Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #96 – Oliver: “Good Morning Starshine” b/w “Jean” – CEMA/American Pie 9057
North Carolina born William Oliver Swofford got his start in the band The Good Earth when he traded under the name Bill Swofford. But it wasn’t until 1968 when he teamed up with producer Bob Crewe and recorded “Good Morning Starshine” from the then brand new Broadway musical Hair, that he quickly shot to stardom and became a household name.
Written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado on the lyrics and hipster musician Galt MacDermot on the music, the Broadway musical Hair was originally billed as “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.” It was responsible for generating several pop chart hits including “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension, “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night and “Hair” by The Cowsills. MacDermot also wrote the music to the 1971 musical Two Gentlemen Of Verona and released several influential funk and instrumental jazz albums that are currently the rage amongst those “in the know” of the hipster cognoscenti.
The original Broadway cast album to Hair has managed to stand the test of time and the musical has enjoyed numerous successful revivals and tours around the world over the years. I’ve been listening to the record since I was seven years old…way before I knew the meaning of “Sodomy,” “Hashish,” “Colored Spade,” “Walking In Space” and the many other titillating-for-their-time songs in this musical. It is indeed part of my musical DNA.
Oliver’s signature version of the song featuring a cosmic instrumental intro, a soaring Nilsson-esque vocal and a dynamic arrangement to match climbed to #3 on the charts in 1969 selling well over a million copies.
The flip of today’s jukebox classic, his cover of the Rod McKuen classic “Jean” was an even bigger hit for Oliver. The song was originally from the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. McKuen was best known as a poet and an easy listening recording artist who garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song even though it didn’t chart. Oliver’s version climbed to #2 on the pop charts and topped the easy listening charts. The song has been covered by dozens of easy listening stars during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most recently it was covered by Aaron Freeman who is better known as Gene Ween from the now defunct dada-esque rock group Ween.
Oliver became such a huge pop phenomenon at the time that he performed both sides of today’s Jukebox single on The Ed Sullivan Show in January of 1970, along with the song “Sunday Morning” which climbed to #35 on the charts.
All three songs were featured on Oliver’s Good Morning Starshine album that featured his covers of The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” The Beatles’ “In My Life” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” along with three classics from the Broadway musical Oliver including “Who Will Buy,” “Where Is Love” and the title song. The album was produced by Bob Crewe who along with Bob Gaudio co-wrote many hits for The Four Seasons, and also produced artists like Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack, Freddy Cannon, Michael Jackson, Peabo Bryson, Patti LaBelle and many others. It reached #19 on the charts in 1969.
After his meteoric rise to the top with his first two singles, it was unfortunately all downhill from there. Oliver would go on to score several more minor hits including “Sunday Mornin’” (#35), “I Can Remember” (#25 Easy Listening) and “Early Morning Rain” (#38 Easy Listening) before the hits totally dried up. He split from working with Bob Crewe in 1971 over the direction of his career. Crewe saw Oliver as an easy listening artist while Oliver saw himself as a folkie.
During the 1970s, Oliver toured college campuses under the name Bill Swofford before leaving the music industry entirely. During his later life, Swofford sold real estate and managed a pharmaceutical company. He died of cancer on February 12, 2000 at the age of 54.
“The Jukebox Series” focused on the 80 records that currently inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within. Over the years, records have come and gone out of the ranks of the juke, but they were all at one time juke-worthy. I’ve decided to expand “The Jukebox Series” to include many of the “juke-worthy” records that are no longer currently in the mix, but at one time inhabited a coveted slot.