Transcript 64: One Bad Apple

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Holy Moley! It’s the next episode of How Good It Is, a weekly podcast that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and I am maintaining the energy, baby.
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Have I got a trivia question for ye? It turns out I do, and here it is: name the game show host, who wrote a song that was originally intended to be a B-Side, but which instead went to the Top Five in 1962? I’ll have the answer later on.
The Osmond Brothers were a family-based music group that had most of their hits in the early 1970s. While George Senior and Olive Osmond had nine children altogether, the core of the group was originally composed of four of the sons: Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay. They got their start as a barbershop quartet, performing in the Ogden, Utah area, which is where they grew up. The money they earned appears to have had two different purposes: first was to earn money to support brothers Virl and Tom, who had severe congenital hearing impairments and needed hearing aids, and the other reason was to serve their mission for the Mormon church. Now, the boys were pretty young at this point: Alan was the oldest at nine years of age, whereas Jay was only three, but they had both the talent and the ability to perform comfortably on stage, enough in fact that in 1962—at which point Alan would have been about 13— George took them to California to audition for the Lawrence Welk Show. In the end, they didn’t get to meet with Welk, but while they were out there they took a visit to Disneyland. At some point during the day, Disneyland’s Director of Entertainment happened to be walking through the park when he saw the boys singing along with the Dapper Dans, which is the barbershop quartet that performs in the Main Street area. He was impressed enough that he booked them to appear on a segment of the Disneyland After Dark episode of the show Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
That episode ran twice, in April and again in July of 1962. This, in turn, led to the Osmonds getting booked on Andy Williams’ variety show on a regular basis up until 1967, when the show was cancelled. A couple of years into this run, younger brother Donny joined the group. After the show’s cancellation, they signed with Jerry Lewis’ show until that was cancelled in 1969, whereupon they returned to Andy Williams for his revived show, which didn’t last very long at all.
It was around that time that they decided that they really wanted to become a rock and roll band, so they convinced George to let them make the change. They recorded this song, called Flower Music, which didn’t chart, but it demonstrated that they had some talent for the genre.
In 1971, producer Mike Curb saw them performing as a band, and thought he could get them into a successful place, so he helped them get a contract with MGM records and hooked them up with producer Rick Hall, who was mostly known for producing R&B records. They went into the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and got to work.
“One Bad Apple” was written by George Jackson. Now, there’s a rumor that he wrote the song for the Jackson Five—to which he has no family connection—and that the Jackson Five turned it down in favor of “ABC”. And that rumor? Came from Donny Osmond himself. But that story doesn’t make sense because George Jackson was one of the staff songwriters in Muscle Shoals, so it’s not likely that he’d have written a song and offered it to a Motown artist first. At the very least he’d have shot for an Atlantic R&B artist, since so many of them recorded there. But the fact is, Jackson wrote the song as though it was a Jackson Five song, and between Rick Hall’s production work and Donny Osmond’s vocals in the chorus, what you have is something that clearly has echoes of “I Want You Back”, from the overall structure to the lyrical content. Just listen to this clip from the Jackson Five and see if you don’t agree:
I’m not crazy, right? There’s a definite similarity here. Oh, and incidentally, the album, which is titled simply Osmonds, features a Motown medley on it.
But the move was a smart one, and it did, in fact, allow the Osmonds to get not only their first hit single anywhere, but also their first Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was recorded in October of 1970, was released in November and topped the chart by mid-February. It was also a Top 40 track in Australia, but it would be another year and two label changes before the Osmonds reached the Top 40 in the UK, when they finally cracked it with “Down By The Lazy River,” and Top Five with “Crazy Horses,” which didn’t chart at all here in the US.
Now, let me offer up a little fairness, here. The addition of Donny Osmond’s voice to the chorus was a smart move, especially with their emulating the Jackson Five, and it certainly marks the beginning of Donny as a teen idol, but most of the heavy lifting on this record was done by Merrill, singing lead throughout the song. That said, there’s another track on the album, “Sweet and Innocent,” which was released as a Donny Osmond solo track.
Now, while it had that Motown sound, and the Osmonds were definitely a talented bunch, Donny offered up another possible reason for the song’s success. In an interview with Uncut Magazine, Donny recalled that while they were recording at FAME Studios, they’d often get McDonald’s for lunch. Rick Hall liked the Filet O Fish sandwich, but he didn’t like the tartar sauce-like stuff they put on it. The Osmonds recorded the music track while someone was out getting the lunch order. The recording wound up being a little long, so Hall cut out a section of the song and tossed the tape in the trash. Then lunch arrived and he threw away part of the sandwich in the trash, on top of the tape. It wasn’t until a little later that they realized he’d cut out the wrong portion of the song. They had to retrieve the tape and spent a long time wiping off the sauce, then spliced it back in and cut the vocals. So according to Donny Osmond, there’s literally a secret sauce on the recording, and that was his explanation for “One Bad Apple” going to Number One.
All right! It’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I’d asked about a game show host who wrote a song that was never intended to be a hit, but which made it to the Top Five anyway. That would be Chuck Barris, game show producer and host of the original Gong Show, a purposely low-budget talent show that ran in the 1970s.
Barris wrote a song about a generic amusement park and someone suggested that he use a real park as the title. He was in the northern end of Manhattan and looked across the Hudson River at the New Jersey Palisades Cliffs, whereupon he was inspired to use the amusement park that sat atop them. He worked the park into the lyrics and made it the title, and a song was born.
“Palisades Park” was released as the B Side to this song, called “June, July and August”, but a DJ in Flint, Michigan accidentally played the wrong side, and the song caught on, eventually reaching Number Three in the US in June of 1962.
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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when you’re just Dust In The Wind.
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.