Musical Memories: B.J. Thomas
At quiet times, typically during the cognitive equivalent of brackish water, when I lie half awake and half asleep, my subconscious sometimes plays a mental jukebox from my youth, delving into snippets of music whose latent melodies bubble to the surface of recognition some forty years later, producing memories of transistor radios crackling with pop songs on 920 AM, WOKY Milwaukee.
My recollection begins around 1973 with “The Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure, Marvin Hamlisch’s version of Joplin’s “The Entertainer” from The Sting, Sweet’s “Little Willy” and – who could forget? – “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. How about “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence (of The Carol Burnett Show fame), “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack, or the early hits by Olivia Newton-John, The Carpenters, Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson?
Oh yeah. It’s all coming back to me now, Celine.
About a month ago, my memory set its needle on the groove of the following lyric: “Hey, won’t you play another somebody done somebody wrong song.”
Holy crap. That’s some obscure shit. I had no idea where it came from, but I needed to know who the heck sang it. Lo and behold, it’s not a one-hit wonder at all, and while he may not be a household name to many these days, he’s still around and still singing: B.J. Thomas.
Remember him? I didn’t. For reasons unknown, his name doesn’t get tossed around as often as the aforementioned singers of the 70s, but you’ve undoubtedly heard him, most notably in the 1969 classic movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Towit:
Yeah, that’s the stuff. It reached number one on the U.S., and it wasn’t Thomas’s first or last foray into the pop charts; he’d already scored a few hits with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hooked on a Feeling” (the original recording, not the 1974 cover by Blue Suede). To date, he’s the recipient of eleven gold records, two platinum records and five Grammy Awards, and he’s sold more than 70 million albums.
Clearly, he’s a guy whose name should be known. Forgive me, B.J. I have officially righted a wrong.
But it’s Thomas’s 1975 number-one hit, “Hey, Won’t You Play, Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” that still echoes within my interior walls with recollections of rides in the Plymouth Gold Duster, my Mom taking me to Sentry where we’d exchange our 8-pack of empty Coke bottles for a new set, and upon our return home, she’d fix me a bowl of graham crackers in milk (yeah, that was my snack of choice, along with apple sauce and cottage cheese with a dash of cinnamon). Later, I’d get out the sprinkler and place it on the uneven patio blocks – uneven because I would often pry them up to peer at the ant colonies underneath – and I’d run through the water while my sister hung upside down on the swingset.
And from inside the patio doors, the sounds of B.J. Thomas would crackle: "…and make me feel at home, while I miss my baby…while I miss my baby.”