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.
In the 61-year history of the Billboard Hot 100, hundreds upon hundreds of artists have scored #1 singles. And none of them has used a name as ugly and ungainly as Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds, the LA soft-rock trio who landed atop the chart for a week in the summer of 1975. What is even going on in that name? Who made these decisions? Why do Hamilton and Reynolds use only their last names but Joe Frank doesn’t? Why is Joe Frank the one member of the band who gets a first name in there? Shouldn’t there be a second comma? Is this a Crosby, Stills & Nash situation where we’re supposed to know who all three guys are? Did they think this name would trip off the tongue? How many conversations led these people to use this as their professional band name?
There’s plenty of information on Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds out there in the world, but there’s really nothing about how they ended up with such a clumsy-ass band name. That’s disappointing, since the name is really the most interesting thing about the group.
And the name thing gets weirder when you look deeper into the band. For instance: Joe Frank’s last name is not “Frank.” His name is Joe Frank Carollo. This guy, for reasons that I cannot begin to fathom, went by his first and middle names. “Hamilton, Carollo And Reynolds” isn’t a great band name or anything, but it’s objectively a whole hell of a lot better than “Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds.” Also: By the time Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds hit #1, their band name was false advertising. Drummer Tommy Reynolds had left the group in 1972, starting a career as a preacher instead. A guy named Alan Dennison stepped in to replace him. But when Playboy Records — the short-lived musical arm of Hugh Hefner’s media empire — signed the trio in 1974, the label demanded that they keep their old name. They’d already scored one hit a few years earlier, so the “Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds” name was simply too valuable to change.
And maybe Playboy was right! After “Fallin’ In Love” hit, the trio changed their name to the accurate-but-still-bad Hamilton, Joe Frank And Dennison. They never had another hit again. One possible explanation: Once the public learned that beloved drummer Tommy Reynolds wasn’t in the band anymore, they revolted, boycotting the trio en masse. Another, more likely explanation: Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds were lucky to get two hits in the first place.
The entire Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds saga, like so many other things, begins with an Alka-Seltzer commercial. In 1965, Alka-Seltzer unveiled a new ad campaign that focused on a whole bunch of people’s stomachs. It’s some real Don Draper shit. The background music in those ads was catchy enough that someone thought to release a single version of it. So in 1965, the T-Bones released the deeply catchy instrumental jam “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In).” The track blew up, peaking at #3. (It’s a 7.) To date, it’s the greatest success ever for a musical tie-in with a stomach-remedy advertisement.
But in promoting that single, Liberty Records had to solve a problem. The T-Bones were not a real band. They were members of the Wrecking Crew, the group of Los Angeles session-musician aces, hired by the label to reproduce the music from that ad. Those assassins played on about a million hit records, and they weren’t about to take a break from that relentless recording schedule to tour their bubble-guts instrumental. So Liberty assembled a whole new crew of musicians to play the song on the road. None of the touring T-Bones had played on the record. It didn’t matter.
The teenage session musician Dan Hamilton was a new T-Bones recruit. So were Joe Frank Carollo and Tommy Reynolds. When the T-Bones broke up in 1969, those three spun off into a new trio. They weren’t playing peppy instrumental ad-break music anymore. Instead, they’d started doing big, hammy, vaguely Neil-Diamond-esque pop. They had a big hit with the lovable 1971 cheese-fest “Don’t Pull Your Love,” which peaked at #4. (It’s a 7.) Then they went four years without another real hit. “Fallin’ In Love” came out of nowhere.
Dan Hamilton co-wrote “Fallin’ In Love” with his then-wife Ann, who supplied the lyrics. Those lyrics are total generic love-song hokum: “You and me for eternity / In love, we’ll always be / Young and free, and that should be / The way it’s gotta be.” But there’s still something sweet about this young married couple teaming up to write this love ballad, even if that collaboration involved rhyming “eternity” with “be,” “be,” and “be.”
“Fallin’ In Love” sounds grand and opulent. The intro, especially, lands hard: big drum hits, dramatic piano flourishes, purring bass, patiently itchy guitar strokes. There is a very good chance that you’ll recognize that intro before you recognize the rest of the song. (More on that below.) But the rest of the song never really lives up to it. The song doesn’t have a real chorus; it just repeats the title a few times. The hooks don’t land. And while the song’s aesthetic truly draws on Philly soul, Hamilton, a chest-out barker, doesn’t have the silky command that it takes to sell a song like that. The song itself is pleasant enough, but it evaporates instantly. And its real legacy wouldn’t be felt until decades later.
In 2010, the producer Boi-1da sampled that luxe “Fallin’ In Love” intro on “Best I Ever Had,” a mixtape track from the Toronto sing-rapper Drake, a promising talent who was part of Lil Wayne’s Young Money crew. “Best I Ever Had,” a canny and confident piece of work that never really belonged on a mixtape, blew up. Cash Money gave it a commercial release, and the song ended up peaking at #2. (It’s a 7.) In rushing the song onto the marketplace, Cash Money never bothered to clear the “Fallin’ In Love” sample. Playboy, which still had the “Fallin’ In Love” rights, sued, and as far as I can tell, the lawsuit is still ongoing.
But it’s crazy to think that the first thing that many people heard from Drake, this decade’s biggest pop star, was really the intro from a largely forgotten 1975 soft-rock single. And it’s also crazy that the aforementioned 1975 soft-rock single hit #1, an achievement that evaded Drake for years. (After just barely missing #1 a bunch of times, Drake finally got there in 2016, and then he effectively leased an apartment there. He will appear in this column many times.)
BONUS BEATS: Here’s German/American cheese-dance duo La Bouche’s 1995 cover of “Fallin’ In Love”:
(La Bouche’s highest-charting single, 1995’s “Be My Lover,” peaked at #6. It’s an 8.)