Here’s another post from the past, with some links added. This one first appeared on June 21, 2007.
O. C. Smith, who was born in 1932 (and who died in 2001), replaced the legendary singer Joe Williams in the Count Basie Orchestra in 1961. After a couple of years, he left Basie and started cutting country and soul songs. The hits began to come in 1968, and over the next three years he put nine records into the Hot 100. Perhaps you’ve heard the great “The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp,” or his covers of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” “Primrose Lane,” Baby I Need Your Lovin’,” or “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” Or maybe not. However: If you had the radio on during the late 60s and into the 1970s, you have certainly heard the song for which O. C. Smith is famous.
Bobby Russell was a songwriter named who specialized mostly in songs about pre-women’s lib domesticity, including “Honey” (but not counting the rural murder-mystery tale “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” which counts as a domestic song only in that he wrote it for his then-wife Vicki Lawrence). Russell’s old-school takes on home life were, not surprisingly, quite popular with MOR artists. Lots of them tackled “Honey”—but many also recorded the song for which O. C. Smith is famous.
The song was covered by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones, Vic Damone, Jerry Vale, and Andy Williams. Country stars such Eddy Arnold, Ray Price, and Bill Anderson found it appealing, too. Soul singers such as Joe Simon cut it. Groups such as Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and the Four Tops cut it. The version for which O. C. Smith is famous is actually a cover, too: Roger Miller and Patti Page took it into the Hot 100 before Smith did. But neither of them became as famous because of it as O. C. Smith did.
As it turned out, 1968 was a very good year for both O. C. Smith and Bobby Russell. Russell won the Song of the Year Grammy for that year, beating out Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon, and Tom T. Hall. But not with “Honey”—with the song for which O. C. Smith is famous. Russell also scored his first Top-40 hit in 1968, one of his slice-of-domestic-life songs, “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero.” As fate would have it, “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” sneaked into the Top 40 in the same week that the song for which O. C. Smith is famous reached #2, its peak chart position.
It was the week of October 26, 1968. A bitter presidential election campaign neared its climax. America’s AM radios were pumping “Hey Jude” and “Suzie-Q” and “Time Has Come Today” and “White Room” and “All Along the Watchtower” and “Love Child” and “Midnight Confessions” and “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Harper Valley PTA.” But every so often they’d play something completely different, something quieter, with some faintly clever wordplay and a little bit of soul—the song for which Bobby Russell would win a Grammy, the song for which O. C. Smith is famous. Many amongst the readership will recognize it from the first second, and will almost certainly know the words.