(Pictured: Helen Reddy with Glen Campbell and Donna Summer, and Mac Davis with Doc Severinsen, both from 1979.)
I stayed off Twitter last night to avoid the presidential debate, so it wasn’t until early this morning that I learned of the deaths of Helen Reddy and Mac Davis. It wasn’t the debate that killed them, however. Reddy had Alzheimer’s disease, and Davis died after heart surgery.
Reddy’s first hit was a version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971. She would hit #1 three times between 1972 and 1974 with “I Am Woman,” “Delta Dawn,” and “Angie Baby.” She charted a total of 14 records on the Hot 100. On the adult contemporary chart, she had six straight #1 hits between 1973 and 1976. Five of her albums made #11 or better on the Billboard 200 in that period. She was not the sort of performer who was going to thrive in the disco era, however, although she had a few modest AC hits, and her career continued to thrive even after the hit singles stopped. She became the host of The Midnight Special in 1975, acted on TV, and appeared on variety, game, and talk shows for as long as that was a thing. Her last charting record on the Hot 100 and AC chart came in 1981.
Davis, meanwhile, first came to prominence as a songwriter, and every obit you read today will mention in its first couple of lines the ones he wrote for Elvis. His first big single under his own name, “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” spent a month at #1 in 1972. Of his other 14 Hot 100 hits, only “Stop and Smell the Roses” would make the Top 10. (America reached peak Mac-itude in September 1974, when “Stop and Smell the Roses” and “One Hell of a Woman” were both in the Top 40, just weeks after his limited-run summer TV series left the air.) Several of his Hot 100 hits in the 70s scratched onto the country charts, but he didn’t become a major figure in country until 1980; five singles hit the country Top 10 in less than two years, and three of those made the Hot 100, including “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” which peaked at #43. His last country chart hit was in 1985.
Like Reddy, Davis pursued an acting career as the 70s turned to the 80s, appearing in a string of high-profile movies: North Dallas Forty, Cheaper to Keep Her, and The Sting II. Based on their entries at IMDB, both Reddy and Davis largely retired from acting around the year 2000. Davis recorded his last album in 1994; Reddy released an album of re-recorded hits in 2002.
So it’s been a long time since Helen Reddy and Mac Davis were much on anybody’s mind, outside of their families. But if you could transport yourself from the fall of 2020 back to the fall of 1974, back into the world of Top 40 radio and TV as it existed in that bygone day, Helen Reddy and Mac Davis would be two of the biggest stars in the sky.
And on the subject of time travel. . . .
If you could transport yourself from the fall of 2020 back to the fall of 1974, why wouldn’t you? You could have Jerry Ford, recession, energy crisis, and the Cold War—or whatever the actual fk that was in the presidential debate last night.
I have not yet decided if the e-mail thing I wrote about in yesterday’s post is going to fly, but if it was, I’d have plenty to say. In the name of not going off-brand, I won’t say it in detail here, except to note that any governor who doesn’t call out the National Guard to protect polling places now, any mayor who doesn’t mobilize local police to protect polling places now (where the local police can be trusted not to take the side of the terrorists), is negligent. Trump has made it clear that he isn’t going to leave office even if he’s crushed at the polls, and there are lots of people ready to die and kill to keep him there. Local and state governments need to get ahead of this starting today. Even two weeks from now might be too late. Anybody who thinks this country can’t dissolve into Balkan-style anarchy or worse (and I don’t think I’m exaggerating the threat of this) is underestimating Trump’s hold on his people, and his willingness to pour gasoline on every fire to save his sorry hide from the legal and financial ruin that awaits him.
9 thoughts on “Stars in the Sky”
I also note the passing yesterday of founding Tower of Power bassist Francis Rocco Prestia — a superb bass player and a star in the Blumenau household of my youth, where low-profile, high-chops musos were worshipped.
Helen Reddy also belatedly become something of a Broadway star. I saw her onstage in “Blood Brothers” on Broadway in the mid-1990s.
I interviewed Helen Reddy in 1978. She was lovely, I was horrible—22 and star-struck.
I got to interview Helen more than 20 years ago when I did The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits, and I was surprised at how frank she was in our discussion. She didn’t give a damn about the Grammys, even though she got a nomination for “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady”; sighed about how her 1976 AC chart topper “I Can’t Hear You No More” was an effort to cash into the disco craze; called the B-side of that single, “Music is My Life,” “a piece of tripe” even though it got airplay in some markets; and really disliked doing “Leave Me Alone” in concert, to the point where she did it as part of a medley and eventually dropped it from the setlist. Having to sing the title phrase 43 times each performance apparently wore her down. I must say, I did enjoy interviewing her.
As for Mac Davis, I didn’t get ahold of him, but I did talk to Doc Severinson, who said he got a co-writing credit to “Stop and Smell the Roses” from Mac just for suggesting it would make a great song title. And it did. Davis writing “In the Ghetto” was so often mentioned that I didn’t realize until his obit yesterday that he also created one of my favorite hits from Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, “Something’s Burning.”
“As for Mac Davis, I didn’t get ahold of him, but I did talk to Doc Severinson, who said he got a co-writing credit to “Stop and Smell the Roses” from Mac just for suggesting it would make a great song title. And it did.”
Very classy move on Mac’s part. Reminds me of the liner notes to a Raspberries’ comp where one of the other band members (Wally Bryson, maybe?) actually came up with the iconic guitar riff for “Go All The Way” but Eric Carmen wouldn’t give him any songwriting credit for it.
Carmen is a big time Trumpee now. Go figure.
It’s easy to rag on “In The Ghetto” nowadays, but that was a pretty bold move for Mac to write a song like that over 50 years ago. I hold him in high regard just for that one song alone.
JB, in regards to your concerns about polling places, I couldn’t agree more after reading this article this morning:
This country is a dumpster fire right now.
I’m urging my friends on Facebook (those not voting for Trump anyway) to vote early—mail it in, use a dropbox, whatever. Let’s let the Trump “poll-watchers” watch each other on Election Day.
To paraphrase Chico Marx, “Tuesday, we fool them. We no show up.”
I’ve filled out my absentee ballot and plan to drop it off in person at my local board of elections to assure that it will be counted and displayed as part of the results on Election Night. I’m at the point where I don’t trust much of anything anymore involving our government. Although I do think the president is positive for coronavirus, since karma’s been working overtime this year.
I have said repeatedly throughout the pandemic that I would not wish COVID-19 on anyone. That includes Trump.
I wish him (as well as the First Lady and Hope Hicks) a complete recovery and with it a profound and deep understanding of the misery he could have spared others and the families of those who lost loved ones had he simply acted quickly, fully, responsibly and consistently throughout the past six and a half months.