Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Houston, we have a problem

Gladys Knight & the Pips had only one No. 1 hit, and it was ready to rule the charts at this time 37 years ago.  Here was the Billboard Top 5 from this week in 1973:

1. Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & the Pips
2. Angie, Rolling Stones
3. Half-Breed, Cher
4. Ramblin' Man, Allman Brothers Band
5. Keep on Truckin', Eddie Kendricks

It's an amazing record, but we wonder how amazing it would have been if songwriter Jim Weatherly's original title and lyrics hadn't been changed from "Midnight Plane to Houston."

That's the song Weatherly had written in a country vein, hoping that Glen Campbell would record it.  (Campbell, you'll recall, had a couple of "citified" hits in "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman.")   The song eventually wound up in the hands of someone actually named Houston -- Whitney Houston's mother Cissy --who took it onto the R&B chart, but not before her producer, a fellow by the name of Sonny Limbo, was given permission to make the key word changes.

If you're wondering how the song fell into Gladys Knight's hands, Weatherly had penned the Pips' "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)", which made it to No. 2 on the Hot 100 earlier that year.  He also contributed "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," another top 10 single for the group.

Because this sounds almost too bizarre to be true, we almost hesitate to mention that the original lyrics were inspired by a phone conversation between Weatherly and Farrah Fawcett, a Texas native who mentioned she was going to take a midnight plane to visit her folks in Houston.

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