Johnny Mathis: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Johnny Mathis updates his groove for the 1970s

When Johnny Mathis first paired with producer Jack Gold for 1970’s Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, it seemed like an opportunity for an update. But the double album’s combination of previously released recordings of Burt Bacharach songs with new recordings of older Bert Kaempfert material failed to align Mathis with the new decade’s music. This second collaboration takes a bolder approach in its song selection, bringing Mathis up to date, while still maintaining lush arrangements to surround his inimitable vocal styling. This was less an attempt to cross him back over to the pop chart than an acknowledgement that the crafting of pop hits had expanded to a new generation of songwriters.

Mathis’ continuing affinity for Bacharach and David’s material led him to cover the album’s title track (a 1969 hit for B.J. Thomas), “Alfie” (a 1966 UK hit for Cilla Black, and a 1967 US hit for Dionne Warwick) and “Odds and Ends” (a 1969 adult contemporary hit for Warwick). Stretching out, he included material from Jimmy Webb (“Honey Come Back,” an R&B single for Chuck Jackson in 1969, and a country hit for Glen Campbell the following year), George Harrison (“Something,” Harrison’s first A-side and chart topper), Rod McKuen’s “Jean” (an Academy Award nominee and a #2 single for Oliver), and a pair of tunes from the film Midnight Cowboy, the latter of which are surprisingly good fits for Mathis.

Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” dated back to 1967, but with Nilsson’s version having been a hit in 1969, it had gained new currency. Mathis’ strong vibrato, supported by plucked strings and a free-spirited flute, pushes the song beyond the introspection and melancholy of Neil’s and Nilsson’s earlier versions. The theme song from “Midnight Cowboy” is performed with lyrics written by the album’s producer, turning John Barry’s haunting instrumental into a stalwart statement that echoes the drama of Ferrante & Teicher’s hit single. At its most contemporary, the album samples George Harrison (“Something”) and Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the latter closing out the original album’s track list.

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds five contemporaneous singles and B-sides, with material that stretches from a wonderfully crooned take on Coots and Lewis’ 1934 standard “For All We Know,” through Bachrach & David’s “Whoever You Are, I Love You” (from the musical Promises, Promises), Bert Kaempert’s “Night Dreams,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” and “The Last Time I Saw Her,” the latter pair with arrangements by Perry Botkin, Jr. Although the album cracked the Top 40, and “Midnight Cowboy” climbed to #20, the artistic revitalization outweighed the commercial impact, and buoyed Mathis’ recording career well into the 1980s. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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