With three number 1s from Donny Osmond and a Christmas chart-topper from Little Jimmy Osmond, this blog has been no stranger to the 70s musical Mormon family phenomenon. But The Osmonds, the group that started it all, only scored one number 1. It is the best of (a poor) bunch, though.
The story of their beginnings in showbiz was covered in my blog on Puppy Love. Alan, Wayne, Merril and Jay started out as a barbershop quartet before finding fame on The Andy Williams Show. Donny soon joined them, and occasionally sister Marie and their little brother Jimmy would make appearances too. Producer Mike Curb got the quintet a contract with MGM Records and they had a US number 1, One Bad Apple, in 1971.
A formula was soon established where Merril would sing lead and Donny would perform the hook or chorus of their singles, which included Double Lovin’ and Yo-Yo. Oldest brother Virl taught the group how to dance, as he could only hear 15% of what most people can hear – just enough to follow a rhythm.
Donny’s solo career took off, but the other four would perform on his material too. 1972 was a big year for The Osmonds, with an animated TV series and group and solo hits. They began to tire of the clean pop sound, and the album Phase III moved them closer to rock. But not as much as the follow-up, Crazy Horses, featuring as its title track a surprisingly heavy rocker about the environment that remains brilliant. The Osmonds wrote all the songs here and even played all the instruments, with Alan on rhythm guitar, Wayne on lead guitar, Merril on bass, Jay on drums and Donny on keyboards. It took Crazy Horses for The Osmonds to score a hit in the UK (number two), despite Donny’s popularity.
In 1973 The Osmonds took the bold move of releasing a concept album about their Mormon faith. Despite the unusual subject matter, the hits continued, with Goin’ Home and Let Me In reaching two and four respectively. By this time, Little Jimmy had scored a Christmas number 1 and their sister Marie was also releasing material along with duets with Donny. The Osmonds were getting older, spreading themselves thin and beginning to get on people’s nerves, but their biggest hit was right around the corner.
The ballad Love Me for a Reason was originally released by its co-writer, former Motown songwriter Johnny Bristol, without much fanfare. However, he was on the same label as The Osmonds, and their management thought it would be a good fit. It became the title track of their sixth LP.
This is normally the kind of sentimental ballad I’d run a mile from, and yet, I quite like Love Me for a Reason, and have done since my first exposure to it when Boyzone took their version to number two in 1994. Sure it’s soppy and slushy, and a bit righteous. No doubt the message of ‘only have sex if its true love’ worked nicely with The Osmonds, and with a boyband as wet as Boyzone (I’ve never been able to stand any song they released from then on), but the tune is pretty nice, and Mike Curbs’ production makes it superior to the 90s version, with some guitar touches here and there making it almost a country song. The highlight of both versions is when a bit of passion breaks through on ‘My initial reaction is honey give me love/Not a facsimile of’. Ok, it’s not Robert Plant screaming ‘I’m gonna give you every inch of my love’ but there’s a time and place for everything and if you ever need a squeaky-clean love song, this does the job.
Only one more big hit followed for The Osmonds over here – the title track to their next album, The Proud One in 1975 (the album was called I’m Still Gonna Need You on these shores), reaching number five. By then, the Bay City Rollers were the UK’s biggest teen idols, and The Osmonds seemed stale. There never seemed to be any tensions or inner jealousy in the family, and the older brothers became happy to go behind the scenes and produce The Donny & Marie Show from 1976 to 1979. When the show ended, the brothers were in debt and needed a new direction. They switched record labels to Mercury and made an album with Maurice Gibb. Although The Bee Gees were still huge, the LP bombed.
Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay returned to performing as The Osmond Brothers, as they had when starting out, and had a few country chart hits in the US in the early-80s, but their refusal to tour didn’t help their careers. The eldest singing Osmond, Alan, was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis in 1987, and his performances understandably became even more sporadic. 10 years later, Wayne found out he had a brain tumour, and it caused him to retire in the early-10s.
In 2007 the whole family embarked on a tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary in showbusiness. A televised concert from Las Vegas saw them all perform, and even Tom and Virl joined in with signed lyrics on a couple of songs, plus Andy Williams made a guest appearance.
Merrill, Jay and Jimmy began working together performing and in business ventures. They released an album, I Can’t Get There Without You, in 2012, but these days, it’s just Merrill and Jay mainly, sometimes with Marie and Alan’s son, solo star David. Alan and Wayne rejoined for one final performance in 2019, but were back again on TV for Marie’s birthday in 2019.
Often derided for their teen pop and squeaky-clean image, The Osmonds at least tried to explore new avenues in the 70s, following The Monkees in learning to write and play themselves. And come on, Crazy Horses is a real banger.
Written by: Johnny Bristol, Wayne Brown, Jr & David Jones, Jr
Producer: Mike Curb
Arranged by: HB Barnum
Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 August-21 September)
Presenter Lisa Snowdon – 2 September
Transgender fell runner Lauren Jeska – 5 September
Tennis player Tim Henman – 6 September
Backstroke swimmer Adam Ruckwood – 13 September
Footballer Sol Campbell – 18 September
12 September: After only 44 days in the job, Brian Clough is dismissed as manager of defending league champions Leeds United following a disappointing start to the Football League season.
18 September: Harold Wilson confirms a second general election within a year for 10 October. Following the hung parliament result in February, Labour ruled with a minority government. Wilson aimed to secure more seats and hold a bigger balance of power.