Happy Accidents

Those big radio hits and favorite albums woven into the tapestry of memory, the songs that illuminated our nights and commented upon our days as we were living them? That whole thing was a series of happy accidents. The radio doesn’t really talk to us. Start taking the memories apart and the butterfly effect is suddenly real. The DJ who played that song in the moment you have never forgotten was no agent of the universe; he was just some poor sap making a living, and it was his job to play one song then and not another. He had no more connection with you than you have with some random teenager in Bangalore.

It’s only later, when you sift through the memories, that the elements converge, and only then that you realize that the perfect moment with the perfect song might never have happened—should never have happened, probably. That it happened at all is thanks to a series of coincidences: a record executive chooses one song as a single over another; a radio station tweaks its format today instead of tomorrow or yesterday; the station’s music director forgets to put a record into a particular bin, or take one out; the DJ screws up and plays a record out of order. And so on.

You, out there on the receiving end of the signal, never know any of this. You know only the perfection of the moment—and it may be months or years before you know it, after a further series of happy accidents has imposed its own layers of meaning on your life, and becomes the prism through which you view everything that ever happened to you.

It could have been entirely different, is what I’m saying.

In June 1976, a British group called the Real Thing hit #1 in the UK with “You to Me Are Everything,” a soul-on-the-edge-of-disco sing-along that glides happily in summery Philly-style perfection. At the moment of its UK success, it was released in the States, charting on the Hot 100 36 years ago this week. It should have been on the radio every couple of hours alongside the other hits of August, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Turn the Beat Around,” “Baby I Love Your Way,” and all the rest. So why wasn’t it? There’s no way to tell for sure, because of the number of accidents that have to happen for a record to become a hit in the first place. But in the case of “You to Me Are Everything,” we can guess.

Despite the Real Thing’s British success—and probably because of it—two competing versions of “You to Me Are Everything” were released at almost precisely the same moment. If a radio station was going to play one, it wouldn’t play the others. A New York soul group called Revelation cut a near-soundalike version produced by Freddie Perren and released on RSO, then best known for releasing albums by the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. No doubt its pedigree helped it get some adds to radio station playlists, although it’s perfectly fine on its own. An obscure group called Broadway released a busier arrangement of it on the Granite label, an American subsidiary of European giant ATV. Some music directors may have preferred it to the others—or preferred the record rep working Granite releases to the ones working releases from RSO or United Artists and added the song as a favor to a friend.

There are no listings for any of them at ARSA, so I suspect much of the three versions’ airplay came on soul and R&B stations, which are not well represented there. During the week of July 31, 1976, the three versions crowded together in the lower reaches of the Hot 100: the Real Thing at #86, Broadway at #88, and Revelation at #98. At the end of August, the Real Thing would top out at #64 after the other two had left the chart, but the damage was done.

It’s easy to say it should have been otherwise, that the Real Thing’s “You to Me Are Everything” should have been one of the indelible hits of the summer of 1976. But maybe it should have been the one by Revelation, or the one by Broadway. Knowing what we know about accidents and coincidence, maybe it happened exactly the way it should have. Or it shouldn’t have happened at all.

4 thoughts on “Happy Accidents

  1. The Billboard R&B returns for “You to Me Are Everything”:

    The Real Thing: #28 (debuted July 24, spent 11 weeks on chart)
    Broadway: #73 (July 24, 4 weeks)
    Revelation: #83 (July 31, 4 weeks)

    I first heard the Real Thing version after my best friend bought me this book for my birthday in ’07, which led to an online-research frenzy. I found the Revelation 45 (complete with RSO stock sleeve!) about a year later. It’s a shame the covers tripped The Real Thing out of the gate, because it truly sounds like something bicentennial radio (and those glued to its signal) would embrace.

    Speaking of Freddie Perren, look what I scored for a buck back in May. Shall I let you know when “Gorilla Man” is digitized?

  2. Pingback: One Hit ’76 | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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