Chart Watch Extra: That Wasn’t A Single?!
The most surprising fact in last week's obits for Andy Williams was that his version of "Moon River" was never released as a single. The gorgeous ballad was Williams' signature song for 50 years. He even named his theater in Branson, Mo. (the Moon River Theater) after it.
But Cadence Records, Williams' record company from 1956 to 1961, questioned the song's youth appeal and discouraged the star from recording it. Williams moved onto Columbia Records, where he recorded the song in January 1962. But by then, two recordings of the song (by its composer, Henry Mancini, and by R&B hit-maker Jerry Butler) had become top 15 hits. Williams sang "Moon River" on the Oscars in April 1962 (where it won as Best Song). The following month, Williams' album Moon River & Other Great Movie Themes cracked the Billboard chart. Even without spawning a Hot 100 single, Williams' album was a fixture on the chart for more than three years.
Williams' rendition of "Moon River" isn't the only recording that everybody knows, even though it was never released as a single. Here are 10 more.
Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Sinatra's definitive version of this Cole Porter classic was the highlight of his 1956 album, songs for Swingin' Lovers! Sinatra had best-selling albums and hit singles in the 1950s, but he kept them separate. His biggest hits of this era, including "Learnin' The Blues" and "All The Way," didn't show up on albums until much later. Las Vegas regulars Louis Prima & Keely Smith and The 4 Seasons had chart hits with "I've Got You Under My Skin" (which Porter wrote for the 1936 movie Born To Dance).
Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." "Maggie's Farm" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" were the singles released from Dylan's 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrds heard the potential of "Mr. Tambourine Man." Their version topped the Hot 100 on June 26, 1965, just two months after the release of Dylan's album. It was the first recording of a Dylan song to reach #1. The following month, Dylan charted with "Like A Rolling Stone" from his next album, Highway 61 Revisited.
The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." Amazingly, no singles were released from the Beatles' most famous album, the 1967 landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This trippy Lennon/McCartney song had definite hit potential, which Elton John proved in January 1975 when his subtly updated cover version reached #1. John Lennon played guitar on Elton's remake under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O'Boogie. (Many other Beatles songs could have made this list, including "Michelle," the only Beatles song to win a Grammy as Song of the Year. When the Beatles didn't release it as a single from 1965's Rubber Soul, an English duo, David & Jonathan, covered it and took it into the top 20.)
Carole King's "You've Got A Friend." King let her pal James Taylor record this heartfelt ballad for his 1971 album Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon (which he was recording at the same time that she was recording Tapestry). He put the song out (with her blessing) as the first single from his album. His version hit #1. King's version would have made an ideal follow-up to her #1 smash "It's Too Late." She probably would have had two #1 hits in a row. (Instead, she went with "So Far Away," which reached #14.) King's generosity was rewarded at Grammy time, when "You've Got A Friend" was voted Song of the Year. (The hit covers by Taylor and Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway had boosted the song's stature.)
Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven." "Black Dog" and "Rock And Roll" were Hot 100 hits from Led Zeppelin IV, but this epic track received far more airplay. The song, co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, remains one of the most played songs in the history of album-rock radio. The song didn't crack the Hot 100 until October 1986, when a cover version by a studio group, Far Corporation, reached #89. In 2010, Mary J. Blige "bubbled under" the chart with her version of the song (proving that she can sing absolutely anything).