Transcript 155: Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.


Hey, Cuz! Welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, and today, we’re gonna meet with one fine girl.


Hi there! I’m Claude Call.


And as usual, I have a little trivia for ye, right here. And today I simply want you to tell me who Peter James Reinhardt was, and what’s his connection to Rock and Roll?

I’ll have the answer for you near the end of the show.


Looking Glass was a band that formed in 1969 at Rutgers University in New Jersey. At that time the band’s lineup was singer-guitarist Elliot Lurie, bassist Pieter Sweval, and Larry Gonsky was on keyboards. A little while later, Jeff Grob joined the group as its drummer, and they managed to build up a pretty decent following playing local bars and fraternity parties in the New York-New Jersey area, and even as far west as Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Their sound would have been described then as a Jersey Shore brand of rock.

As the story goes, one fine evening, the four of them were sitting in Lurie’s 1965 Chevy Supersport convertible and, according to Lurie, they were “imbibing something or other,” and they were trying to think up a name for the band.

He said in an interview with Culture Sonar, “We were looking in the rearview mirror and we thought, what’s another way to say mirror? Well, looking glass would be another way. And it was the 1960s and that had some kind of psychedelic overtones.” What also attracted them to the name was that they viewed themselves as ordinary guys and they thought they were sort of a reflection of whoever may be listening to them.

And like most bands starting out, they played a lot of covers, and would occasionally slip in an original song, which was more or less tolerated because by that point they had a little bit of a following.

Once they finished college, they knew that they wanted to pursue music as a career, but they had to talk their parents into it. But convince them they did, and they all moved into an old farmhouse in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, which is much more rural than anything you might have in your head when you hear the words “New Jersey.”

Now, by this point Lurie’s technique for writing songs basically involved playing a chord sequence or a melody that he kind of liked, and seeing where it would go. And on this particular day in the early 70s, Lurie had something he was working on, involving a story about a barmaid pining away for a sailor who frankly does not reciprocate his feelings toward her. That barmaid was named Randye, which is spelled R A N D Y E. That name came from an old girlfriend he had in high school. But at some point, he became dissatisfied with that name, since phonically, Randy can be either a male or a female name. So, drawing on the fact that the girl in the song works in a bar, Lurie decided that changing her name to Brandy was only reasonable.


At some point, Looking Glass caught the attention of Clive Davis, who was the president of Columbia Records at the time. Davis set up a showcase gig for the band at the Café au Go Go in Manhattan, opening for Buddy Guy. And based on that performance, Davis signed the band to Columbia’s Epic label.

Over the next few months, the band put together their debut album, which consisted of eight tracks including “Brandy.” Four of the tracks were written and had lead vocals by Lurie, and the other four were written and sung by Peter Sweval. Now, you’d think that “Brandy” would be the first single, because it’s such a good tune, but you’d be wrong, for a couple of reasons. First, nobody in the band thought of it as a potential hit, and second, the song was a departure from their usual sound. So the first single was the one you hear now, called “Don’t It Make You Feel Good”…

…now, this one IS more typical of their sound. Unfortunately, nobody bought it and that was pretty much that. Until.

A promotions man at Epic named Robert Mandel talked a DJ at WPGC in the Washington, DC area to listen to “Brandy” off of a test pressing of the album. According to Lurie, Mandel went to disc jockey Harv Moore and said, “Have you heard this Looking Glass thing?” and Moore said yeah, but it’s not happening. But Moore was talking about the single, so Mandel convinced him to listen to the rest of the album. Moore listened and liked “Brandy” so much that he had it put into regular rotation on the station, and it was generating a lot of phone calls. So Epic released “Brandy” as a single and the rest, as they say, is history.


“Brandy” spent sixteen weeks in the Number One slot on the Billboard Hot 100, and it was also a Top Ten record in Australia and New Zealand. In the UK it didn’t even crack the top 50, peaking at Number 51.

Okay, let me get a couple of stories out of the way. I know that there have been many times when I’ve told the story of the B side becoming the song that pushes to the top of the charts, and that story is floating around on “Brandy” as well. The story goes that “Brandy” was the B side of “Don’t It Make You Feel Good,” but I did a bunch of research on this, and so far as I can tell, the B side of that track has always been the song “Catherine Street.” Likewise, the B side of “Brandy” has always been “One By One”, although there are later issues which use “Golden Rainbow” as the B. As far as I can tell, the two songs have NEVER appeared back-to-back.

The other fake story circulating about the song is that the song was inspired by a spinster who lived in New Brunswick, the home of Rutgers University, named Mary Ellis. Local legend has it that Ellis was seduced by a sea captain who vowed to return from his journeys to marry her. Supposedly Ellis would look out over the Raritan River in New Brunswick awaiting his return, which never did happen. Lurie has said categorically that this story, whether it’s true or not, has nothing to do with his song.

OK, we’ve done away with the legends, here are some actual facts.

The song “Brandy” actually had an impact on the popularity of the girl’s name “Brandy.” In 1971, “Brandy” was the 353rd most popular girl’s name in the United States. In 1972, when the song was released, it jumped to 140th most popular—and remember, the song was released mid-year. By 1973 it was up to Number 82.

Now, “Brandy” by Looking Glass was released in May of 1972. But in February a different song with the same title was released by a musician named Scott English.


As far as I know, this track didn’t do much of anything, but given that they were a few months apart, I don’t think Looking Glass eclipsed it or anything. If anything I think Scott English had some very local followings and it didn’t translate to larger success. However…

In 1974 Barry Manilow decided to cover Scott English’s song. By that point there was no sense in calling it “Brandy”, so to avoid confusion he changed it to “Mandy”…


As far as covers of the Looking Glass version go, there are a few out there, including one by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that’s worth looking into. But what I really want to call your attention to is this track:

This is called “Same Old 45”, by Sarah Borges. It’s on her 2005 album Silver City, and to some people it’s basically the same story as “Brandy,” except it’s told from Brandy’s point of view. For my money, though, it’s about a woman who is in a similar situation and considers herself to be in the same position as Brandy, so she plays the record to herself over and over again.


And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you about Peter James Reinhardt and his connection to Rock and Roll. Here’s the answer:


Sergeant Peter James Reinhardt was stationed in Korea, in the demilitarized zone, in the 1960s. Based on the patches on his coat, we know he was in the Second Infantry and was part of the Imjin Scout Regiment in the DMZ. After his discharge he worked for Delta Airlines, and as a result he was able to fly around for free a lot. One time while enroute to see his mother, he was on a layover in a German airport, when he bumped into John Lennon, who was also on a layover at the time. The two got to talking, and because Lennon was wearing an American Army surplus raincoat, Reinhardt asked Lennon if he wanted some of his old uniform clothes, since he (Reinhardt) didn’t think much of the one that Lennon was already wearing. It turned out that they were on the same flight together and they spent it chatting. At the end of the flight, Lennon gave Reinhardt some signed stick figure drawings he’d doodled on the plane. Not long after that, Lennon received a whole bunch of clothes in the mail. And it’s Reinhardt’s jacket that we see John Lennon wearing frequently in the early and mid 1970s, including during the New York City concert and while he’s appearing on the Dick Cavett Show, where he tells the story of the jacket, but in characteristic Lennon style, has some of the details a bit muddled by suggesting that Reinhardt had served in Vietnam. Reinhardt, for his part, eventually sold the drawings in the 1980s when he was having a tough time financially. Reinhardt died in 2007.


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