If you don't know the name of Roger Nichols, you know the man's songs. His compositions have been sung by the Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Petula Clark, Jackie DeShannon, Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, The Monkees, and Nichols' most frequent lyrical collaborator, Paul Williams - just to name a few. Many of those songs have become bona fide American standards, among them "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "I Won't Last a Day Without You," and "Times of Your Life." He and Williams are also responsible for one of the greatest yet most unheralded albums of all time in Williams' Someday Man, while Nichols made his mark as a headlining artist with the beautiful and engaging A&M release in 1968 of Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends., like Someday Man a benchmark of the sunshine pop genre. Now, he's the subject of an exciting new anthology, the Roger Nichols Treasury. It arrives from the Victor label in Japan, a country in which he's long had a substantial following.
The Roger Nichols Treasury doesn't offer precisely what is expected; it is not a collection of Nichols' greatest hits or most famous recordings. Instead, it offers a whopping 69 tracks on two CDs drawn from the composer's own archives from recordings made between 1967 and 2015. In doing so, this career-spanning anthology premieres previously unreleased songs, demo recordings, and commercial jingles, all with the infectious, hopeful, soft, and bouncy melodic charm that has long been Nichols' trademark.
The earliest track on this set, "Everything's Cool," is an instrumental in the prime A&M/Tijuana Brass vein, led by an irresistible horn line. There's more in that style including "Straight Ahead," "Trippin' at the Mardi Gras," and "Treasure of San Miguel," which actually was recorded by Herb Alpert's hitmaking ensemble in 1967. Many of the songs on the first disc are familiar, presented here in embryonic yet impeccably produced demo form including the bright pair of "Just What I've Been Looking For" and "Just Beyond Your Smile," both performed by Roger and the Small Circle of Friends (a.k.a. Roger, Melinda MacLeod and Murray MacLeod). The former, with lyrics by The Parade's Smokey Roberds, might be best known in The Vogues' rendition. The latter, featuring words by Tony Asher of Pet Sounds fame, appeared in final form on the Small Circle's A&M debut. Roberds also co-wrote a previously unreleased yet entirely captivating slice of sunshine pop, "Wait and See," with that famous Nichols bounce surrounded by typically sweet and lush harmonies. Hal Levy penned the words to the yearning slow-burner "I Wish I Knew," performed here by Linda Ball as what sounds like a demo for Eydie Gorme. (The late vocalist wrapped her powerful pipes around a number of Nichols' songs including "Time" and "Somebody Waiting.")
"It's Hard to Say Goodbye" was the first song written by Nichols and Paul Williams, and its demo appears here on the first disc along with ten more rarities by the duo. Nichols and Williams complemented each other's strengths, inspiring each other with immense heart and a knack for pure, deceptively simple in the classic tradition. The pair could be intensely romantic, socially conscious, or observational, but never lost sight of expressing universal truths in song. Some of these demos are of familiar tunes, like the ravishing pair of "Traveling Boy" (recently covered by Rumer in satiny fashion) and "I Won't Last a Day Without You," the happily upbeat "Talk It Over in the Morning," and the rocking "Out in the Country," a hit for Three Dog Night. Most are sung by Paul to spare but tightly-arranged accompaniment, though Roger has the affecting lead on "It's Hard to Say Goodbye."
The ballad "Let Him Be King," haunting, urgent "Watching Out for You" and evocative, uptempo "Mother Lode" (all sung by Paul) are among the never-before-heard gems, along with a proposed theme for The Brady Bunch performed by Roger and the Small Circle of Friends which would have opened up that famous sitcom in soft and lovely fashion. The gentle "Footprints on the Moon" was recorded in 1973 by Judy Lynn for the Amaret label; Paul's own version is expectedly beautiful. Stan Farber sings the ebullient "I'm Coming Home," from 1982.
The first disc of Treasury is rounded out with Nichols' collaborations with talented partners including Gerry Goffin, John Bettis, John Allen, Will Jennings and Steve Kalinich. Nichols enlisted various vocalists to perform these melodies including John Bahler, Murray MacLeod, Randy Marr and Carol Chase. The Bettis co-writes are all attractive ballads; "Love's a River Flowing" was, in fact, written for the Carpenters. Jennings and Nichols' "Looks Like It's Me Again," sung by Chase, also sounds ideal for Karen Carpenter's voice and timbre. Goffin's "It Started Again," performed by Marr, is moodier and would have been well-suited to a blue-eyed soul man like David Clayton-Thomas or Bill Medley. Marr also sings Nichols and Goffin's "Write a Song to Someone," in a similar vein, on Disc Two. "Just Being Alive," sung by John Bahler and written with John Allen, is the kind of perfect '60s pop with soaring horn lines that might have come too late, dating from 1975.
The second disc is a more unusual treasure chest, consisting largely of commercial jingles. Yet this isn't so offbeat when one considers that two of Nichols' most enduring compositions - the perennial wedding favorites "We've Only Just Begun" (penned with Williams) and "Times of Your Life" (lyrics by Bill Lane) began life as jingles for Crocker National Bank and Kodak, respectively. In these short pieces, Nichols distilled his overflowing, abundant melodicism into compact and catchy nuggets. That they can stand alone attests to his skill; indeed, some of these hooks beg for the fully-fleshed out treatment.
So the original Paul and Roger-sung "Just Begun" from 1968 is here, as well as an instrumental-only demo of "Times of Your Life" from 1974. Amusingly, "The Drifter," an oft-recorded Williams/Nichols copyright, was transformed for use by Hilton in 1980. Fans will also savor the breezy likes of "Bankamericard '30s TV Commercial" and "Mastercharge '30s TV Commercial," both of which are unmistakably Nichols. Hertz's "It's a Good Feeling" ("...getting the most from every mile!") is pretty and perky as sung by an unidentified winsome female voice, while Roger provided a slice of disco-soul for Dodge Trucks! Michael Dees sings Kodak's "Born and Bred," a 1976 cousin to "Times of Your Life" with another equally extractable Bill Lane lyric. Nescafe's "One World" melody gets disco and straight ballad versions, both sung by Carol Chase. Like the latter take of "One World," Nichols and Lane's "When You Got What It Takes" for Kodak (with vocals by jingle queen Kasey Cisyk, the original singer of "You Light Up My Life") is a complete song that could have charted for an Anne Murray or Karen Carpenter. Some of the evocative and richly melodic instrumental pieces for Georgia Pacific and Western Airlines can only lead one to wonder why Nichols never pursued film scoring.
Along the lines of the proposed Brady Bunch theme on Disc One, the second disc has a demo for the children's show Captain Kangaroo. Nichols' original, laconic theme to the romantic mystery series Hart to Hart is here, too, as well as the upbeat "Games People Play," noted as a theme to a sports show. The set is rounded out by a number of tracks that bring The Roger Nichols Story up to the 21st century including a pair of the composer's recent works with old friend Paul Williams: the soft rock power ballad-esque "This is Love" and the gorgeous, spiritual "Look Around." These previously appeared in renditions by the Small Circle of Friends on 2008's Full Circle and 2012's My Heart is Home. (If only a new, full-length Williams/Nichols collaboration were in the cards!) A solo piano medley performed by Nichols appropriately closes out the anthology.
Treasury is accompanied by a thick booklet containing an introduction by Nichols as well as appreciations by Paul Williams, Bill Lane, and John Bettis. All of these are in English and Japanese. Unfortunately, co-producer Takayuki Hamada's liner notes are only printed in Japanese. An advertisement printed in the booklet bills Roger Nichols as "The Hit Man." The appellation is no doubt truthful - but there's plenty of gold among his lesser-known material, too, as this amazing anthology so vividly proves. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, but this set is sure to bring you up!
- Everything's Cool
- Just Beyond Your Smile - Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends
- Just What I've Been Looking For - Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends
- Straight Ahead
- Wait and See - Roger Nichols, Smokey Roberds and Murray McLeod
- I Wish I Knew - Linda Ball
- Treasure of San Miguel
- Trippin' at the Mardi Gras
- It's Hard to Say Goodbye
- The Brady Bunch - Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends
- Out in the Country - Paul Williams
- Let Him Be King - Paul Williams
- Talk It Over in the Morning - Paul Williams
- Watching Out for You - Paul Williams
- Travelin' Boy - Paul Williams
- Mother Lode - Paul Williams
- I Won't Last a Day Without You - Paul Williams
- Footprints on the Moon - Paul Williams
- Love's a River Flowing - John Bettis
- Always on My Mind - John Bettis
- It Started Again - Randy Marr
- Without Words - John Bettis
- Just Being Alive - John Bahler
- I'll Think About You
- Take a Look - Murray MacLeod
- Why'd You Wait So Long - Murray MacLeod
- Looks Like It's You and Me Again - Carol Chase
- When Al the Love Songs Have Been Written
- I'm Comin' Home - Stan Farber
- The Pictures of You - Michael Dees
- Crocker National Bank (We've Only Just Begun) - Paul Williams and Roger Nichols
- Bankamericard ('30s TV Commercial)
- Hertz (It's a Good Feeling)
- Kodak (Times of Your Life - Original Demo)
- Mastercharge ('30s TV Commercial)
- Dodge Trucks - Gene Morford
- Kodak (Born and Bred) - Michael Dees
- Nescafe (One World of Nescafe - Disco Version) - Carol Chase
- Nescafe (One World of You and Me) - Carol Chase
- Kodak (When You Got What It Takes) - Kasey Cisyk
- Ford - Main Event ('60s)
- Ford - A World of Better Ideas (Stereo Version)
- Georgia Pacific ('60s)
- Georgia Pacific (Film Underscore)
- The Drifter (There's No Place Like Hilton) - Michael Dees
- There's No Place Like Hilton - Michael Dees
- Wells Fargo (Christmas Version)
- Western Airlines - Great Planes of the West
- Western Airlines - Western Star
- Western Airlines - Western Way to Fly ('60s TV Commercial)
- Chateau La Salle
- Del Monte ('60s TV Commercial)
- Hilton Hotels - Hilton Has It All
- Hilton Hotels - You Can Reach Me at the Hilton
- Somebody Waiting (Instrumental)
- Write a Song to Someone - Randy Marr
- Good Mornin' Captain (Demo for Captain Kangaroo) - Tom and John Bahler
- Hart to Hart (Original Theme for Hart to Hart)
- Games People Play (Title Theme for TV Sports Show)
- Now - Kasey Cisyk
- When I Hear the Music - Mark Kerschner
- This is Love - Christina Minnis
- Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year -Mark Kerschner
- You Took Me by Surprise - Christina Minnis
- This is Love - Christina Minnis
- Roger Nichols Medley
All tracks performed by Roger Nichols unless otherwise indicated.