Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chart Song Cinema: Love Story (1970)

The theme from Love Story (1970), composed by Francis Lai and Carl Sigman, was the last song to have had at least five versions of it chart on Billboard within a two-year time frame. Could "Love Story" be considered the final entry, then, in the Great American Songbook? Before Elvis established personality as the controlling factor in popular music, it was mostly all about "the song." All hits behaved like "Love Story," getting interpreted by numerous artists and clogging up the charts. With only a few minor exceptions (as in "Whoomp! (There It Is)"), this really hasn't ever happened again. It's likely that the "songbook" conception finally met its death when the Bacharach-David songs for Lost Horizon (1973) were rush-recorded by a number of artists like Tony Bennett, who ended up being deeply embarrassed (along with Bacharach and David themselves) by the film those songs were written for.

Below are the five versions of "Love Story" to have charted on Billboard along with their chart positions. My personal favorite is the one by Nino Tempo and April Stevens, a top 5 hit in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Henry Mancini - "Theme from Love Story" (Billboard #13, entered 1/16/71). Written by Francis Lai. Produced by Joe Reisman. 45: "Theme from Love Story"/"Phone Call to the Past" (RCA Victor 1971). LP: Mancini Plays the Theme from Love Story (RCA Victor 1971).

As the album title declares, Mancini himself takes care of the piano solo. His version had the audacity to chart before before the official soundtrack version did and to climb to a higher position. The "phone call to the past" on side B was apparently a conference call with Floyd Cramer, Walter Wanderly, and Percy Faith.

Francis Lai - "Theme from Love Story" (Billboard #31, entered 1/30/71). Written by Francis Lai. Produced by Tom Mack. 45: "Theme from Love Story"/"Skating in Central Park" (Paramount 1971). LP: Love Story (Paramount 1971).

The official soundtrack single features French classical pianist Georges Pludermacher.

Andy Williams - "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" (Billboard #9, entered 2/6/71). Written by Francis Lai and Carl Sigman. Produced by Dick Glasser. 45: "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story"/"Something" (Columbia 1971). LP: Love Story (Columbia 1971).

Williams won the release-date race with Tony Bennett on this one, which may be the main reason why, out of the two vocal versions, he sailed to the top.

Tony Bennett - "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" (Billboard #114, entered 2/13/71). Written by Francis Lai and Carl Sigman. Produced by Teo Macero. 45: "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story"/"I'll Begin Again" (Columbia 1971). LP: Love Story (Columbia 1971).

Movie themes were the seventies strategy for Columbia's popular vocalists, hence the Andy Williams-Tony Bennett one-two punch in February. Note the B-side's A-side reference.

Nino Tempo and April Stevens - "Love Story" (Billboard #113, entered 12/9/72). Written by Francis Lai and Carl Sigman. Produced by Jeff Barry and Nino Tempo. 45: "Love Story"/"Hoochy Coochy-Wing Dang Doo" (A&M 1972). LP: (no album appearance).

Side B, the title and song itself, sounds like a lost shoo-in for the Ringo Starr catalog.

Bonus entries:

Sounds of Sunshine - "Love Means (You Never Have to Say You're Sorry)" (Billboard #39, entered 5/29/71). Written by Warner Wilder. Produced by Randy Wood and the Wilder Brothers. 45: "Love Means (You Never Have to Say You're Sorry)"/"Linda, the Untouchable" (Ranwood 1971). LP: Love Means You Never Have to Say You're Sorry (Ranwood 1971).

This Lettermen-style single, released on Lawrence Welk's Ranwood label, used the Love Story catchphrase that also appeared on the soundtrack album cover and movie poster. Fans of sunshine pop will want to give the B-side a spin.

The Whispers - "Can't Help But Love You" (Billboard #114, entered 2/19/72). Written by Mike Gately and Robert John. Produced by Ron Carson. 45: "Can't Help But Love You"/"A Hopeless Situation" (Janus 1972). LP: The Whispers' Love Story (Janus 1971).

This track appears on The Whispers' Love Story, the LA soul group's debut LP. It features a piano intro reminiscent of the film soundtrack and begins with the words "love means you never have to say you're sorry." The B-side, also written by Gately and John, sounds like something the mid-sixties Marvin Gaye would have recorded.

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