#7 B.J. Thomas – Rock and Roll Lullaby
My dad invested in our first high end stereo system in 1970. It was a self-contained Sony system with a great record player and superlative FM reception. He even sprung for a pair of David Clark headphones, the best my young ears had ever experienced. I bought an extension cord and drank in the dawn of progressive FM as it was being born in Detroit. WKNR-FM, WXYZ-FM (later WRIF) and WABX were the three contenders. But with dreams of a Top-40 DJ career dancing in my head, I still sought out the hits. The Beach Boys’ 1964 “All Summer Long” LP was a Christmas present the year we got the gear. Capitol Records‘ “Full Dimensional Stereo” added new depth to Brian Wilson’s harmonic artistry as it played through our then state-of-the-art technology.
By 1972, I had a gig at our local radio station. The program director regularly gave me the duplicate 45s that the record companies tossed our way. I slowly began to build a library, filtering each into a “keep” or “toss” pile by auditioning them like a Music Director on our Sony turntable spindle.
From the opening notes of B.J. Thomas’ 1972 Top 20 hit, “Rock and Roll Lullaby“, I was hooked. It was late in the evening when I first played it. The lights were off and only the soft, green glow of the radio dial illuminated our living room.
I didn’t know it then, but the tremolo lead guitar that floated above co-composer Barry Mann‘s Fender Rhodes keyboard was a Duane Eddy contribution. Another thing I still had not processed was how Barry and his songwriting partner / wife Cynthia Weil had come up with the music and lyrics. Their legendary work out of the Brill Building in the 1960s, plus Eddy’s trademark twang set the ideal mood for a story about a single mom singing to her infant son.
As the record continued to spin the The Blossoms (Darlene Love, Fanita James, and Jean King) fell in to back up B.J. on the chorus. But it was when Dave Somerville, Ron Hicklin, Tom Bahler, and Gene Morford, of the Hicklin singers perfectly channeled the Beach Boys that “Rock and Roll Lullaby” entered my all time Top-10. Hicklin’s cadre of voices was to vocals, what The Wrecking Crew was to the instrumental tracks. They would be the voices of The Partridge Family and be heard singing dozens of the most popular television theme songs of the era, Batman, Love, American Style, and Happy Days among the more memorable.
Any of them could have had solo careers, but they preferred to earn a good living in the background, able to recreate just about any sound, and giving confidence to some of the biggest stars, for whom singing was a little outside their comfort zone. That’s Ron you hear doubling with Gary Lewis on “This Diamond Ring“.
In this instance, Thomas and producer Steve Tyrell were smart enough to retain the best of the best for what was essentially B.J.’s last major hit before a three year dry spell that ended when “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” became his final significant chart appearance.
All of this information would come to me later, the kind of detail that populates liner notes and is truncated into what announcers say as the song’s intro ramps up. I loved the tune best when I heard it on the air, the FM compressors adding even more richness to the mix, as producer Tyrell probably knew they would. When I played it during my own broadcasting career, it was always four minutes and ten seconds when I never removed my headphones.
But in that first moment of discovery, the sensation of pure delight of a record that totally resonated my musical sensibilities washing over me, became part of he “high” that was better than any drug, with positive side effects that still reverberate today.
Try listening with headphones and let “Rock & Lullaby” turn back the hands of time.