Remembering Andy Williams (1927 – 2012): He Sang it, We Believed It, and That Settles It

30 Sep

Per the Recording Industry Association of America’s database, Andy Williams recorded 18 gold albums (500, 000 + copies sold) and 3 platinum albums (one million +) as a solo artist. His platinum titles include his original 1963 Christmas album and the Love Story album; his gold titles include two collections of movie related songs, Moon River & Other Great Movie Themes along with Days of Wine and Roses and Other TV Requests.

I love my job, but there are drawbacks to teaching 2-3 fast track writing classes at a local community college.  One of those drawbacks is that famous people don’t often have the foresight to consult with me before they die; therefore, when I’m in the deepest throes of grading persuasive essays on the topic of  whether learning history in school holds relevance, personal narratives about the most important day in my students’ lives, or one paragraph assignments about “My Favorite Restaurant,” I’m just not able to drop everything to blog about the death of crooner Andy Williams of all people. Not only that, I was trying to squeeze in a piece, in whatever spare time I could find, about Jessica Lange, who just won her second Emmy for Chrissakes.

Now, it’s the weekend, I’ve finished grading, and Andy Williams is still dead. Still dead. Of course, I grew up with Andy Williams. He was that nice looking “Moon River” guy.  I heard his famous cover version of 1961’s Oscar winning Best Song (music by Henry Mancini; lyrics by Johnny Mercer) well before I ever saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the film in which it was first performed though, of course, it is/was not William’s “silky” signature version that played in the film. No, that plaintive rendition was performed–exquisitely–by Audrey Hepburn in one of her most famous roles, the oh-so-elegant sometime model and Manhattan party girl (and paid escort for those willing to read between the lines), Holly Golightly.  Williams’s version was a fluke.  When the song was nominated for an Oscar in 1962, Williams was invited to sing it on that year’s telecast. Reportedly, his label got the smart idea to record the song–at breakneck speed–along with other famous movie themes–and release the whole collection just in time, and I do mean just in  time, for the ceremony. As famous as his version was, and as popular as the Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes album was was, by all accounts, Williams’s “Moon River” was never actually released as a single–not that it mattered.  Williams “owned” the song.  The huckleberry spell was cast forever and always.

Of course, Williams, who began singing as a youngster with his brother,  had already performed movie music well before Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He and his brothers recorded the Oscar winning “Swinging on a Star,” with Bing Crosby (from 1944’s Going My Way). There also exists a popular tale that young Andy Williams recorded a song for To Have and Have Not  (also 1944) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Yes, it is true that the idea was for young Williams to dub Bacall’s singing voice; however, because it was obvious that the stunt would not work, Williams’s vocal–if it were ever recorded at all–was not used in the completed film though, again,  the legend persists.

I guess the success of “Moon River” helped Williams fill a specific niche in pop music as he went on to become–arguably–the foremost interpreter of movie themes, many of them Oscar winners and/or nominees, some of which did not necessarily feature lyrics in their original versions.  I mean, seriously, it was like, to borrow from a popular bumper sticker: Williams sang it; we believed it; that settled it. Here is a vintage Williams sampler:

^ “The Days of Wine and Roses” from the 1962 film of the same name; music by Henry Mancini; lyrics by Johnny Mercer; Academy Award winner for Best Song. This cover appeared on Williams’s Grammy nominated album, Days of Wine and Roses and Other TV Requests.

^ Williams sings “Born Free,” the Oscar winning song from the 1966 movie of the same name; music by John Barry; lyrics by Don Black.

^ “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story” is based on Francis Lai’s haunting, Oscar winning theme to the 1970 blockbuster Love Story; the lyrics by Carl Sigman were added after the movie’s release.

^ “Speak Softly Love” from The Godfather (1972);  Composer Nino Rota infamously cribbed his score from one of his earlier works and was consequently disqualified for Oscar consideration–after originally being announced as one of the finalists. The lyrics are by Larry Kusik.

Some of Williams’s other famous movie theme covers include “Call Me Irresponsible,” from 1963’s Papa’s Delicate Condition (another Oscar winner); “The Shadow of Your Smile from 1965’s The Sandpiper (yet another Oscar winner), and “The Summer Knows,” based on Michel Legrand’s stirring, Oscar winning score for Summer of ’42 (1971).  Williams also released a version of “A Time for Us” from Franco Zeffirelli’s much lauded  1968 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet; however, as familiar as the aforementioned Nino Rota’s score for that movie is, it was not an Oscar nominee back in the day, and the song w/lyrics heard on the soundtrack is entitled “What Is Youth?,”  and not “A Time for Us.” I don’t know what all happened with that one.  Interestingly, there was no “Best Song” nomination for the romantic comedy  I’d Rather be Rich (1964), in which Williams co-starred with Sandra Dee and Robert Goulet. I loved that movie as a child, btw, and I used watched it all the time on TV.  Just as interesting is that despite all his top selling gold albums, Williams never earned a Grammy though he was reportedly nominated a total of six times.  Even so, he was long considered the face of the Grammy awards as he hosted the event’s first live telecast  in 1971 and went on to host six more times.  Furthermore, Williams’s  long-running variety show (1962-1967) won three Emmys in the musical-variety category during its regular run, and Williams was twice nominated for his work as a performer; the show was eventually relegated to a series of recurring specials.

Of course, besides all of the above, Williams is will remain in the public consciousness for his Christmas specials and his great Christmas album, or albums, and his standard, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” My mother had his first Christmas album. I can’t ever remember a time when that particular song, my favorite of the whole album, was not part of my own personal sounds of Christmas.  Forever and always, Andy. That settles it.

Thanks for your consideration…

The official website for Andy Williams and his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri:

http://www.andywilliamstheatre.com/#!home/mainPage

Andy Williams at GRAMMY.com: http://www.grammy.com/news/andy-williams-1927-2012

More of Andy Williams at GRAMMY.com: http://www.grammy.com/news/thought-youd-never-ask-andy-williams

Williams obituary at Hollywood Reporter.com: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/andy-williams-dead-bladder-cancer-moon-river-374335

Williams on the RIAA Searchable database:

http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?table=SEARCH_RESULTS&artist=Andy%20Williams&go=Search&perPage=50

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