So here we are, well into 1957, and still no UK number 1 from Elvis. We’ve had spoofs (Rock-a-Billy) and sound-a-likes (Singing the Blues) but still the top spot remained out of reach. Joining the artists who were clearly trying to emulate his sound is easy-listening legend Andy Williams. Butterfly is an odd entry in his catalogue as it’s unrepresentative of what he later became known for.
Williams was born Howard Andrew Williams in Wall Lake, Iowa on 3 December 1927. He and his three older brothers Bob, Don and Dick formed the Williams Brothers in 1938. Their big break came in 1943 when they sang backing vocals on Bing Crosby’s Swinging on a Star.
The brothers then appeared in a number of films, and then began collaborating with head of MGM’s vocal department Kay Thompson. Williams later revealed that he and Thompson fell in love, despite nearly 20 years between them. After the brothers split, Thompson also acted as his mentor, preparing him for a solo career and writing many of his songs. Although he struck out on his own in 1953, it wasn’t until 1956 that he began making waves, thanks to his regular appearances on Tonight Starring Steve Allen.
Butterfly was written by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann, the duo behind Elvis’s Teddy Bear. It had first been a hit for singer and guitarist Charlie Gracie, now largely forgotten but a rock’n’roll pioneer at the time.
It’s disarming at first, hearing the unmistakable voice of Williams singing this kind of song, and becomes even more so when you take note of the fairly unpleasant lyrics he’s singing. Butterfly is about a man who can’t stand seeing his love hanging round other men. So what is he going to do about it?
‘I love you so much, I know what I’ll do
I’m clippin’ your wings, your flyin’ is through
‘Cause I’m crazy about you, you butterfly’
What does ‘clippin’ your wings’ entail, exactly?
As the years passed and Williams became the wholesome, easy listening crooner everyone remembers, Butterfly was forgotten, despite being his only number 1 both here and in the US.
More hits followed, and in 1962 he covered Moon River, which became his signature tune, despite never releasing it as a single. South African singer Danny Williams had made the song Christmas number 1 here in 1961.
It was 1963 before Williams troubled the top 10 again, with Can’t Get Used to Losing You peaking at number two, as did Almost There/On the Street Where You Live a year later. One of his most famous hits, Music to Watch Girls By, surprisingly only made it to number 33 in 1967. It did however reach number nine upon its rerelease in 1999. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, his other classic reached number five in 1968.
In 1962, The Andy Williams Show began and ran until 1971. His Christmas specials, and version of It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year earned him the nickname ‘Mr Christmas’.
Chart action dried up for Williams in the 70s, but he remained hugely popular. He died on 25 September 2012 from bladder cancer, but will always be remembered as one of the greatest crooners of the 60s and 70s.
Written by: Bernie Lowe & Kal Mann
Producer: Archie Bleyer
Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 May-6 June)
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