In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
B. J. Thomas came up on the periphery of the Los Angeles psychedelic pop universe, and he scored his first #1 hit with a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song from a massively popular movie. But country music was a better fit for Thomas than California pop ever was. Thomas came from Texas, and his first hit was a bluesy cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” (It peaked at #8 in 1966, and it’s a 7.) More to the point, Thomas had a leathery authority in his voice that made him a country music natural. Thomas’ first #1 hit is the standard that everyone knows, but I prefer his second and final #1, the one with the ungainly and too-long title.
After “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” became the first Hot 100 #1 of the ’70s, B. J. Thomas went on a successful run, scoring a bunch of big singles that straddled the line between country and adult contemporary and did well on both charts. But that run came to an end, and when he made “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” it had been a few years since he’d been in the top 20. Thomas was also deep in the throes of addiction, blowing thousands every week on Valium, cocaine, and speed. His marriage was coming apart. So he had some deep reserves of unhappiness when he cut this unhappy song about unhappy songs.
Thomas was relatively new to the Nashville system when he recorded “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” and so were the two writers behind the song. Larry Butler and Chips Moman had both done serious time in Memphis. Butler had played in the Gentrys, the ’60s beat band that also featured a future Hall Of Fame pro-wrestling manager, the Mouth Of The South Jimmy Hart. (Their one hit, “Keep On Dancing,” peaked at #4 in 1965. It’s a 6.) He’d go on to a whole lot more success in Nashville, producing for Kenny Rogers when Rogers was on his big run. (Rogers will end up in this column.)
Meanwhile, Chips Moman, who co-wrote and produced “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” had already racked up a hell of a career. He’d played with early rock ‘n’ rollers Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent, and he’d started out as an in-house producer at Stax when Stax was just starting. Later on, he started American Sound, his own Memphis studio, and he helped assemble the Box Tops, who almost immediately went to #1 with “The Letter.” Moman put in work at the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, co-wrote and played on some Aretha Franklin records, and produced Elvis Presley’s comeback album From Elvis To Memphis and Elvis’ final #1 “Suspicious Minds.” When Moman moved to Nashville in the early ’70s, he already had a hell of a resume, making music that existed somewhere on the border of rock and soul and country. That made him the right person to work with B. J. Thomas.
“Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” is a meta-song, a song about songs. It’s Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” (another song that’ll end up in this column), 31 years before the fact. The narrator is down, and he wants everybody to be down with him. He misses his baby, and he doesn’t want to cry all alone. So he asks for “a real hurting song about a love that’s gone wrong.” He wants everybody at the bar — it’s never specified, but this song definitely takes place at a bar — to be crying, just like him.
This is not a complicated song, and it doesn’t have all the sharp and finely observed storytelling touches of the best country music. There’s a bit of mid-’70s dinkiness to it — the ukulele-sounding guitar strum, the weirdly jaunty trumpet that sometimes pops up. But the arrangement mostly nails the Nashville countrypolitan sound, with its welled-up strings and its consoling pedal-steel murmurs. And Thomas sells it all, his tough baritone keeping things conversational but still sounding wounded. “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” — which has one of the longest-ever titles for a #1 hit — isn’t a monumental work, but it’ll do the trick.
Less than a year after he scored his second #1, B. J. Thomas found religion, reconciled with his wife, and kicked drugs. After that, he switched things up, focusing on religious music. He never scored another top 10 hit, but he did sing the theme song for Growing Pains, so that’s something. He’s a big fan of this column.
Fuck you. BJ
— BJ Thomas (@TheBJThomas) December 12, 2018
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Muppets singing “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” on a 1976 episode of The Muppet Show:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Larry Butler-assisted cover of “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” that previous #1 hitmakers Alvin & The Chipmunks released on the 1981 album Urban Chipmunk: