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A Thought for Today
Without the singer, there is no song.
22 February, 2000
William Oliver Swofford would have been 55 today (58 yesterday). He died
this past week of cancer. You might have known him better by his stage
name Oliver. He was a songwriter who wrote literate, lovely songs and the
voice that took "Good Morning Starshine" to the top of the charts. And,
not so incidentally, turned my title song from "The Prime of Miss Jean
Brodie" into an international hit.
Bill Swofford was another of those people that happened along in my life
and changed its course.
In the spring of 1969 I was in New York for a guest shot on a Nancy
Sinatra television special. The producer, Gary Smith and the director,
Dwight Hemian asked me to perform "A Cat Named Sloopy" as part of my
program. They were friends of writer/ producer Bob Crewe and knew that Bob
had a beautiful white Persian cat named Simon. He suggested that I should
get together with Simon for some photographs that could be used during the
performance. I'd go anywhere to meet a cat and getting to meet Bob, the
architect of The Four Seasons and so many other acts I admired, was the
I left Bob with a test pressing of the "Jean Brodie" soundtrack and forgot
about it. I had no idea he was Oliver's producer and anyway it couldn't
possibly make a difference. I didn't have any unusual expectations for
"Jean," after all a year earlier I'd written the songs and score for
another film, "Joanna" and nobody was tripping over themselves to record
"I'll Catch The Sun" or "Joanna.”
By September Oliver had made "Jean" the number two song in the country. At
the end of the year Oliver's "Jean" was such an enormous hit that it was
covered by nearly a hundred artists around the world, including Johnny
Mathis, Glenn Campbell, Henry Mancini and Andy Williams. Jazz and polka
artists did it and a couple of female singers even performed it as "Gene."
I, myself, sang it to Gene Kelly at the Golden Globes and won the statue.
It earned me the Motion Picture Exhibitors Award as the years' best film
song and an Oscar nomination.
No song, good, bad or so-so means anything unless it's performed and
performed well. Oliver didn't just sing "Jean" well; he and Bob Crewe's
production values set a standard for its performance.
I'm sorry to say I never got to know Bill Swofford as well as I'd like to
have known him. My loss. With his passing all of us have lost yet another
voice for our kind of song. His voice has been missing for a long while
and now will be missed evermore.
I read a small piece in the paper yesterday about
the passing of "Oliver" Swofford, the fellow who took "Jean" to near the
top of the charts. Not sure if you ever had cause to meet the man, but I
think he did a marvelous job with that song. It was my first introduction
to your music. (Strangely, my first introduction to your name was seeing
it in a "Peanuts" comic strip, where Sally angrily asks Charlie Brown if
Rod McKuen can draw a cow's leg. To which Charlie Brown replies, simply,
Oliver's version of "Good Morning Starshine," from "Hair" was sublime. He
also wrote a very pretty song called "Young Birds Fly" that I have on an
album by 60's band The Cryan Shames. Just a note of appreciation and
recognition. Thanks. -Tom, NYC
Dear Tom, In a single paragraph, you've said it all. Thanks and luv, Rod.
Shock about Oliver. Never even heard that he had
cancer...54 is so young. Sigh - will there be anyone left in our world
Dear Wade, Odd, there have been no obituaries on Oliver here on the West
Only you and Melinda Smith know how far ahead we try to stay on the
Notable Birthdays list. You and I have been adding new ones every month
since you created the first master list in 1984. Melinda now saves me the
trouble of alphabetizing them and I then go through the final list and try
to add a personal touch. As ever, Rod
RM First published 2/22/2000
I’m off to the theatre for the “Friends, Three” Benefit. By the time you
read this the show will be over and I’ll be back home continuing to work
on material for the Carnegie Hall Concert.
RM 2/22/2003 6:28 PM PST
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