I don’t have all of my singles anymore. We had a garage sale in the late 90s and I let a bunch of them go because I had CD versions of the songs and I was tired of carting them around. I have since regretted that—they would represent a real-time history of what moved me enough to lay down my 95 cents between 1971 and 1974.
I didn’t buy everything I liked, partly because I didn’t have unlimited funds, and partly because who the hell knows. As I thumb through what’s left, the only consistency is inconsistency. I loved Elton John but didn’t buy everything he made; I loved Philly soul but didn’t buy everything that was on the radio; I bought Van Morrison’s “Domino” but nothing else by Van for nearly 30 years. (But I have both “Scorpio” and “Taurus” by Dennis Coffey.) One of the more peculiar buys is one I would have made 40 years ago this summer.
I am pretty sure that there’s some mid-list celebrity out there who’d be the modern equivalent to Joey Heatherton—maybe somebody who got famous on a reality show and parlayed it into a mid-list career. Joey started in TV as a teenager in the late 50s, and appeared on many variety shows in the 60s, often in the orbit of Dean Martin. She made several tours abroad with Bob Hope, entertaining the troops in the scanty costumes she filled so well. She acted on TV and in B-movies, and was briefly married to a pro football player, Lance Rentzel of the Dallas Cowboys.
In 1972, a showbiz vet but still only 27 years old, she launched a singing career. The Joey Heatherton Album featured a number of familiar songs, including the country standards “Crazy” and “I’m Sorry” and a version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” in addition to “Gone.” It’s not especially difficult to understand what drew me to this record—the horn blast that opens it could knock down the walls of Jericho and it sounded great on the radio. The song had been a big pop and country hit for the splendiferously named Ferlin Husky in 1957, but Heatherton finds drama in it that Husky never perceived. When she comes back one last time with “Oh, what I’d give for the lifetime I’ve wasted,” even a 12-year-old who knows practically nothing about love or girls or any damn thing can tell that whatever the singer is feeling, it’s as serious as a heart attack. So maybe it’s not so peculiar why I bought it, when other things I liked better I never did.
Heatherton’s singing career, apart from “Gone” reaching #24 on the Hot 100, fizzled pretty fast. She was known for her appearance in Serta Mattress commercials in the 70s, and she had a summer replacement TV variety show with her father, Broadway star Ray Heatherton, in 1975. Her acting career was pretty much over by the 1980s, a decade in which she faced some legal troubles. A Playboy pictorial in 1997 returned her briefly to the public eye. When she helped assemble the 2004 limited edition re-release of The Joey Heatherton Album, she chose to replace the original cover shot with a spectacular topless photo, because when you got it, you use it.
One other note for the geeks: Heatherton’s brother Dick was a prominent radio jock in the 70s and 80s with gigs in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, and a few other places, in addition to an acting career. When one of my stations picked up a satellite-delivered nostalgia format in the early 90s, he was one of the weekend jocks. But given that link in the preceding paragraph, I’m pretty sure nobody’s reading this one.