Thursday, August 11, 2016

Nancy Wilson: The Early '70s Charting Singles

A vocalist with versatile stylistic range, Nancy Wilson launched her recording career with the 1959 swing jazz album Like In Love on Capitol and proved to be a valuable ongoing asset for the label. Never a dominating presence on Top 40 radio, Wilson's singles peppered the Hot 100, soul, and easy listening charts throughout the '60s, then settled in, by the early '70s, as soul radio products. A top notch stage performer and a mainstay at hotel supper clubs, Wilson was equally comfortable on camera, hosting her own series on NBC—the Nancy Wilson Show, which ran from 1967-68 and won an Emmy. In addition to countless appearances on talk and variety shows, which she was born for, Wilson guest starred on TV dramas such as I Spy, Room 222, Hawaii Five-O, The F.B.I., and Police Story between 1966 and 1974. Wilson's early '70s charting output reveals her focus transition to soul radio outlets, which would spin her records toward R&B chart positions until 1994. By the mid-2000s, Wilson would return to her jazz roots and claim Grammys in 2005 and 2007 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. 

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (1969) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio * Produced by David D. Cavanaugh * Arranged by Jimmy Jones * 45: "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" / "Do You Know Why" * LPs: Hurt So Bad (1969); Can't Take My Eyes Off You (1970) * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Soul (#27), Hot 100 (#52), soul (#27), easy listening (#28) * Entered: 1969-11-15 (soul), 1969-11-22 (Hot 100), 1969-12-27 (easy listening)

This sultry show-band version of Frankie Valli's 1967 smash hit (which loses his instrumental can-can refrain) had caught fire on easy listening radio over a month after it had run its course everywhere else. This is likely why the next album in Nancy Wilson's high-pressure release schedule reprised it and bore its name. The gorgeous flipside, arranged by established legend Billy May, features an equally gorgeous vocal by Wilson of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke's classic "Do You Know Why." It wouldn't be long before easy listening radio, morphing into the Top 40-lite of MOR (middle of the road) and then AC (adult contemporary), would run out of room for the sort of pop sophistication on this 45.

Side A: "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"

Side B: "Do You Know Why"

"This Girl Is a Woman Now" (1970) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Victor Millrose and Alan Bernstein * Produced by David Cavanaugh * Arranged by Phil Wright * 45: "This Girl Is a Woman Now" / "Trip with Me" * LP: Can't Take My Eyes Off You * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#32) * Entered: 1970-06-20

Nancy Wilson changed the perspective of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's 1969 #9 hit from third person to first, giving it new warmth for easy listening radio. Hit re-treads were common practice in those days, especially for the easy listening market—witness the album title of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You, which not only named itself after one of Wilson's recent chart entries, but brought back the same version by her that appeared on her 1969 Hurt So Bad album.

On side B she sings "Trip With Me," a song the legendary rock 'n' roll songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had written for the barely-released 1970 film The Phynx, about a fictional rock band's secret mission to Albania. Earlier in the year, Wilson had appeared on the series Room 222 as Michelle Scott, a famous singer who returns to her high school to convince kids not to drop out. Can't Take My Eyes Off You would be Wilson's final album with longtime producer "Big Dave" Cavanaugh.

Side A: "This Girl Is a Woman Now"

Side B: "Trip with Me"

"Now I'm a Woman" (1971) - Nancy Wilson

Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff * 45: "Now I'm a Woman" / "The Real Me" * LP: Now I'm a Woman * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#93); soul (#41) * Entered: 1971-01-02 

The release of Nancy Wilson's Now I'm a Woman album happened in the wake of her distingu√© performance in an episode of Hawaii Five-O's third season ("Trouble in Mind") as the tragic, heroin-addicted jazz vocalist Eadie Jordan. In one scene, the no-nonsense Steve McGarrett confesses to being an Eadie Jordan record collector and fanboy. Otherwise, it was a sad episode, and so was her "Now I'm a Woman" single. It seemed to exist as a reality check on the positive point of view of her previous "This Girl Is a Woman Now." Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff on their way to fame as the architects of Philly soul, the song lamented male abandonment in family and romance. Here, the girl was now a woman because she'd seen all too clearly how men really are. The track would be her only early seventies Hot 100 entry and also her last one ever. Happily, she'd make classy appearances on the R&B charts until 1994.

The single's B side presents Wilson in her familiar setting as a jazz singer in front of a big band, even though the song is a new piece written by Gamble and Huff (and arranged and conducted by Philly Soul stalwart Bobby Martin).

Side A: "Now I'm a Woman"

Side B: "The Real Me"

"Streetrunner" (1974) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Billy Page and Gene Page * Produced by Gene Page * 45: "Streetrunner" / "Ocean of Love" * LP: All in Love Is Fair * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Soul (#46) * Entered: 1974-10-05

After a hitless streak stretching back to 1971, Nancy Wilson's All in Love Is Fair album reprogrammed her sound and launched a decades long residency on R&B radio playlists. "Streetrunner," much-sampled by now, sounded tailor made for a blaxploitation film theme that never got made. "Ocean of Love," on the other side, was written by Ray Parker Jr., who at that time was working as a guitarist in Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra.

Side A: "Streetrunner"

Side B: "Ocean of Love"

"You're As Right as Rain" (1974) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed * Produced by Gene Page * 45: "You're as Right as Rain" / "There'll Always Be Forever" * LP: All in Love Is Fair * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Soul (#10) * Entered: 1975-01-25

"You're as Right as Rain," written by the ever reliable songwriting team of Thom Bell and Linda Creed, had appeared on the Stylistics' Round 2 album from 1972. That group's catalog proved to be a winning field to choose from for Wilson, who took the cozy ballad to the soul chart's top ten. The flipside included a song written by Big Dee Irwin and Dee-Dee McNeil. Wilson's next five albums, until 1979, would each contain a charting soul hit or two.

Side A: "You're as Right as Rain"

Side B: "There'll Always Be Forever"

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