Paul Williams

Songs for the Family of Man: A Collection 1969-1979

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Paul Williams was one of the biggest stars of the '70s, the kind of celebrity who was famous for being famous, as so many guest hosts of The Muppet Show were, and he authored such standards as "An Old Fashioned Love Song," "We've Only Just Begun," and "Rainy Days and Mondays." This would seem to be a substantial résumé, surely enough to warrant at least one comprehensive compilation of his solo recordings, but Williams has never had such a collection until Raven's 2006 set Songs for the Family of Man: A Collection 1969-1979. Easily the best Williams collection yet assembled - largely because it's the only one of its nature - this chronicles the decade where Paul Williams was a large presence in pop, either as a songwriter or a musician himself, all through his own recordings. This means that it has versions of "An Old Fashioned Love Song," "We've Only Just Begun," and "Rainy Days" cut after the hit versions by Three Dog Night and the Carpenters, but that doesn't diminish the effect of this compilation, which begins with a cut from his time as the leader of the Holy Mackerel in 1969 and ends with a trio of tracks from his 1979 album A Little on the Windy Side. In context here, they help illuminate his considerable melodic skills, which are certainly soft and commercial, yet are some of the strongest commercial soft pop of the early '70s. As the decade rolled on, Williams began to emphasize softness over pop, which makes some of the music toward the end of this collection a little too schmaltzy, but that only means that this traces the arc of his career accurately. Besides, it doesn't linger too long on the schmaltz: the bulk of this collection, the first 18 tracks, were cut before 1975, when he balanced his knack for soft, sweet pop with imaginative productions, such as the light, rolling "Out in the Country" or the fuzztoned guitars that drive "The Family of Man." If this doesn't quite establish Paul Williams as a '70s maverick, it does something almost as good: it makes a case for his considerable talents as a commercial songsmith and record maker. Cut for cut, his 1970 solo debut Someday Man is a better record, but that lacks the big hits and is too sunbaked and post-hippie to be a true document of the '70s. This, in contrast, is, which makes Songs for the Family of Man the introductory overview that Paul Williams has long needed.

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