This is the twenty-first in a series of examinations of music legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous music urban legends.
MUSIC LEGEND: “We’ve Only Just Begun” was originally a song for a bank commercial.
STATUS: Basically True
Paul Williams was one of the most prominent songwriters of the 1970s when it came to pop music. Many generations of Muppet fans will remember his “Rainbow Connection.”
But all different types of pop music fans would enjoy Williams work, which included songs for a number of varied artists like Three Dog Night, the Carpenters and Barbra Streisand.
One of his most notable songs was a hit for the Carpenters, the love song “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
Amusingly enough, though, the song began life as a song for a BANK COMMERCIAL!
In 1968, Williams was living in California and had had SOME success as a songwriter and musician, but he was still struggling to hit it big.
It was then that he and his writing partner, Roger Nichols, got a big break by another man’s, well, big break.
It had all the romantic beginnings of a bank commercial’ is the way I describe it. There was actually a wonderful writer named Tony Asher who wrote for this ad agency, and he’d had a skiing accident and he broke his arm, so he couldn’t write or play the piano or whatever. So he suggested Roger Nichols and I as replacements to write this ad. The ad agency called us and said, “Look, we’re going to show a young couple getting married, driving off into the sunset, and it’s going to say, ‘You’ve got a long way to go, we’d like to help you get there to the Crocker Bank.’” And I went, Okay, what rhymes with Crocker? Crocker what? And they said very specifically, “No we don’t want a jingle.” What they asked for is what we would today call a music video. It was going to show a young couple getting married, driving off into the sunset. After the ceremony, the first kiss and all. So Roger and I wrote the song that would play over that.
We wrote the first two verses of ‘We’ve Only Just Begun.’ We wrote a second version of the commercial that was a verse, and what became the bridge. We added a third verse just in case anybody would ever want to record it. And then I assumed that it would never, ever get cut again. Richard (Carpenter), I guess, heard me singing it on the TV commercial, and called and asked if there was a complete song. And we went, ‘Well, funny you should ask.’ And if there hadn’t been a complete song, we would have lied and said, ‘Well, of course there is,’ and then sat down and written it. You know, songwriting in those days was like that, too. I remember finishing songs in the back seat of a publisher’s car on the way to play it for a producer. I retained my rights as a writer, and the publisher retained his rights as well.
Pretty amazing, huh?
Crocker National Bank was a big bank in California at the time. It merged into Wells Fargo in 1986.
Thanks so much to Carl Wiser for the great interview with Paul Williams where the information was taken from, and thanks to Paul Williams for being so forthcoming about the song’s origin.
MUSIC LEGEND: A non band member sang “Incense and Peppermints” because no one in the band wanted to.
Occasionally, bands will have guest singers on their song, and every so often, a band will have a big hit with someone other than their normal lead singer being involved in the song.
However, it’s quite rare to see a guest singer on a song when it was simply a matter of everyone else in the band hating the song.
And when that song becomes the biggest hit the band ever had?
Well, that’s some weird stuff all around, but that’s exactly what happened with the Strawberry Alarm Clock and their hit song “Incense and Peppermints”
In 1967, Strawberry Alarm Clock was just BECOMING “Strawberry Alarm Clock,” as they had been recording as Thee Sixpence. Their lead vocalists were Lee Freeman and Mark Weitz.
They were recording a single called “The Birdman of Alkatrash,” written by Weitz.
Needing a B-Side, Weitz and band guitarist Ed King wrote an instrumental piece. The band’s producer, Frank Slay, though, sent a tape of the instrumental to a songwriter friend of his, John Carter, who then wrote the lyrics to what would become “Incense and Peppermints.”
Naturally, the band was put off by Slay’s maneuvering, and they especially disliked Carter’s lyrics (and the fact that he was actually in studio that day to “oversee” the singing of his lyrics) so Weitz and Freeman refused to perform the lyrics.
A 16-year-old friend of the band, Greg Munford, happened to be in the studio as a visitor watching the recording. Carter, surely irritated that the band wouldn’t perform his song, asked the young lad if he would be willing to sing the song. He agreed, and the band recorded “Incense and Peppermints.” It was only meant to be a B-Side on a single that no one was even sure would get played, so no one really objected too much – them not having to sing the lyrics they hated was enough for them at the time.
So, naturally, the B-Side was what DJs began playing and the single was re-pressed with “Incense and Peppermints” becoming the A-Side and hitting #1 on the charts (and staying on the charts for 15 weeks).
In a little bit of adding injury to insult, Weitz and King, who wrote the original instrumental piece that served as the basis for the song, were denied songwriting credit on the tune (it was later determined that the song was changed enough for the songwriting denial to be allowable)!!
Munford never DID join the band, but the band itself didn’t exactly have a long career – they broke up in 1971.
MUSIC LEGEND: Ricky Valance named himself after Richie Valens.
STATUS: Apparently False
Ricky Valance was a popular British singer in the early 1960s, becoming one of the earliest “teen” singers to be accepted in England, where performances by “teen idols” were seen by the BBC as being almost un-classy in the late 1950s/very early 1960s.
A common practice would be to have British artists do cover versions of American songs, and that’s what happened with Valance in 1960 when he covered Ray Peterson’s “Tell Laura I Love Her.”
The song went to #1 in late 1960, with Valance becoming the first Welshman to have a #1 hit on the British charts.
In any event, it has long been stated that Valance (born David Spencer) took the stage name “Ricky Valance” in honor of “La Bamba” singer Richie Valens, who died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.
Valance says that this is untrue, and that he took the name because:
I’d always liked the name Ricky and when looking for a surname to go with it, one day I was at a horse racing meeting when I noticed that the trainer of one of the the horses was a Colonel Valance, which I immediately liked and so, Ricky Valance was born.
Valance is quite irritated over the whole “Valens” thing, and I dunno, it seems like a rather odd thing to lie about, doesn’t it? So I’m willing to believe Valance.
The above quote comes from his website.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org