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 going to meet up with someone named Windy.
Hi there! I’m Claude Call, and I’m proud to be amongst you. And today my trivia question is about today’s song “Windy,” by The Association. What does it have in common with these other songs? We have, “Poor Little Fool,” by Rick Nelson, “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, and “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry. All of those songs have something in common with “Windy.” What could it be? I’ll have that answer for ye near the end of the show.
So, like “Deacon Blues,” which I talked about back in Episode 96, this one opens with a personal story. Back in 1967, I was four years old, but I was also an early reader. I don’t say that to brag or anything; it’s relevant to the story. So as a four-year-old reader, I read the comics every Sunday morning, and I could read children’s books, and I was able to read comic books. The ones I specifically remember reading are the ones put out by Harvey Comics, which included Richie Rich, and Casper the Friendly Ghost, which most of you know about. There were also a couple of titles that are less-known today, such as Little Lotta, who was an overweight girl whose big appetite led to her having superhuman strength. And there was another character who was originally introduced as a companion character to Casper. She was a young blonde girl who was also a witch. She wore a red cloak and had a magic wand, and flew around on her own broom. She was named Wendy, the Good Little Witch. In addition to the comic books, she also appeared in the Casper cartoons in the mid-1960s. You see where this is going yet? Four-year-old me watched the cartoons, and read the comic books, and suddenly there’s a song about a person named “WINDY”. And as a result, I have forever associated the song and the cartoon character, even though they have nothing to do with one another. I think as a kid I heard that second verse as “who’s SWEEPING down the streets above cities” rather than “who’s tripping down the streets of the city.” Anyway, even today I hear the song and picture a little cartoon witch flying around a city on her broom.
Now that you’ve had that little trip down memory lane, let’s look at the song itself. And for that, we have to back up the clock a little bit to tell you about the song’s composer, Ruthann Friedman.
Friedman was born in 1944 in the Bronx, in New York City, but when she was ten she moved to California, living in the San Fernando Valley. She was already playing some guitar at that point, having heard music from the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. When she was 12 a song she’d written got her on a local talent show called Rocket to Stardom. Rocket to Stardom aired live from the Wilshire Boulevard Showroom of Wilshire Oldsmobile, which was naturally the sponsor. It was little more than an infomercial with the time purchased by Bob Yeakel, the owner of the dealership. In fact, the host was Bob’s sister Betty Yeakel. Now, by most accounts Rocket to Stardom was somewhere between the Gong Show and the first few rounds of American Idol, in the sense that there were a lot of acts that weren’t especially good. And that makes sense, given that the performers didn’t even have to audition. All they needed to do was show up on time and do their thing. Half the fun was watching these amateurs crash and burn, or stop and start over again, or stop and flee the stage altogether, and Betty Yeakel, who otherwise wasn’t a great MC, was there to comfort them and literally give them a shoulder to cry on. But every now and again there’d be a genuine talent that came along. One notable veteran of Rocket to Stardom was Duane Eddy, probably one of the greatest instrumental artists of the time.
Okay, that was a long digression. So Ruthann Friedman showed up on Rocket to Stardom and did her thing, and clearly the showbiz bug bit her. As a high schooler, she began playing at The Troubador in West Hollywood during their “hoot nights”, and became a fixture in the LA music scene.
But it wasn’t until she was nineteen that she landed a paid gig in Denver, and became part of the so-called “hippie migration”, basically moving up and down the West Coast and living off of her performances like many other musicians of the time. It was during that period that she got to know the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and Janis Joplin. And she also got to know a gentleman named Van Dyke Parks.
Now, Van Dyke Parks is probably not a common name, but he’s produced and arranged many albums for artists as diverse as Randy Newman, Ringo Starr, U2, Bob Dylan, and many others. He’s also well-known for collaborating on songwriting with the Beach Boys. He’s the guy who came up with the cello triplets in “Good Vibrations,” and he co-wrote a lot of the material on the ill-fated Smile project. Parks is the guy who talked Frank Sinatra into recording “Somethin’ Stupid,” which was his first million-seller. All of this is to say Parks is a guy who knew a lot of people in the industry and had some influence on them. And it was Parks who introduced Ruthann Friedman to The Association.
Now, the story behind the song itself has changed over the years, and by that I meant that Friedman herself has told a few different stories about the subject of the song. In fact, she told the same source two different things in two separate interviews a few years apart. Here’s how that goes.
Friedman was about 25 at that point and living in a ground-floor apartment in David Crosby’s house in Beverly Glenn. She says there was a fellow who came to visit—and she’s never identified who that fella was—and by her account, he kept staring at her as though he was going to suck the life out of her. So she started to think about what kind of a guy she’d like to be with, and that was Windy—a fantasy guy.
Then, in 2014 she did an interview with Songfacts Dot Com in which she said (quote) These days, looking back at myself in my mid to late 20s, I finally realized I was talking about me in that song, and how I wanted to be. (unquote)
So what’s still on the table is whether this is a bit of retroactive thinking, or if it’s a dodge to get people to quit asking who the guy is. I don’t really know. I suppose there’s no reason it couldn’t be both.
Regardless, it’s pretty clear that when she originally wrote it, Windy was a male. Have a listen:
This is Friedman’s original recording from 1967, although she didn’t release it until several years later.
The Association got ahold of the song, and they had Bones Howe producing the record for them. Obviously he made a bunch of changes to Friedman’s version. First up, and perhaps most obvious was changing Windy from male to female. And that makes sense: flip the gender of the singer, flip the gender of the song’s subject. The next change Howe made—and this one’s a little more subtle—is that he sped the song up a little bit. Friedman’s version is in three-quarter waltz time, whereas The Association’s is in four-four, a more conventional rock beat.
He also had the song open up with those bass notes, and rather than doing vocal overdubs on the lead, he had new member Larry Ramos share the lead with Russ Giguere. I’m going to come back to that in a moment. The big change that Bones Howe made, though, was adding that woodwind solo in the bridge, and that instrument comes back at the end of the song. Now, some people think that’s a flute; others have suggested that it’s a piccolo. But believe it or not, that’s coming from a recorder, which was played by Association member Terry Kirkman. See that? Elementary school music teachers all over America just got a warm feeling of validation. Personally, off the top of my head I can think of only…oh…three rock era songs that also have recorder on them, and only one of them was a Top 40 hit. And I think I’m going to sit on that potential trivia question for a bit.
As far as the rest of the musicians, it’s a little bit unclear. What is known is that The Association’s first album didn’t sell very well, so Bones Howe brought in a bunch of session guys, most of whom later became known as the Wrecking Crew. The contract sheet lists 14 musicians on the track not including Terry Kirkman, and there’s some overlap to their talents, plus there were several recording sessions for the music. But the best guess anyone has nowadays is that Larry Knechtel played keyboards, Hal Blaine was on drums, Joe Osborn played that bass, and Ray Pohlman was on guitar.
By all accounts, recording the vocals for this song was a grueling process. They started in the early afternoon and didn’t finish until 6:30 the next morning. After working on it for so long, of course Larry Ramos and Russ Giguere’s voices were a little bit crispy, so Bones Howe had everybody in the studio singing the song—including Ruthann Friedman.
The single was released on the first of May in 1967 and entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart before the end of the month. By July 1 it was at Number One and it held that position for four weeks, finally getting replaced by The Doors’ “Light My Fire”. It was also a Number One hit in Canada, it was Top 20 in New Zealand and South Africa, and in Australia it peaked at Number 35. And, incidentally, it was Bones Howe’s first Number One as a producer.
Later in the year, an instrumental version by Wes Montgomery became his biggest hit when it reached Number 44 on the Billboard chart, and it also reached Number Ten on the Billboard Easy Listening Chart.
In 1969, Ruthann Friedman released her first solo album, called Constant Companion. At that time, she didn’t include the track n that album because she didn’t want to be known for just that song, especially inasmuch as the Association version was so different from hers. She DID, however, play it during her shows, but word is that she played it in a more bluesy style, and she never did the ba-ba-ba-ba-ba vocals because she detested them. Other than that, over the years she did come to accept that people like the song and want to hear her play it, and she recognized that it’s important to the fans. As far as I can tell, however, she didn’t release that recording until 2006 when it appeared on a lost recordings compilation CD called Hurried Life.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you what “Windy” has in common with three other songs, those songs being “Poor Little Fool,” by Rick Nelson, “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, and “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry. Well, those are the first four songs in the Hot 100 era to be written entirely by a woman. “Poor Little Fool” was written by Sharon Sheeley and went to Number One in 1960, Dominique was written by The Singing Nun herself, Sister Luc-Gabrielle, and topped the chart in 1963, then came “Windy” in 1967, and Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” did it only a month later and also held the chart for four weeks. So ponder that: the Summer of Love, with all its psychedelia, was dominated on the music charts by a psychedelic pop song and a gothic country tune.
And that, my friend, is a full lid on another edition of How Good It Is. If you’re enjoying the show—hey, you’ve made it this far, that’s gotta mean something—please take the time to share it with someone. Who knows, maybe they’ll get back to you and say THEY associate the song with Harvey Comics, too.
Also, if you’re so inclined, you could even leave a rating—or better yet, a review—somewhere, and now you can support the show over at Patreon dot com, slash How Good It Is. Don’t forget: if you’re a Patron you get a newsletter about 48 times a year, which is my little “Thank You” for your support.
If you want to get in touch with the show, you can email me at HowGoodPodcast@gmail.com,
Or you can follow the show on the social medias at How Good It Is Pod.
You can also visit, like and follow the show’s Facebook page, at Facebook dot com, slash (ow) How Good It Is Pod.
Or…you can check out the show’s website, How Good It Is Dot Com, where you may find a few extra bits.
Thank you so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.