After his initial lack of success as a performer, Randy Newman spent several years working as a jobbing songwriter for Metric Music, writing songs that were then recorded by artists as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, Manfred Mann, and the Everly Brothers. While he wrote several moderately successful songs (such as Simon Smith and the Dancing Bear, which the Alan Price Set took to the top five of the UK charts in 1967), nothing was as successful as his obvious talents would suggest.
Ruthann Friedman, on the other hand, was very successful. Windy had become only the third US number one record ever to be written by a woman on her own (Sharon Seeley had been the first, writing Poor Little Fool for Ricky Nelson; the second had been the Singing Nun with Dominique), and was well on its way to becoming one of the most successful singles of all time.
On top of this, a single put together under the name of the Garden Club by Tandyn Almer and his occasional collaborator Larry Marks, Little Girl Lost and Found, had featured Friedman on lead vocals, and while the track had not become a hit, it had gained enough airplay, especially in LA, that a live “Garden Club” was put together, featuring Friedman and her boyfriend Peter Kaukonen (brother of Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane).
So given that it had been proven that Friedman could write hits, and that she could sing lead on tracks that got airplay, it was unsurprising when she was signed by A&M records to record her own album. While her demos from the previous year, recorded with Curt Boettcher, had had a psychedelic sound not far from that of Jefferson Airplane or the Doors, by late 1967 she was writing quieter, gentler, songs that fit more with the sound she had established with Windy, and she was paired with members of the Wrecking Crew and producer Tommy LiPuma to put together what would surely be a smash hit album.
These sessions lasted over a year, and produced a handful of gems. Most of these were Friedman’s own compositions, and some were absolutely lovely. Country Song had something of the beauty of Judee Sill about it, while Birdie’s Blues (written for Birdie Guiguere, the wife of Russ Guiguere of the Association) combined Swingle-esque jazz and the psych-rock style Friedman had used earlier, and When You’re Near is a gorgeous Paul Williams-esque soft-pop ballad that could easily have been a massive hit.
But the two best tracks recorded during the sessions were actually cover versions. High Coin, by Van Dyke Parks, featured its composer on piano and as arranger, and was one of the best versions of that often-covered song, and an early indication of the kind of music Parks was to go on to make on his Song Cycle album.
The other cover version also featured its composer on piano. I Think It’s Going To Rain Today was the best song Randy Newman had written up to that point. The song had originally been recorded on a flop single by minor crooner Julius LaRosa, but had been picked up by folk singer Judy Collins, who had included it on her album In My Life, a rather intense collection of densely-orchestrated covers of songs by Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Brecht & Weill, Jacques Brel and others.
Collins’ album had popularised the song, and had led to several further recordings of the song, but her phrasing had rather obscured Newman’s simple melody. Friedman’s version, on the other hand, unlike Collions’ version (or, say, Eric Burdon’s funked-up take from around the same time), takes Newman’s song as it’s written, letting the heartbreaking beauty of the melody carry the track. Starting with just acoustic guitar backing, the track builds to a string arrangement that’s much like the one Newman would use a year later when he recorded the song for his own first solo album, Randy Newman, and a delicate rhythm section backing.
Sadly, Friedman’s album never came out. She became too obsessed with problems in her own personal life (her own assessment now, not me judging her), often phoning Peter Kaukonen during studio time rather than recording, out of a belief he was cheating on her. A&M dropped her, and while she would record an album, Constant Companion, in 1969, her moment had passed, and the fruits of her sessions from 1967 and 68 wouldn’t see the light of day for more than forty years.
I Think It’s Going To Rain Today
Composer: Randy Newman
Line-up: Ruthann Friedman (vocals, guitars), Michael Botts, Jim Gordon, and Hal Blaine (drums, percussion), Lyle Ritz and Joe Osborn (bass), Peter Kaukonen, Ron Elliott, Russ Titelman, and Mike Deary (guitars), Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman (keyboards) [FOOTNOTE: Not all of these appear on the track; the credit on Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook reads “Musicians on tracks 1-7 & 12-18 include:”, but no better credits are publicly available for the track. In particular, there are no credits for the string players.]
Original release: Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook, Now Sounds CD CRNOW42
Currently available on: Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook, Now Sounds CD