In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
B.J. Thomas- “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”
HIT #1: January 3, 1970
STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks
In 1969’s highest-grossing film, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy takes Katherine Ross’ Etta Place out for a fun day on his bike. They both are enjoying themselves with not a care in the world as a song with an equally carefree vibe plays over the scene. Then the song turns into circus music as Butch demonstrates bicycle tricks to Etta before he crashes through a fence. The original music starts up again as Butch and Etta quickly escape the cow that’s going after them.
That scene is a small part of what is ultimately an action-filled movie but it’s the scene that connected with people the most at the dawn of the ‘70s thanks to the song that played over it which ultimately became a #1 hit.
Billy Joe Thomas was born in Oklahoma and raised around Houston, Texas where he got his start in music performing as a kid in his church choir. As a teen, he joined a local band called the Triumphs which despite their name never made much of a triumph outside their area. By the mid-‘60s, Thomas left the group for a solo career and hit it off immediately when his debut single, a cover of the Hank Williams country standard “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” became a hit nationwide in 1966 launching him into the Top 10 peaking at #8. (It’s a 6.) He’d get back into the Top 10 a few years later with his original version of “Hooked On A Feeling” which you probably know better for the version Blue Swede took to #1 in 1974. Thomas’ take doesn’t have the ooga-chakas we know from Blue Swede’s version but it’s fine enough. (Thomas’ “Hooked On A Feeling” peaked at #5. It’s also a 6.)
It was “Hooked On A Feeling” that got Thomas connected with songwriter Burt Bacharach when his regular collaborator Dionne Warwick, Thomas’ label mate at Scepter Records, brought the song to Bacharach encouraging him to do some work with Thomas. It just so happened that Bacharach and his writing partner Hal David had “Raindrops” written for Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid but were having trouble finding the right person to sing it. The country novelty star Ray Stevens was approached to sing but didn’t like the song so he turned it down. Bob Dylan was also reportedly approached to sing the song but he also declined though I find it funny thinking of how Dylan’s version would’ve sounded.
After those rejections, Bacharach and David settled on B.J. Thomas for “Raindrops” but he came down with laryngitis right when he was about to record the song. Thomas’ doctor had ordered him to rest his voice for two weeks but after pleading the doctor allowed him to record treating his throat to help him with recording. Amid the setback, Bacharach and David liked Thomas’ performance and it apparently impressed a 20th Century Fox exec who was at the session to where he thought Thomas sounded like Paul Newman. After he recovered from his laryngitis, Thomas went back to the studio to record “Raindrops” again for the version that would be released commercially as a single which is the version that still gets played while his raspier original take plays in the movie.
The lyrics in “Raindrops” are pretty simple in its concept. B.J. Thomas is having a bad day where rain keeps coming down on his head. Nothing is going his way like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed to where he tries to talk to the sun saying he doesn’t like him sleeping on the job in providing sunshine. But Thomas doesn’t fret too much as the blues won’t defeat him since happiness will soon come to greet him. He realizes that nothing’s gonna change if he complains or cries about the rain and feels carefree. This attitude comes through a lot in Thomas’ singing. He doesn’t sing as if he’s down and out about the rain but instead, he sings with a sunny optimism that everything is going to be great amid the rain. There’s a dorky quality to his performance especially in the way he sings the chorus with an upward inflection on each line but it works.
Musically, the song radiates a peaceful bliss that fits well with Thomas’ sunny delivery. Like a lot of Bacharach and David songs, it’s a full-down-the-middle pop production with a guitar that sounds like a ukulele, comforting strings and backing vocals, quiet drums, an old-timey piano, and a chintzy sounding trumpet that Bacharach and David seem to like a lot in their songs. There’s also the last 30 seconds where Thomas’ voice ends and the song goes into a trumpet-led section that sounds like the montage music they would play on old game shows. Bacharach said he got the song from watching the bicycle scene and it fits well with the freewheeling nature of the scene. In his review, Stereogum’s Tom Breihan bemoaned how the song previewed a lot of the boring easy listening/soft-rock music that would dominate the early ‘70s charts- Thomas himself wasn’t happy about that and literally tweeted “fuck you” to him over his review- and yeah it can come across as boring to some. I’m not a fan of the trumpet and that outro but it’s a song that radiates nothing but comfort with an easily memorable hook, something we don’t get often in pop songs. When you listen to “Raindrops,” it can feel like all your troubles melt away for three minutes.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in September 1969 with the song being released not long after and it was an immediate hit. It climbed its way up the charts through the end of 1969 until it reached the top spot right after the end of the year becoming the first Hot 100 #1 song of the ‘70s and staying there for most of January 1970. A few months later, “Raindrops” would dominate the Oscars when it won the big music prize of Best Original Song, the first #1 song to do so, with B.J. Thomas performing at the ceremony and in a nod to the film a crew of bicyclists appears on stage to do a little musical number after the song ends. Bacharach and David accept their award where Bacharach speaks in a relatively quiet tone for an industry figure accepting a major award like a shy high school kid.
B.J. Thomas would have more chart success in the few years ahead within both pop and country including another #1 and after his pop chart success ended became known for singing the Growing Pains sitcom theme in the ‘80s and ‘90s before lung cancer took his life this past weekend. But ultimately, B.J. Thomas will be best remembered for singing the song that soundtracks Paul Newman fooling around on his bicycle. There are certainly worst legacies to have.
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” playing over the scene in 1994’s Forrest Gump where Forrest meets Richard Nixon:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” playing in 1996’s Spy Hard in a scene that parodies the Butch Cassidy bicycle scene:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the montage from 2004’s Spider-Man 2 where “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” soundtracks Peter Parker enjoying his freedom from being Spider-Man:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” soundtracking the bumper car race scene in 2006’s Clerks 2: