Charlie Rich is one of those soulful performers that could sing the phone book compellingly. His voice transcends the country music genre much as his crossover repertoire and style do. He's a soul singer, like other great country stylists George Jones and Merle Haggard. Teaming up with legendary countrypolitan producer/writer Billy Sherrill for the 1973 LP Behind Closed Doors, the pair produced some major genre-bending hits for the heyday of AM radio -- the title cut and the poignant and memorable classic "The Most Beautiful Girl."
Written by Sherrill with Rory Bourke and Norro Wilson, "The Most Beautiful Girl" was chart-topper in both country and mainstream pop circles. It dated back to 1968 when Wilson, now a well-regarded producer in his own right, played as a performer in Chicago, staying at the home of Bourke, who was his record promoter but aspired to be a songwriter. After a night of whooping it up, Bourke awakened Wilson with a hot cup of coffee and a song he had started that he wanted help with. They wrote the song as "Hey Mister, Did You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World?" Getting it finally into the hands of Sherrill, the producer shortened the unwieldy title, tweaked it, and recorded it withRich.
The tale of heartbreak reads like a traditional honky tonk lyric, but the sophisticated melody is haunting and atypical for country music: "I woke up this morning/And realized what I had done/I stood alone in the cold grey dawn/I knew I'd lost my morning sun/I lost my head and I said some things/Now come the heartaches that the morning brings/I know I'm wrong and I couldn't see/I let my world slip away from me/So, hey, did you happen to see/The most beautiful girl in the world?/ And if you did, was she crying, crying?"
Sherrill pushes all the right -- though predictable -- buttons, with strings, backing singers, wistful pedal steel, and a seamlessly smooth sound. But really, not much is needed beyond the remarkably expressive voice of the very aptly named Rich, who came up at Sun Records but croons like the best blue-eyed soul singers, an almost overwhelming melancholy always present in his voice.