-30 (easy listening), 1974-12-14 (UK)

"Morning Side of the Mountain," with that "there was a girl, there was a boy" intro, was an inevitable cover choice for Donny and Marie. Their chaste rendering sounds like something from Oklahoma, making the original versions by Tommy Edwards (1951 and redone in 1958) seem like Ray Charles. Then again, it could also have fit into the Grease stage show, popular on Broadway since 1972, ringing as it did with the sweet nostalgia mid-'70s audiences had an ear for. After "I'm Leaving It All Up to You" and "Morning Side of the Mountain," future singles by the duo would dwindle, with only "Deep Purple" (1975) reaching the Hot 100's Top 20.

Side B contained a teaser track by Alan, Wayne and Merrill with a "Lay Lady Lay" guitar intro that was slated for their forthcoming Make the World Go Away album. It reinforced the expectation that the in-house tracks on Donny and Marie albums would be the most interesting and worthwhile.

By 1975 it would be all about the TV show for the Osmond family, with the records seeming more and more like afterthoughts, or mere accessories. In future decades, though, their powers of reinvention as showbiz entities and their ongoing marketability would prove to be remarkable, as evidenced by Donny and Marie in Las Vegas and on TV outlets galore. And Donny, it should be said, has never left any doubt that the pursuit of musical expression means everything to him. But those Osmondmania years were quite something, back when the radio was what put them all in perspective.

Side A: "Morning Side of the Mountain"

Side B: "One of These Days"