Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mr. “Moon River”

In his prime, Iowa-born Andy Williams, who died Tuesday night at age 84 at his home in Branson, Mo., was more popular than Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj combined. From 1962 to 1971, millions of Americans tuned into his weekly variety show to watch such stars as Dinah Shore and Perry Como, but were often surprised by appearances of such then-unknowns as Elton John, the Mamas and the Papas, BeeGees and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Yes, he introduced the world to the Osmonds, but he also booked international superstars such as Antonio Carlos Jobin and displayed a crazy, absurdist humor — check out Cookie Bear and “The Walking Suitcase” in skits on the Web — which calls to mind the wacky comedy embraced by present-day late-night hosts Dave Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon.

While the Beatles and their British brethren invaded American radio in the ’60s, Williams continued to have hit records, especially in England where his singles outsold records by the Rolling Stones, Kinks and The Who.

Over a career that spanned more than 50 years and survived numerous fads and trends, Williams had 27 Top 40 singles. He absolutely owned the American pop charts in the ’60s, scoring with such smashes as “Days of Wine and Roses,” “On the Street Where You Live” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ which was a favorite of the late Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel.

Williams is even more revered today for two popular songs that have become American standards: his signature song “Moon River” (it was never released as a single because his record company feared such lines as “my huckleberry friend” were too confusing and old-fashioned for teens) and the Christmas classic, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which will forever be ubiquitous every December.

His holiday TV specials, on which he was surrounded by children and wore the most brightly colored pullover sweaters this side of Lawrence Welk’s singers, continue to draw an audience in reruns.
Need more evidence of Williams’ staying power?

“Moon River,” written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer and introduced in the 1962 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” is a favorite with musicians young and old. Current pop stars from the Killers, R.E.M and Morrissey have covered the song in concert. Even local New Kid Joey McIntyre did a credible job, but no one has surpassed Williams’ version. Even more impressive, fans of ‘The Simpsons’ know his mellow croon melts the heart of Springfield bully Nelson Muntz. Ha-haw, indeed!

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