(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.