Graded on a Curve:
Paul Williams, Evergreens: The Best
of the A&M Years

It is the fate of some singer/songwriters to be the worst interpreters of their own work. Burt Bacharach springs to mind. Ditto Hoyt “Joy to the World” Axton and Jimmy “MacArthur Park” Webb. Kris Kristofferson falls into this category—unlike Webb and Axton he’s instantly recognizable for his rugged good looks and ragged voice, but few prefer his versions of “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Help Me Through the Night” to those of Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash.

The premiere example of the phenomenon, however, is Paul Williams. Williams may have written immortal songs like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” (amongst others) as well as hits by Three Dog Night, Barbra Streisand, Anne Murray, and Helen Reddy, but his own versions have never made a dent in the public consciousness. Even his take on “Rainbow Connection” is overshadowed by the one sung by Kermit the Frog.

Fairly or not, Williams’ failure to make a name for himself singing his own songs has much to do with the fact that he’s one of the most unprepossessing singers to ever take the stage. One is tempted to use the word gnome, but while he’s short (five feet, two inches) he isn’t ugly—just odd looking. If anything, he’s cuddly. You want to pick him up and squeeze him. It hardly matters he can sing and has great material—he simply doesn’t belong beneath stage lights. Williams is the Anti-Kris. He can sing but looks a lot like a Hobbit–Kristofferson looks like a rock star but can hardly hold a tune.

William’s presence in the public eye was limited largely to his many TV appearances—a joke appearance on The Tonight Show here, parts on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hollywood Squares and The Muppet Show there. For most he wasn’t a pop songwriter of genius—he was the Muppets guy.

In short, it has been Williams’ fate to be both visible and invisible. But if you were a pop fan who was paying attention in the seventies you knew he was brilliant; no Neil Diamond perhaps, but a guy who made writing commercial pop standards look easy. And 2004’s Evergreens—The Best of the A&M Years is proof. It collects all the hits listed above as well as songs covered by Frank Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdinck, Dionne Warwick, Art Garfunkel, and that paragon of pop brilliance John Travolta, and affords you the opportunity to hear them from the Hobbit’s mouth. “Here’s what I’ve given you,” Williams seems to be saying, “sung my way. And if you don’t like them you can fuck off.”

Evergreens also includes an additional pair of surprises. One is “Almost Sorry,” which Williams co-wrote with the Scissor Sisters (it appears on their 2006 LP Tah-Da). It also includes “Say Goodbye Today,” which Williams co-wrote with legendary songwriter Carole King who, unlike Williams, successfully made the leap from behind-the-scenes star maker to successful singer in her own right with 1971’s Tapestry. Talk about your meeting of the Titans.

Paul Williams has forever altered the musical landscape but has been cast into the shadows of his own songs. You may not know who he is outside his cameos on The Odd Couple but he’s out there, the Invisible Man, the genius behind the scenes, the secret agent of the popular tune. His versions of his own songs will never measure up to the versions we know and love, but Evergreens will help to set the record straight. Williams may be small but he’s a giant—he may look like the jester but he’s a king.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text