Andy Williams: Always smooth, classy

September 29, 2012

One of the singers I always wanted to hear perform live was Andy Williams.

That’s no longer possible.

Howard Andrew Williams died Tuesday of bladder cancer at age 84 at his Branson, Mo., home. He opened his Andy Williams Theater there in 1992. I often thought of taking a vacation there specifically to hear him sing and to see Roy Clark picking and grinning.

Williams put the “easy” in the “easy listening” music category, with 18 gold records and three that reached platinum in sales. He had 45 singles on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart, including 10 top 10 hits.

A Wikipedia entry about Williams’ career noted that in the 1960s he signed what was at that time the biggest contract in recording history. And at the peak of his popularity, Williams trailed only Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley in gold records.

I thought of Williams as the key singer who bridged the gap between the 1950s and the 1970s for his style of music – Adult Contemporary, in chart terminology. Sinatra and Perry Como also continued to have a radio presence into the early 70s, but I enjoyed Williams’ tunes more because they tended to dip a little deeper into the pop music trough.

Not only did he have that beautiful voice and wonderful song arrangements, he projected moods that lesser singers don’t master. He also projected a classy, humble personality I always appreciated.

I loved his singles like “Lonely Street,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Dear Heart” and “Happy Heart.” Fortunately, I grew up not far from a radio station that not only played Top 40 hits, but also popular songs from the 60s and even the late 50s.

That’s how I got knocked off my feet by a Lerner and Loewe song Williams released in 1964 – “On the Street Where You Live.” The gorgeous tune of yearning to be near a new love was first performed (by someone else) in the 1956 film, “My Fair Lady” – although I didn’t know that when I first heard Williams’ version streaming through my puny little radio speakers.

So smooth.

Williams’ “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” may be overplayed during the Christmas season, but I don’t mind. It’s all about enjoying that fun Christmas feeling that we all had at least once upon a time.

I also remember enjoying the latter years of Williams’ feel-good television presence. He hosted his popular variety program, “The Andy Williams Show,” from 1962-71, and also had a number of TV specials.

Singers such as Bobby Darin and Ray Stevens were featured, as well as a toothy family of performers known as the Osmonds. Comics such as Dick Van Dyke, Jonathan Winters, “Professor” Irwin Corey and Charlie Callas also performed. Some of my favorite musical performers, such as Linda Ronstadt, Bread and Elton John, appeared on his show.

I’m happy that Williams’ recording legacy lives on with his many albums. I have several CDs of his great work. I regret, however, that I never made it up to Branson to hear that talent caress my ear drums in person.

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