Andy Williams (1963)
The English Beat (1980)
Today’s Cover Friday is serving double duty, as both a cool cover (of course!) and as a tribute to Andy Williams, who died this past Tuesday at the age of 84. Williams was always a personal favorite of mine when it came to the “crooners,” primarily because he was responsible for some of the best pop Christmas songs that have ever been put on recording media. What would the Christmas music world be — actually, what would Christmas be — without “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the original and definitive version of which was recorded by Williams. It never fails to get me in the Christmas mood, no matter how otherwise un-Christmas-y I might be feeling. In fact, the entirety of The Andy Williams Christmas Album, his first Christmas album (of several to follow), is required listening each year if I want to truly get in the otherwise-sometimes-hard-to-achieve spirit of the season. I’m all about the secular songs, so his “Happy Holidays/Holiday Season” and “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells,” both from Side 1, are also high on my list of songs guaranteed to get you in a good mood.
And the great thing about Andy Williams is that he himself always seemed to be in a good mood — his good nature set him off from such crankypants as Frank Sinatra. It was a quality I always appreciated about Williams — he seemed like the kind of guy who’d be nice to anyone, no matter how important they were or were not. (Not to keep picking on Sinatra, but for him, not so much.) I think it was what made Williams so well-liked, aside from that oh-so-smooth voice of his.
To be honest, I know very little of Williams’ non-Christmas catalog, aside from his very famous version of “Moon River,” a few others that I can’t recall at the moment, and today’s song, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” It was released on Williams’ 1963 album Days of Wine and Roses and Other TV Requests (although albums being what they were at the time — containers to collect singles in — it was on no less than three different albums in the year or two after its release), and his was the original recording of the song. “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, the great songwriting team also responsible for such early rock-and-roll classics as “Teenager in Love,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and “Little Sister.” However, the fact of the matter is, I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear Williams’ version until after I heard the cover version released by the English Beat on their 1980 album, I Just Can’t Stop It. And the funny thing is, while I might have assumed that I would love the Beat’s very cool version so much more, I think I like the Williams version nearly as much. It seems like a very unusual song to have been a hit in the early ’60s: the sparse, syncopated, stuttering instrumentation in the verse seems somehow a bit ahead of its time, but maybe it’s simply because I just can’t stop it — thinking of the English Beat’s version, that is. Of course, Andy’s effortless vocals tied the stop-and-start beat into one easy-flowing whole, so it still went down easy. But clearly, it stood out enough to have inspired Dave Wakeling and company to want to cover it. And cover it well they did, keeping its slightly spooky atmosphere but ska-ifying it just enough to make it fit into what is widely considered one of the greatest ska albums ever — no mean feat, when you think about it — and in the process, revealing the melodic heart beating at the center of the English Beat’s music and setting the stage for such later sweet pop nuggets as “I Confess.”
Andy Williams, farewell — this year’s Christmas season will seem just a little less wonderful without you.