A Rose From Days Gone By

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Helen Reddy at the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017, at which she performed “I Am Woman.”)

I know just enough about the concept of synchronicity to be stupid about it. The way I understand it, there are no coincidences. Everything is connected. Once you start noticing the way coincidences cluster, you’ll see clusters all the time.

For example: first thing yesterday morning I found myself looking at a post in the archives of this blog that mentioned Helen Reddy’s hit “I Am Woman.” A few minutes later, I came across this excellent piece from NPR on this history and impact of “I Am Woman,” which was climbing the charts 46 years ago this week. And a few minutes after that, from a totally different source, I learned that yesterday was Helen Reddy’s 77th birthday.

So I postponed what I was planning to put up today, and you’re gonna read about Helen Reddy instead.

I think people forget just how big a star Helen Reddy was during the 1970s. Her first hit was a version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from Jesus Christ Superstar, which went to #13 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1971. After she scored a modest hit with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” “I Am Woman” blasted her into the stratosphere, a slow-cooking record that sneaked onto the Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of ’72 before coming back in the fall and going to #1 in December. Her final Hot 100 count is 14 Top 40 hits, three #1s (“I Am Woman,” “Delta Dawn,” and “Angie Baby”) and three more Top 10s (“Leave Me Alone,” which is probably better known by its subtitle, “Ruby Red Dress,” plus “You and Me Against the World” and “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady”).

If you want to see Helen Reddy’s dominance more clearly, look at some other charts. She put 15 hits into the Adult Contemporary Top 10, including six straight #1s between 1973 and 1976; in addition, “I Am Woman” and “Peaceful” both went to #2. Her albums Long Hard Climb (1973), Free and Easy (1974), and Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits (1975) all made the Top 10 of the album chart, and two others peaked at #11.

She moved a lot of product back in the day.

And it wasn’t just the hit records—in the mid-70s, you couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing her. She was a frequent guest on talk shows, variety shows, and even game shows, and she had her own short-run summer variety series in 1973, back when that was a thing. Between 1973 and 1975, she hosted The Midnight Special. She appeared in a few movies, including a starring role in Pete’s Dragon (1977) and an appearance in the ill-fated Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1978.

But Helen Reddy’s heyday, while intense, was fairly short—a shade under five years. After “You’re My World” peaked at #5 AC and #17 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1977, she would chart only a handful of times. A couple of those records did OK on AC, but she wasn’t making the Top 40 anymore, and her last placement on the Hot 100 came in 1981. Nevertheless, she remained a big star for a while. She got her own variety special in 1979, and in 1981 announced plans to star in a sitcom about a lounge singer/single mom, but it didn’t get on the air. Throughout the 80s she took acting roles on TV; at the end of the 80s and into the 90s she acted in musical theater. She announced her retirement from performing in 2002, although she did a few shows between 2010 and 2014, and she played a benefit in Los Angeles in the summer of 2017 after appearing at the Women’s March in January.

The NPR piece also broke a bit of news. I haven’t seen it reported anywhere else that Reddy is suffering from dementia now.

6 thoughts on “A Rose From Days Gone By

  1. KP

    Hi, JB. I’m a long-time reader of the blog, but this is my first comment.

    Reading your post (and listening this past weekend to the AT40 show from Oct. 21, 1972) reminded me of my high school days, when Helen Reddy was my favorite singer… and I was insufferably letting everyone know it. I remember keeping track of any new Helen Reddy 45 release and would purchase it as soon as possible. (True story: When my family was visiting relatives in Kentucky in the summer of 1973, I actually forfeited a chance to go to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game because I would have had to miss an episode of her summer replacement show. Go figure.) And when I became a faithful AT40 listener in August 1974 (as I was just starting my sophomore year in high school), I made note of the progression of her hits (“You and Me Against the World” was climbing the charts then), and was disappointed when they didn’t rise as high as I thought they should have.

    Although my tastes changed/evolved over the years, I still find myself listening to Ms. Reddy’s material from time to time, particularly the album cuts that didn’t catch my ear when they were new. I hope she had a happy birthday and (if she is now suffering from dementia) hope that she’s able to know how many people her music touched… even a teenage youth in rural Virginia.

    On a separate note, thanks for your blog… keep posting!

  2. Gary

    For some 40 years now, every time I hear “You’re My World” (not often, lately) it reminds me that the copy we played at the semi-automated station I was working at had a pretty bad wow at the beginning. I wanted to fix the air copy but it wasn’t my job and the person in charge was rather possessive of that task. (I would be, too…but I would have fixed the wow.) It’s just one of the many songs where, forever in my mind, I’ll hear it with a wow, or a splice, or some other fixable annoyance. Sigh.

  3. mikehagerty

    My first live big celebrity interview was with Helen Reddy. It was June 30, 1978, and as JB notes, the hits had pretty much stopped coming (though my station was AC and I think we stuck with her until ’79), but she had been chosen to headline at the Sahara Reno, which was opening to the public at midnight that night. There was a preview party on the casino floor and we did my evening show on KOLO-AM live from there that night.

    Helen was charming and spoke with me on air for a good 15 minutes. I was 22 and I’m sure I’d cringe at my part of it if audio were to surface.

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