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Fabulous Flip Sides with Songwriter Charles Fox

Award winning songwriter Charles Fox discusses television and movie songs from “Ordinary People,” “Love, American Style,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” and much more including Davy Jones’ “Girl”
Charles Fox main

GOLDMINE: Forty years ago, on January 24, 1981, your instrumental single “Seasons” debuted in the Top 100, from the film Ordinary People, which my wife Donna and I saw in a theater in Dallas, starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore in a dramatic role, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton in his film debut. I bought the single at the mall across the street from the theater. With “Seasons” on one side and “Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major” on the flip side, it gave me a comparison or contrast between the two similar songs.

CHARLES FOX: Exactly. We did that for that reason. “Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major” was used in the film. My friend and producer Ed Newmark called me and asked what I would think about doing a song based upon Pachelbel’s theme and I loved that idea. We brought a band into the studio and brought “Canon” into a very contemporary format, featuring a piano. The reason why I put the full “Canon” on the flip side is that I wanted to show the difference. I carved out a melody based on the chord progression in the architectural structure of the original piece. It is not the same notes, but it fits. Over the years I have received many nice letters from people who have played “Seasons” at weddings and other events. Creating that single was a very nice experience.

Charles Fox Pachelbel

Charles Fox

Flip side: Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major

A side: Seasons

Top 100 debut: January 24, 1981

Peak Position: No. 75

Handshake 5307

GM: In early 1969, I went to my very first concert at the age of eleven and saw The Cowsills at Euclid Senior High School in our Cleveland suburb. In the fall of that year, my father and I watched a new television show called Love, American Style, with The Cowsills singing the theme song, which was also included as a flip side of one of their singles that year. I finally met them on the Happy Together Tour in recent years and in addition to their radio hits, they perform your composition in their shows as the one flip side in the show. I just love it.

CF: Thank you. That year they had their version of “Hair” out and it was a big record. I had just come to California to do the music for Goodbye, Columbus as my first Hollywood film. While I was out there I was asked by the people at Paramount Pictures to do a theme for a new television show pilot that was a mix of comedy and love and they said that they thought my sound would be right for the show. I didn’t know what a pilot was, but I sure learned. Arnold Margolin was the creator of the series and he and I wrote several songs for the show including the theme song. I went back to New York and received a call that they wanted me to come back to California to record the song for the show with a big named group and I suggested The Cowsills. One snowy night they sent me to Saratoga, New York to meet with The Cowsills, where they were performing. They were really nice people and were very happy to record the song, so they came to California and recorded it. This was another very nice experience. What I learned, at the end of the year, was that is was nominated for an Emmy award, which was so out of my vocabulary. I went to the award ceremony in New York, and by golly, we won the award for the best television theme song, so I got off to a fantastic start in my career with that song.

Charles Fox Cowsills

GM: With the television show Love, American Style, there was an episode which later became the foundation for Happy Days. This year we celebrate the 45th year of that 45 in the Top 40. I ended up buying a reissue copy of the single decades later when our daughter Brianna was growing up on reruns of the show.

CF: One thing that Paramount loved about Love, American Style is that we had an hour with three stories in it and one of them was called “Love in the Happy Days” as a 1950s throwback. It was well received but ABC didn’t think that people wanted to revisit the 1950s. After the film American Graffiti came out with Ron Howard, and he was in our “Happy Days” pilot, which had sat idle for years, ABC decided to try it with Garry Marshall, who was a genius on so many of those shows, and was one of the writers on Love, American Style. Even though Norman Gimbel and I had written a theme song for the show, they decided that they wanted to go with “Rock Around the Clock,” which was used in the movie American Graffiti and they put our song on as an end title. For the second season, they used a live audience and decided to use the theme song as the opening number, and everything broke open at the same time. The show took off and the song became a worldwide hit.

Charles Fox Happy Days

GM: The same year, “Making Our Dreams Come True,” the theme from Laverne & Shirley, was in the Top 40, too.

CF: Exactly. Laverne and Shirley debuted as characters on an episode of “Happy Days” as love interests for Fonzie and Richie Cunningham and I got a call to write the theme for that spinoff. They were two factory workers who dreamed about getting out of the factory in Milwaukee, so “Making Our Dreams Come True” was based on that and played after the whole “schlemiel, schlimazel” opening. I was in California with my kids at Magic Mountain and heard a voice that intrigued me. There was a girl named Cyndi Grecco singing with a band. I went over to her and introduced myself and told her that I had a new project and that she might be the right voice for it. I brought her into the studio, and the rest is history, as they say, with two records climbing up the charts at the same time, “Happy Days” by Pratt & McLain and “Making Our Dreams Come True” by Cyndi Grecco.

Charles Fox Laverne

GM: The following year I enjoyed “My Fair Share” by one of my favorite duos of the 1970s, Seals and Crofts, with their harmonies.

CF: They were great to work with and became very good friends. They have this beautiful, magical sound. This was the first time that Paul Williams and I worked together, writing songs for Seals and Crofts for the film One on One and co-produced it with their producer Louie Shelton. I thought we sounded so good together that I suggested we form Seals, Crofts and Fox, ha ha, but they wouldn’t go for it, ha ha ha.

GM: My first favorite band growing up in the 1960s was The Monkees. In the 1990s, I was watching a rerun of The Brady Bunch with Brianna and Davy Jones was on an episode, singing “Girl,” which took a little effort to hunt down a used copy of the 45 for us. I saw Davy Jones perform the song live in August of 2008. What an entertainer!

CF: Yes. We lost him at way too young of an age. I have had some wonderful experiences in my life, and this was truly one of them. Norman Gimbel and I had written that song for a Neil Simon film called Star Spangled Girl. I always liked that song. I sing it to my wife sometimes, it is an easygoing ballad, “Girl, look what you’ve done to me.” When they created an episode of The Brady Bunch with Davy Jones visiting, he sang it to Marcia Brady. He was a big heartthrob. The show has been repeated so many times that everyone knows that song. Even though the song wasn’t a hit at the time, that one episode, shown so many times, has allowed so many people to know what was a rare single. Years later it was used again in The Brady Bunch Movie, based on the same story with Davy Jones, and Davy sang a different version of “Girl.” The producer Steve Tyrell called me and said, “I just produced a new version of Davy Jones singing ‘Girl.’ You are going to hate it!” Ha ha. I asked why I would hate it and he told me that they did a real grunge rock version of it. Ha ha ha. So, it went from a little ballad to grunge rock. You never know what will happen. I think it is all part of the magic of having something that people want to record. How lucky am I?

Charles Fox Davy

GM: Another example of a change in style is Roberta Flack versus The Fugees with “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”

CF: Roberta’s record was a No. 1 single in just about every country in the world. She was fantastic, giving birth to that recording, then a little over twenty years later The Fugees did it in their own style and it was an extraordinary success, as an album cut radio hit, which drove their sales worldwide of their album The Score. Then I started getting calls that my friends’ kids love the song.

GM: We talked about Davy Jones being gone too soon, that is extremely true with Jim Croce. “I Got a Name” was his first posthumous Top 10 hit, released a month after the plane crash.

CF: Yes. I worked with Jim on it. There was a film called The Last American Hero starring Jeff Bridges. “I Got a Name” has one of Norman Gimbel’s most brilliant lyrics of all of our work together, opening with, “Like the pine trees lining the winding road.” I work mostly with lyrics first, because lyrics tell me everything I need to know about how the music should sound and the music should bring you back to every word in the lyrics. With Paul Williams, it goes the other way, with me giving him a melody that I think should be the essence of what the lyrics should say. With “I Got a Name,” we needed to get it out quickly because the film was coming out very soon. There was a young singer on the charts, Jim Croce, who had a song out called “Operator” that Norman and I thought was beautiful. It wowed us. He sounded like a person who had a good hold of humanity as just a regular guy. We called Jim and played the song for him over the phone and he said that he wanted to record the song. We made the music track in Los Angeles and I took it with me to New York and recorded Jim. He said to me that he knew he wanted to record the song because it reminded him of his father who died at a young age pursuing his dreams and that touched me very much. He was promoting that song when his plane went down and that was a great tragedy to the world. He was one of the most beloved people that I have ever worked with in the business. It was a tragedy to lose him so early in his life.

GM: Absolutely. You mentioned Jim’s father’s dreams. There is a song of yours called “So Much for Dreams” that I think is another one of your most beautiful songs, by Dave Loggins, who I know from his song “Please Come to Boston.”

CF: Oh my god, I love talking to you. You know so many of my songs. I really appreciate that. There was a movie called Our Winning Season and I like writing a song for a character. Dave and I wrote a pair of songs together for the film. “So Much for Dreams” is one of my all-time favorites. Dave is a beautifully expressive singer. I love the record we made together, his passion and the longing in his voice.

Charles Fox Dave Loggins

GM: That same year, from the film Foul Play, which Donna and I saw in the theater, was “Ready to Take a Chance Again” by Barry Manilow, in a big year for him.

CF: At the time, I would say that he was the reigning pop artist. The script outlined a need for a song called “Taking Chances.” Goldie Hawn was joined by Chevy Chase, who was making his first film. Norman came up with the lyrics for “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” we sent the song to Barry Manilow, and he loved it and it became one of his big hits that year, and one of my favorite records. He is one of the nicest men in the whole world. I have been told by so many people that this is a song that was played when they married for a second or third time. Paul Williams said that his song “We’ve Only Just Begun” is played at so many weddings. I told him that I get them on the rebound with “Ready to Take a Chance Again.”

GM: Some Saturday nights we would stay in and watch The Love Boat. Jack Jones did a great job of singing the title theme song.

CF: I’ll tell him you said that. We have been friends for decades. I wrote the theme song with Paul Williams for an ABC movie of the week called The Love Boat. When I went to present it, there was no cassette player to be found or a piano so I had to sing it a cappella to Aaron Spelling and he liked it and trusted me that the end product would sound good. Now I am working on two upcoming Broadway musicals, The School for Scandal and another with Alain Boublil, the lyricist for Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Thank you for all the kind things you have said about my music. I appreciate it. It means a lot to me.

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