Johnny Mathis

Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head

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The famous Mitch Miller formula continues to work for Johnny Mathis despite Clive Davis being at the helm of Columbia Records when Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head was released. Flipping through the Mathis collection of album covers, this LP has the singer in a different pose than usual. A suit with bow tie is the image with sound again produced by Jack Gold, the veteran who worked with acts as diverse as Nina Simone, Ray Conniff, Barbra Streisand, the doo wop band the G-Clefs, and many others. Adding the voices of the G-Clefs to this music would have truly been innovative, but also would have deviated from the essential sound that was being sold to Mathis' loyal following. There are no musical revelations other than the fact that this artist could take George Harrison's "Something" and bring it to another arena, just as Frank Sinatra did, the two artists playing to the same audience. It's where they both leave a one-dimensional crooner like Bobby Vinton off the train. Mathis rarely gets credit for the way he can bend and shape notes, obvious on "Something" as well as his reading of "Honey Come Back," Glen Campbell's 1970 hit. Hearing Mathis sing "Alfie" is the revelation, though, for it is truly a groundbreaking moment. Here is a man singing a love song to another man -- "I believe in love, Alfie..." -- without the camp of Neil Sedaka bringing the house down with his rendition of "Where the Boys Are." That this brilliant performance of the Bacharach/David/Dionne Warwick classic is followed by the theme to a gay hustler film, "Midnight Cowboy" (with producer Jack Gold getting co-writing credit here with John Barry), is beyond innuendo. It's a quiet but brilliant move for a singer playing to the middle-of-the-road set, female backing vocalists emulating the sound of Vinnie Bell's guitar from the Ferrante & Teicher hit version. Maybe the Columbia execs demanded "A Man and a Woman" to start off side two -- a quick antidote to the very clever twist on the first side of the disc. When Stevie Wonder took "Alfie" on he had the luxury of using his harmonica to create an instrumental version -- Mathis flies without any such net, just the safety of the older fans who never gave it a second thought. Andy Williams, Bill Black, and, of course, B.J. Thomas also titled albums Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head at this point in time, with Mathis adding "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and the Oliver hit "Jean" to his mix. When you think about it, these albums crafted for the adult contemporary market were nothing more than a cover band performance at your local nightspot, musicians giving the people what they want. And there's nothing wrong with that if you can't find material as groundbreaking as "Wonderful! Wonderful!" or "Chances Are" for your next album. He follows the theme song from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with yet another track from the Midnight Cowboy movie, Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'." It's interesting that no one did talk when this great singer went out on a limb on this collection. The sound with Jack Gold steering the ship is much more restrained than when Percy Faith and Nelson Riddle added their magic to Mathis' voice, but for the time it was just perfect.

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