The third release in Collector’s Choice’s reissue program of the B.J. Thomas catalog is probably the one most anticipated by fans. The CD features the original LPs of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head and Everybody’s Out Of Town plus five bonus tracks for a total of 25 songs on one disc. Not a bad deal at all, as the original Scepter recordings have been out of print for ages.
After the well-deserved success of “Hooked On A Feeling,” Scepter management were eager to get Thomas into the studio with the red-hot songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. They struck gold with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.” According to the liner notes, though, the song had been pitched to both Ray Stevens and Bob Dylan before presenting it to B.J. Thomas.
Imagine Bob Dylan as the the voice of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.
With the runaway success of the single, an album needed to be assembled quickly, and Thomas found himself in the studio with a batch of top material. Surprisingly, Raindrops does not open with the title song, but rather a strong version of “Little Green Apples,” with full orchestration.
“Raindrops” is followed by another fine Bacharach-David tune, “This Guy’s In Love With You.” There are also a couple from Jimmy Webb, “If You Must Leave My Life” and “Do What You Gotta Do.” Old friend Mark James (who wrote “Hooked On A Feeling”) contributes “Mr. Mailman” and “Suspicious Minds.”
Things were done a bit differently in the studio back in 1969. Elvis had already hit big with his version of “Suspicious Minds.” Still, it is a little surprising that for B.J. Thomas’ take on the song, permission was given to use Elvis’ backing track, with his vocals replaced by those of Thomas. If you listen closely you can even hear The King’s voice bleeding through the mix a few times.
1970 saw the release of Everybody’s Out Of Town. Some of my earliest musical memories are of this album, as it is one of the two or three records my decidedly un-hip parents bought that year. It is still my favorite B.J. Thomas record of all time.
Everybody’s kicks off with an excellent version of Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'.” I have actually always preferred Thomas’ interpretation of this song to that of Nilsson. Better voice and arrangement in my opinion. The Bacharach-David title track comes next, and it is another indelible combination of song, arrangement, and voice.
Brill Building pros Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill contribute what is, for me at least, the high point of the record: “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” What a great lyric and performance. The strings and chorale underscore the heartbreaking tale in a way that is impossibly gorgeous.
Wrapping things up with a warm rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” B.J. Thomas’ skills as an interpreter are without question. Everybody’s Out Of Town may be a sentimental favorite, but listening to it 40 years later, it remains a marvelous example of just how glorious popular music can be.
B.J. Thomas was at an absolute career peak with these two albums.