‘Pop Goes The Country’ is an ongoing series where I explore country music’s biggest crossover hits.
If there’s one thing this feature isn’t, it’s an exercise in examining career longevity, though that means something different in this particular case.
“(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” may have marked pop star B.J. Thomas’s first appearance on the country music charts, but this wasn’t a case of an aging rock ‘n’ roller trying to invade a genre he knew nothing about. As mentioned in recent volumes of this series, artists in the ‘70s were, in themselves, combinations of their various influences, from country to rockabilly to R&B and beyond; Thomas was no exception. Born in Hugo, Oklahoma, and raised near Houston, Texas, Thomas was as enamored with Ernest Tubb as he was with, say, Little Richard. Thomas’s first top 10 hit, in fact, was a 1966 pop version of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
While he had moderate success afterwards, including singing the theme song from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” his big hit in question today provided a rebirth for his career. Producer Chip Moman wrote the tune in 20 minutes at home with fellow producer Larry Butler, who’d go on to produce some of Kenny Rogers’s biggest hits, another artist to be explored later in this feature. Moman was producing a new album for Thomas at the time and wanted to cut the new song for him; meanwhile, Butler was trying to convince him to give the song to someone else. It goes without saying that Butler was later glad to be proven wrong.
Even Moman, though, had some reservations about the song. The organ player on the track, Bobby Emmons, had, to be frank, played quite badly on the record, though Moman was still convinced the song had hit-making potential. As a fun fact, the session featured the same basic group Moman had employed on Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” In Thomas’s own words, “It was the first single ABC Records ever released. They started their record company with that song.”
Success, however, would take its toll on Thomas, with reports being, “into everything from pills to cocaine. I was a pretty bad person … ”
Troubles mounted; he had a lung pierced in a stabbing incident, and by 1976 was bankrupt. He later became born again, reconciled with his wife, rid himself of drugs, and returned to the stage, this time performing gospel music. Join me next time on ‘Pop Goes The Country,’ where we’ll revisit Glen Campbell to talk about the “rhinestone cowboy.”
This post was written thanks to the following sources:
– Quote attributions come courtesy of this interview with BJ Thomas by Jeremy Roberts and his biography in The Encyclopedia of Country & Western Music by Rick Marschall.