Wrapped Around the Music

In 1971, Three Dog Night had a tune from their Harmony album called ‘An Old Fashioned Love Song’ which charted #4 in the US.  Paul Williams wrote this song and said that he got the inspiration for this song when he had a date one night with a young lady named Patti Dahlstrom.  I am going to back up here a little bit to the night that Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters was watching TV and he heard a commercial that piqued his interest.  What caught his attention was the theme song in the commercial for Crocker Bank, a California savings and loan, not the newlywed couple getting married and moving into their new home.  “You’ve got a long way to go, we’d like to help you get there”, said the bank to the newlyweds.  Carpenter recognized the vocal work in this theme song as being Paul Williams, a friend and fellow recording artist at A&M, and he requested the full version of the song, as at that point it had only two verses and no bridge.  The song ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ was The Carpenters’ third single, and it also became the second gold record for the sister/brother duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter.  ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and this album became their first of seven gold albums and earned them a Grammy for best new artist.

Enough background information, so back to Paul’s date with Patti Dahlstrom who was a songwriter.  They were going out to have dinner, but right before he left to go to her place for the date, he received a phone call alerting him that he had a gold record.  When he walked into her house, he said, “Well, got a gold record for such-and-such, it just went gold.  Kid did it again with another old fashioned love song.”  The title just came out of him and he went over to her piano sat down, and wrote the song in like 20 minutes, and it became a big hit.

Paul Williams released a studio album of the same name in 1971 where this was the sixth song and the title track.  He thought this song would be perfect for The Carpenters, figuring it was like having money in the bank with them.  He realized that it was kind of a throwback song that had a rinky-dink sound to it and when Richard Carpenter heard it, he didn’t even make it through the first verse before he picked up the needle off of the acetate record, rejecting it thinking it was trash.  Chuck Kaye, who was head of publishing at A&M Records sent it to Richie Podolor, who was the producer for Three Dog Night took Williams’ recording of this song to his group which featured his voice with an acoustic piano, saloon piano, acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums, and Dixieland band to the group.  In contrast to Williams’ recording, Three Dog Night made their rendition with a smokier psychedelic rock sound incorporating a progressive rock sound by having their classically trained keyboard player Jimmy Greenspoon play a Hammond B3 organ and Mellotron (a keyboard-driven analog sampler).

Paul Hamilton Williams Jr. is an American composer, singer, songwriter and actor.  He is known for writing and co-writing popular songs performed by a number of acts in the 1970s, including Three Dog Night’s ‘An Old Fashioned Love Song’ and ‘Out in the Country’, Helen Reddy’s ‘You and Me Against the World’, David Bowie’s ‘Fill Your Heart’ and the Carpenters’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ and ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’.  Williams is also known for his musical contributions to films, including the Oscar-nominated song ‘Rainbow Connection’ from The Muppet Movie, and penning the lyrics to the #1 chart-topping song ‘Evergreen’, the love theme from the Barbra Streisand film A Star Is Born, for which he won a Grammy for Song of the Year and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  He wrote the lyrics to the opening theme for the television show The Love Boat, with music previously composed by Charles Fox, which was originally sung by Jack Jones and, later, by Dionne Warwick.  Williams was also a popular actor, appearing in the movies Smokey And The Bandit and The Doors.  Williams also appeared in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, playing the intellectual orangutan Virgil.

Three Dog Night were master re-interpreters of other artists’ songs, from Paul Williams to Laura Nyro to Randy Newman and they created arrangements that hit the sweet spot of commercial radio and listener tastes of this era.  It’s no wonder they were one of the best-selling acts of the early ‘70s and hailed as one of America’s most popular rock bands at the time as this vocal trio had roots in R&B, rock-n-roll, and urban doo wop, creating a style of music that was totally new and unique.  Three Dog Night scored a succession of 21 hit singles, four number one hits, twenty-one top 40 hits, eleven Top Ten hits, a phenomenal eighteen consecutive top 20 hits, and twelve consecutive gold albums from 1969 to 1975, five top 10 albums and eleven top 20 albums thanks to the slick, sometimes soulful vocal harmonies of singers Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells and an excellent ear for quality material.

The group formed in 1968 when Hutton and Wells met on tour with Sonny and Cher.  Hutton conceived the idea of a three-vocalist group, and he and Wells enlisted their mutual friend Negron.  They took their name from an Australian expression describing low nocturnal temperatures in the outback (the colder the night, the more dogs needed to keep warm while sleeping).  After they cut a few unsuccessful singles they decided to expand their range by hiring backing musicians, who included guitarist Mike Allsup, keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon, bassist Joe Schermie, and drummer Floyd Sneed.  ‘One’ became the band’s first Top Ten hit in 1969, while ‘Mama Told Me (Not to Come)’ hit number one a year later. ‘Joy to the World’ became the group’s biggest hit in 1971, spending six weeks on top of the pop charts.

Just an old fashioned love song
Playing on the radio
And wrapped around the music is the sound
Of someone promising they’ll never go
You’ll swear you’ve heard it before
As it slowly rambles on and on
No need in bringing ‘em back
‘Cause they’ve never really gone
Just an old fashioned love song
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
To weave our dreams upon and listen
To each evening when the lights are low
To underscore our love affair with tenderness
And feeling that we’ve come to know
You’ll swear you’ve heard it before
As it slowly rambles on and on
No need in bringing ‘em back
‘Cause they’ve never really gone
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
Just an old fashioned love song
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
Just an old fashioned love song
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me
To weave our dreams upon and listen to a song
Just an old song coming down
Just an old song
What I’m sure they wrote for you and me
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
Just an old fashioned love song
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
Just an old fashioned love song
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
Just an old fashioned love song
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me
Just an old fashioned love song
Coming down in three part harmony
Just an old fashioned love song

Written for Love Is In Da Blog where Bee asks us to find a love song when we left school and I graduated High School in 1971.  I thought that this song was particularly pertinent because of its connection to the Carpenters’ song ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ which was the theme song for my senior prom.

8 thoughts on “Wrapped Around the Music

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