Remembering the life of an American Pop treasure whose presence spans multiple generations
Some artists are such an integral part of the music firmament that it’s all too easy to take them for granted.
In those cases, the songs simply speak for themselves.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
B.J. Thomas was one of those singers whose pervasive presence in the charts never made it necessary to pry into his personality or mine any mystique. He was never known as a songwriter and as such, he had little need to do anything other than simply make memorable songs that an audience could easily enjoy. He achieved that goal with a string of no less than 15 chart-topper hits from the mid ‘60s through the mid ‘70s. Naturally, his most significant success was shared in the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” culled from a key sense in the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It’s a record that still lingers with some largess, having been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.
VIDEO: B.J. Thomas “Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head”
Significantly, Thomas himself was the recipient of five Grammy wins during his more than 50-year career.
While “Raindrops” was certainly the song for which Thomas was best known, he could claim other chart-toppers as well. “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” — which still holds the distinction of having the longest song title of any major entry into the Top Ten — climbed to number one on both the country and pop charts in 1975. The celebratory “Hooked On a Feeling” hit similar heights in 1968, although it was later overshadowed by Blue Swede’s version, courtesy of the added embellishment provided by their emphatic “Ooga-chaka-ooga-ooga.”
VIDEO: Fan-made video for “Hooked On A Feeling” using scenes from Guardians of the Galaxy
Thomas, who passed away at age 78 on May 29 from complications due to lung cancer, crossed into varied musical realms, including pop, country and gospel. Born in Oklahoma, he sang in a church choir as a teenager before eventually forming his first band, The Triumphs. It was in their company that Thomas scored his first major hit, a cover of the Hank Williams classic, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” After venturing out on his own, other successes followed — the aforementioned, “Hooked on a Feeling” and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” as well as “Eyes of a New York Woman,” I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “No Love at All,” “Mighty Clouds or Joy,” “Rock and Roll Joy,” Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love,” “New Looks From a Old Lover,” “Two Car Garage,”“Still the Lovin’ Is Fun,” and “Don’t Worry Baby,” among the many.
Nevertheless, Thomas’ success wasn’t limited to his radio fare. He famously recorded “As Long As We Got Each Other,” the perky theme song recorded for the hit TV series “Growing Pains” and another mass appeal staple he could bank on. (The Dusty Springfield version was substituted in season four, but by season five, Thomas’ take on the song with Jennifer Warnes was revived for the opening credits.) His voice also appeared on a number of commercials, including those for Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Bell Telephone.
VIDEO: B.J. Thomas and Dusty Springfield “As Long As We Got Each Other”
Ultimately, it’s the smooth croon and casual caress that established Thomas as such an indomitable presence, setting a standard for all easy-listening music with a reassuring sound that shared no pretension other than to provide enjoyment and entertainment.
One fan, on learning of his passing, summed that status up succinctly: “The longer I live, the more I think the real measure of a performer is not being great at the very height of their success, but rather at every weekday state fair gig, corporate date or casino gig. #BJThomas was one of those greats.”
We couldn’t agree more.
VIDEO: B.J. Thomas on The Glen Campbell Music Show (1982)