Monday, August 30, 2010

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: Albert Hammond, "It Never Rains In Southern California"

Up until the early sixties, most hit songs were written by writers and sung by singers. In the early sixties, that changed-- the day of the singer/songwriter arrived. Dylan, Donovan, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs and others paved the way.

As the sixties rolled into the seventies, the political stridency of the music began to wane, but new group of singer/songwriters emerged. Don Maclean had a huge hit with his musical history of rock and roll, "American Pie," Carly Simon had hits with "You're So Vain" and "Anticipation," and her soon-to-be husband James Taylor had a bunch of hits.

From this army of singer/songwriters emerged Albert Hammond. Hammond was born in London, England, where his parents, natives of Gilbraltar, the British-held island off of Spain in the Straits of Gilbraltar, had evacuated to for the duration of World War II. Hammond returned with his family shortly after the war. He began playing in bands, including The Diamond Boys, a band that never had any hits, but played a role in bringing rock music to Spain as the Franco dictatorship began to wane and Spain modernized. With the group The Family Dogg, he had a top ten hit in Britain with "A Way of Life" in 1969.

His biggest hit came in 1972 with the folk-tinged "It Never Rains In Southern California." The song tells the story of a guy who makes his way to Southern California trying to make it (presumably) as an actor. He runs into a friend of his family, who sees that he's down and out, and he begs them not to tell his family, and to lie to them, to tell them he's "got offers but don't know which one to take."

The song is apparently partly autobiographical, though it took place in Spain, not Southern California. In Hammond's words:

"It never rains... was written in London, before we (Albert and Michael Hazelwood, the song's co-author) came to Los Angeles, and we knew we were coming, and I've been telling Mike the story of me in Spain when I started and how I was asking for money outside of the train stations because I had no money to eat and I didn't want to tell my parents. My cousin was on honeymoon then, and he came out of the train station and saw me, and I didn't even know it was him... I just asked him for some money, too. And he said "you should be ashamed, I'm gonna tell your father," and I said "please, don't tell him, he'll go crazy and and stop me doing this!" And then he took me back into the hotel, I had a bath, he gave me some clean clothes and some money. I moved on, but he did tell my father, you know. All these things like "will you tell the folks back home I nearly made it" and all that stuff came from that era of my life when I was struggling, trying to make it, trying to get from Morocco to Spain, from Spain to England, from England to America... That struggle you go through, that's It never rains in Southern California, the story of my life."

"It Never Rains In Southern California" reached #5 on the US Billboard charts, and was a worldwide smash. Hammond never reached those heights again himself, but wrote other big hits, all with Mike Hazelwood, who died in 2001. The Pipkins had a hit with "Gimme Dat Ding" in 1970 and the Hollies had their final hit in 1974 with "The Air That Breath." He co-wrote the Starship's #1 1987 hit "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," Chicago's 1988 hit "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love" with Diane Warren, and wrote the 1984 Willie Nelson/Julio Iglesias hit "To All The Girls I Loved Before," as well as the theme song for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, which was performed by Whitney Houston. He's had a number of top ten hits performed by other artists-- ironic for a guy who rode the crest of the singer/songwriter wave.


Churlita said...

Wow. I had no idea he wrote all those songs. I hope he made enough on Royalties not to be begging ever again.

Pat Tillett said...

Another great post Johnny!
I saw Albert Hammond in concert in late 1972. He was on tour with, and opened for the Moody Blues. That was a major coup for him because Moody Blues was at their peak at that time. Anyway, the concert was in Long Beach California. It's always tough to open for an act such as the MB, but he certainly held his own...