Tag Archives: Burt Bacharach

B.J. Thomas Gets 2-Disc Scepter Re-Issue Thanks to Real Gone Music

4 Jul

Texas native B. J . Thomas had a great set of pipes — that most of us can agree upon.  He had a tremendously rich voice and a powerful upper range. His career started as a country crooner, reached its zenith via the pop artistry of Bacharach and David, and then returned to country stardom with hits like “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Yet I contend that his collaboration with producer Chips Moman, tunesmith Mark James, and his time spent in the American Recording Studio in Memphis yielded perhaps his most durable platters. All those singles were released on the Scepter label and all are thankfully included in this excellent new collection from Real Gone Music.

Elvis Presley struck vinyl gold at American — so did Neil Diamond. Chips Moman sure had the midas touch … that’s for certain. It helped having a guitar/sitar picker like Reggie Young, songwriters like Mark James and Spooner Oldham, and drummers like the mighty Gene Chrisman. After Thomas enjoyed some regional country success, the James’ composition “The Eyes of a New York Woman” really got the ball rolling for B.J. (charting #28 in 1968). That was soon followed by the classic “Hooked on a Feeling,” a James creation. “It’s Only Love” came next and crested at #45, although it deserved a much better fate. “Pass the Apple Eve” stalled out even further from the top of the charts and it seemed the run was just about over for Thomas.

Just as hope was fading, Burt Bacharach entered the picture and B.J. Thomas’ 1969 recording of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” became a certified worldwide smash.  “Everybody’s Out of Town” (1970) is vintage Bacharach-David and one of my personal favorites. Then came “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” another top ten hit — this one from the pens of the legendary Mann-Weill songwriting team. “Send My Picture to Scranton, PA” (1970) and “Long Ago Tomorrow” (1971) are two more Bacharach contributions not to be overlooked. And I still cannot believe that Mark James’ song “The Mask” did not fare better (it didn’t even chart — madness!).

Sure, some of the B-sides were clunkers. Shoot, some of the A-sides were too. But listening to them is half the fun with collections such as this. You’re not just enjoying a little music. You are listening to a talented artist trying to find his way. Or an singer attempting to live up to the promise of his previous smash. Or a genius producer, top notch session players, and a young vocalist creating a sound that remains branded in our collective mind some 4 decades later.   

From his 1966 recording of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” through his 1972 double-sided hit single “That’s What Friends Are For”/”Happier Than the Morning Sun,” B.J. Thomas enjoyed a string of hits rivaled by few artists of that time. And the fact that he did this on an indie label, Scepter, makes the achievement even more impressive. Various compilations of Thomas’ Scepter sides have come and gone. But Real Gone’s 44-track anthology is the first to offer A- and B-sides of every one of the artists’ Scepter singles, including his 19 hits. Many of the B-sides never appeared on albums. DJ/journalist Michael Ragogna wrote the notes, which feature quotes from Thomas.

Classic B.J. Thomas Re-Issues on Collector’s Choice

6 Jan

A grand total of 8 (count ’em … eight!) BJ Thomas LPs have recently been re-issued on CD by the folks at Collector’s Choice. The recordings chronicle Billy Joe’s rise to fame during the 1960s and 1970s. Casual music fans surely remember Thomas as the Texas singer behind the original hits “Hooked on a Feeling” and, most importantly “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.” The latter was a certified worldwide smash hit that was featured prominently in the classic film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” However, fans digging a little deeper into BJ’s vault of recordings will be rewarded with several hidden gems. Of the 8 recent re-issues, the first 2 and the last two are perhaps the least inspired. The middle 4 LPs feature timeless pop and some of Thomas’ greatest performances on wax.  

The Sceptor LPs Young and In Love, On My Way, Raindrops, and Everybody’s Out of Town are lifted above the rest thanks to solid songwriting and tasteful instrumental backing. The bulk of the tunes are penned by masters like Burt Bacharach/Hal David and Mark James (writer of Suspicious Minds for Elvis Presley). Other contributors include the legendary Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Webb, and Joe South. Most of these tunes were recorded by producer Chips Moman at American Studios in Memphis — the setting for many famous hit recordings by the likes of Elvis, Neil Diamond, and countless others.  Sceptor LP SPS 582 “Everybody’s Out of Town” is the best of the lot with standout tracks like Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin,” Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil’s “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” Mark James’ “The Mask,” Wayne Carson’s “Sandman,” and the Bacharach/David title cut. Frankly, there is not a weak track on the entire album. That was a rarity in a decade when LP’s were stuffed with quickly tossed together “filler.” This CD is essential for music buffs with an affinity for great singing & songsmiths at the top of their game.

B.J. Thomas (born Billy Joe Thomas) straddled the line between pop/rock and country, achieving success in both genres in the late ’60s and ’70s. At the beginning of his career, he leaned more heavily on rock & roll, but by the mid-’70s, he had turned to country music, becoming one of the most successful country-pop stars of the decade.

Thomas began singing while he was a child, performing in church. In his teens, he joined the Houston-based band the Triumphs, who released a number of independent singles that failed to gain any attention. For the group’s last single, Thomas and fellow Triumph member Mark Charron wrote “Billy and Sue,” which was another flop. After “Billy and Sue,” Thomas began a solo career, recording a version of Hank Williams’ standard “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with producer Huey P. Meaux. Released by Scepter Records in early 1966, the single became an immediate hit, catapulting to number eight on the pop charts. Although he had a series of moderate follow-up hits, including a re-release of “Billy and Sue,” Thomas failed to reenter the Top Ten until 1968, when “Hooked on a Feeling” became a number-five, gold single. The following year, he scored his biggest hit with Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” taken from the hit film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was followed by a string of soft rock hits in the next two years, including “Everybody’s Out of Town,” “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “No Love at All,” and “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” which featured guitarist Duane Eddy and the vocal group the Blossoms.

After “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” Scepter Records went out of business and B.J. Thomas headed to Paramount Records. At Paramount, Thomas had no hits, prompting the singer to pursue a new country-pop direction at ABC Records. “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” his first single for ABC, became his second number-one record on the pop charts, as well as establishing a country career for the vocalist. For the next decade, he continued to have hits on the country charts, with a couple of songs — most notably “Don’t Worry Baby” — crossing over into the pop charts. During this period, he switched record companies at a rapid pace, but it did nothing to slow the pace of his hits. Thomas hit his country peak in 1983 and 1984, when he had the number-one hits “Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Love” and “New Looks From an Old Lover,” as well as the Top Ten hits “The Whole World’s in Love When You’re Lonely” and “Two Car Garage.” Throughout the ’80s, B.J. Thomas recorded a number of hit gospel records for Myrrh concurrently with his country hits.

At the end of the ’80s, the hits began to dry up for Thomas, but he continued to tour, and put out the occasional country and gospel record in the ’90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide