2018 is the 45th anniversary of the 45 “The Morning After.” Maureen McGovern discusses that song, other movie and television songs, her years on the MDA Labor Day Weekend Telethon, music executive Russ Regan, and highlights of her latest album.
By Warren Kurtz
Photo courtesy of maureenmcgovern.com
In mid-May we lost actress Margot Kidder, known for her iconic role as Lois Lane in the 1978 film Superman, which included the song “Can You Read My Mind,” a Top 100 single for Maureen McGovern. Two weeks later, we lost music executive Russ Regan, a man with a golden ear, who signed performers to record contracts which led to number one gold singles, including Elton John, Barry White and Maureen McGovern. Two songs in the ‘70s that Maureen McGovern recorded as singles were Oscar Best Song winners and they both were from a ‘70s genre known as disaster films. Over the years, she appeared several times on the MDA Labor Day Telethon. Now she is heading back on tour, supporting her latest album and her career’s repertoire.
GOLDMINE: For many years, I would record the MDA Labor Day Telethon to watch you, Gary Lewis and The Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, and local bands.
MAUREEN McGOVERN: It was so much fun. They would treat us like family and were so grateful for giving our time, while they had a focus on fighting over forty neuromuscular diseases. One year, my niece, who was two years old, went to the Cleveland Clinic and was diagnosed with one of those diseases. She has been in remission for quite some time, but the year she was diagnosed, I did “The Morning After” on the MDA Telethon and could barely get through the song. It is interesting how powerful that song is to people, giving them something to hold on to. People see me at my concerts and talk about the hope it brought them and share thanks, hugs and tears.
GM: I certainly knew the song well, growing up in northeast Ohio like you, producer Carl Maduri, and concert promoters the Belkin Brothers. I remember seeing The Poseidon Adventure at a theater with my friends, watching Carol Lynley and the rest of the cast. How did this recording career begin for you?
MM: I was part of a small band with my husband as the drummer. We played at the Holiday Inns and Ramada Inns in the area. In Ravena, Ohio, Carl Maduri’s brother saw us, liked my singing and told his brother, with led to being promoted by Belkin Maduri Productions. We recorded demos, sent them to labels and got a “yes” from 20th Century. Russ Regan heard something that the other labels didn’t and signed me to 20th Century in October of 1972 and in November we recorded “The Morning After.” The single didn’t hit initially. In the spring of 1973, it became an Oscar nominated song. In The Poseidon Adventure film Carol Lynley was lip-syncing to Renee Armand’s singing voice. After the nomination, my single version received attention from easy listening stations who were curious. Then the requests built up and finally became a big hit and won the Oscar. It spent two weeks at number one late that summer and went gold.
GM: We played your next single at our wedding reception. Donna and I were married on the last weekend of the ‘70s and our reception entertainment was a reel to reel tape I made, primarily of love songs that we grew up on in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Your version of “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” is song number two, between Paul Stookey’s “Wedding Song” and The Association’s “Never My Love.” I chose your version versus The Carpenters’ recording, since I heard your record first, loved it, and our shared northeast Ohio connection.
MM: That is a lovely song which we did for The Morning After album. The Carpenters had it on their ‘72 album A Song for You, our version came out in ’73, and The Carpenters released their version as the final single from their album in ’74.
GM: A few years later you had another Oscar Best Song single with “We May Never Love Like This Again.”
MM: From the same writers as “The Morning After,” Al Kasha and Joel Hirshhorn, and this one I sang for the movie The Towering Inferno.
GM: I love both sides of that single, including its flip side “Wherever Love Takes Me” from the film Gold, where you capture Barbra Steisand-like clarity and beauty. In early ’79 at the record store where I worked, we would play your moving version of “Can I Read Your Mind” from the Superman soundtrack. This is another case where I really enjoyed your flip side too, “You Love Me Too Late,” with almost a folk sound. It is so pretty and brought back the sound of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” from the start of the decade to me, which made it seem like a natural pairing with the A side.
MM: In the Superman film Margot Kidder spoke Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics to John Williams’ music. Because it was spoken, not sung, in the film, it made it ineligible for an Oscar nomination. The director, Richard Donner, didn’t want the song to intrude so that is why the Lois Lane character spoke the words. The flip side “You Love Me Too Late” was just a demo, a first blush. I started out singing folk music and then covers. I was a shy young girl but music, especially folk, gave me a chance to say what I felt.
Flip side: You Love Me Too Late
A side: Can You Read My Mind
Top 100 Debut: February 24, 1979
Peak Position: 52
Warner / Curb WBS 8750
GM: In the summer of 1979, you and Barbra Streisand were in the Top 40 simultaneously with dance numbers, which we would hear on the radio almost back to back. She had “The Main Event/Fight” from the film The Main Event and you had “Different Worlds” from the television show “Angie.” You show a tremendous vocal range on the song.
MM: That is one of my favorites, written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel. When the producers of Pirates of Penzance heard the single, they knew that I could sing high enough to replace Linda Ronstadt in the show, when she concluded her run.
Photo: Debralee Scott, Doris Roberts, Angie Pescow
GM: As the ‘80s began, you recorded “We Could Have It All,” with a nice and steady sound that I think could have fit country radio alongside Crystal Gayle or adult contemporary stations next to an Engelbert Humperdinck record.
MM: I love that song. It became popular in South America and Asia. In the ’70s through the early ‘80s I had less control of my music. For example, I was asked about “He’s a Rebel,” if I liked the song and I said, “Yes, when I was thirteen.” I longed to do more sophisticated songs and by the mid-‘80s that began to happen with some of my favorite albums being Another Woman in Love from ’87 and The Pleasure of His Company with Mike Renzi from ’98. The reviews were more to my liking too. One reviewer wrote that I had a Stradivarius voice, versus ‘70s reviews linking me to films and writing that I had a disaster film voice.
GM: On “Summertime,” with a piano backdrop, you sing slowly and show range and control on that live recording.
MM: There were members of the Gershwin family at that concert. We were doing Gershwin songs live, straight through. It was thrilling.
GM: You have had your share of enjoyable moon songs. There was the flip side “Carolina Moon,” the single “The Same Moon,” which “shines upon you even though you are half a world away,” a theme that you share with Linda Ronstadt and her song “Somewhere Out There,” and then there is another favorite that you both have beautifully recorded, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” written by Jimmy Webb.
MM: I love Jimmy Webb. I think his album Ten Easy Pieces shows off his best songs including that one. It is breathtaking. He is such a sweet guy.
GM: On your latest album, your interpretation of “You Raise Me Up,” which I know from Josh Groban, sounds like an Irish classic, reminding me of “Danny Boy.” I think this song could be considered a new standard for our time.
MM: The musical director, Jeff Harris, is big on reinterpreting songs. This one is quieter.
GM: One of my favorites on the new album is “For the Love of it All.”
MM: That one is written by the guy who had the first song on your and Donna’s wedding reception tape, Paul Stookey. It is a latter day Peter, Paul & Mary song. Another of my favorites on the album is “Father Won’t You Care for Me” by James Taylor. When I first heard him do it, I burst into tears. He has such a healing voice. These songs are universal. The times we are living in can be sad, difficult and depressing. We have music as therapy. It takes you outside of yourself and provides a peaceful respite.
See Maureen McGovern in concert September through October:
Also hear Maureen McGovern’s version of “This is Just the Day” on Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.