Two Guys Named Charlie

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(Pictured: Charlie Rich, the Silver Fox, in 1974.)

I was in the car the other day and heard records by two guys named Charlie, one you know and one you don’t.

The Charlie you don’t know started in mid-60s Mississippi with a band called the Phantoms. After gigging around Biloxi for a year or two and backing some big names passing through, they adopted the more distinctive name Eternity’s Children. They’d make a couple of albums and hit #69 on the Hot 100 with a single called “Mrs. Bluebird” in 1968. Charlie Ross was the bass player and one of the lead singers. After the band disintegrated, he worked as a radio DJ in Mississippi and launched a solo singing career. In 1975, “Thanks for the Smiles” made it to #61 on the Hot 100. It’s pleasant enough in a mid-70s sort of way, but not the kind of thing that was going to set the world on fire.

Ross’ next chart hit was a lot hotter. “Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan)” got airplay on some of the biggest Top 40 stations in the country, including WFIL in Philadelphia, CKLW in Detroit, and WLS in Chicago, which charted it for eight weeks. It rose to #42 on the Hot 100 during the week of April 3, 1976, and reached #13 country, including #1 at New York City’s country station, WHN. How you feel about “Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan)” will depend on your taste for novelties. It’s about marital devotion, but it comes with a twist—actually, a double twist. And it may not surprise you to learn that it was co-written and produced by Paul Vance, a man with a long history of writing and producing fragrant pop cheese, from “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” to “Playground in My Mind” to “Run Joey Run.”

In 1982, Charlie Ross made an album at Muscle Shoals Studios called The High Cost of Loving, and he scraped onto the Billboard country chart with the title song. He was an executive with RCA Records by then, a position he’s held for more than 40 years.

The other Charlie is a guy you know much better.

Charlie Rich was a session cat at Sun Records in the 1950s, and he scored modest hits with “Lonely Weekends” in 1960 and “Mohair Sam” in 1965. Forty-five years ago this week, “Behind Closed Doors” hit #1 on the Billboard country chart. It would get to #15 pop in July 1973, and claim Single of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards in October. But “Behind Closed Doors” was only the beginning of a ridiculous hot streak: by December 1974, Rich would hit #1 on the country chart six more times and be named the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year. All six country #1s crossed over to the Hot 100, including “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which hit #1 pop in December 1973. “There Won’t Be Anymore” was #18 and “A Very Special Love Song” was #11.

Charlie Rich found a particular sweet spot in ’74, at the nexus of pop and country, and his piano provided a little jazz flavor too. But another reason for his remarkable number of hits was that two labels were releasing them. “The Most Beautiful Girl,” “A Very Special Love Song,” and “I Love My Friend” were on Epic. “There Won’t Be Anymore,” “I Don’t See Me in Your Eyes Anymore,” and “She Called Me Baby,” all of which had been recorded several years before, were on RCA. (Mercury even got into the act that year, releasing “A Field of Yellow Daisies,” which he’d cut for them in 1965.)

The hits continued during 1975 and 1976 with four more country Top Tens and another Top 20 pop crossover, “Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High)” in 1975. That same year, Rich famously appeared at the CMA Awards to present the Entertainer of the Year award—and set fire to the envelope after announcing John Denver as the winner. His action was part protest against a pop star winning such a prestigious country award, and part drug-and-alcohol-fueled attempt at a joke that backfired. The incident didn’t hurt his career much; he’d hit #1 twice more, including the fabulous “Rollin’ With the Flow” in 1977. His last chart hit was in 1981, and he died in 1995.

The connections between Charlie Rich and Charlie Ross go deeper than a shared name. When Rich played Biloxi in the early 60s, Ross backed him in the Phantoms; “Thanks for the Smiles” was written by Kenny O’Dell, who’d written “Behind Closed Doors.”

Two guys named Charlie, one you know and one you didn’t.

6 responses

  1. Strong memory for me of “Behind Closed Doors”: Our morning man, who used a lot of drop-ins, snatched Jim Runyon’s “Wellllll” from Chickenman. Every time, every single time, he played “Behind Closed Doors” when Charlie Rich sang the line “No one knows what goes on behind closed doors,” it was followed by a “Wellllll.” I cannot hear the song anywhere without expecting the “Wellllll” with it.

  2. Scott Bennett | Reply

    I recognized Every Time You Touch Me I Get High when you mentioned it, but I had forgotten about it. What a beautiful song…jazzy, dreamy.

  3. victorvector | Reply

    “Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan)” is like “The Pina Colada Song” with a less happy ending. So do you like it, or not?

    1. I am actually agnostic on “Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan).” I admire it for being so audaciously cheesy, but beyond that I truly can’t say.

  4. Tim Morrissey | Reply

    Nice trip down memory lane – clicking the links and listening to those old Charlie Rich songs again. In ’76 I took over as PD for an AM/FM combo where the FM was rock and the AM was country. Didn’t know much about country music except the crossover artists; never liked the “deep country” stuff (whining steel guitars and twangy electric/acoustic guitars) but developed an appreciation for the more modern country stuff. Had a great, great music director who took the time to school me on why a certain, small amount of that “heritage” country stuff was important in the rotation.

    By the way, the payola in country radio back then (mid-70’s) was nothing short of fantastic. Trips, cruises, promotional items for contests – if you were PD of a Billboard 5-pointer, you could have damn near anything you asked for from the country record promo guys.

    I covered my butt – or, at least I think I did – by dropping a note into the station’s Public File every time I accepted a free trip or cruise from a record company….”XXX record company paid for a trip to Hawaii and lodging for two in return for listening to and making recommendations about the company’s repertoire of recorded music….” or something of the sort.

    If the record companies ever 1099’d radio people on the stuff we got, we’d have been broke paying the taxes on it…..

  5. […] future Starbuck bandmate Bruce Blackmon in a couple of bands including Eternity’s Children. (I wrote about them earlier this year.) After Eternity’s Children broke up, Wagner went on the road as a percussionist, including a […]

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