Co-written with Mary Regan
When Paul Williams released A Little on the Windy Side in 1979, he was coming off of an amazing decade artistically. The toast of the Hollywood songwriting scene and a household name, Williams had written some of the biggest hits of the preceding years, including “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and, of course, the ubiquitous “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie, which was released the same year as Windy Side. The similarities in song arrangement and structure to William’s work with the Muppets are delightfully noticeable.
Almost half of the album was written with Williams’ frequent collaborator, Kenny Asher, whose influence gives a lot of tracks a velvety, sentimental feel. Although it alternately strengthens Williams’ musical ideas, it forces some songs into the realm of schmaltzy Seventies pop, which may be slightly trying on the ears of modern listeners. Nonetheless, it’s great to have this album back in print from Real Gone Music; this is the first reissue of Windy Side in the US due to the collapse of Portrait Records shortly after the album’s release. For those who grew up in the Seventies — or even later with the Muppets — don’t be surprised if you’re washed over with waves of nostalgia listening to this well-crafted AM-radio gem of an album.
The arrangements are lush and country-tinged with the kind of smooth craftsmanship expected from Paul Williams and his Nashville-based collaborators, including Williams’ own brother, Mentor Williams, who produced the album. Mentor brings out the more crooner-y aspects of Paul’s voice, which is immediately appealing.
That iconic voice opens the album with “Moonlight Becomes You,” a cover of a song popularized by Bing Crosby. However, the album really gets going with its upbeat title track. A lot of the songs on this record have a forward groove that one associates with some of Williams’ most fun work and wouldn’t be out of place in his projects like Bugsy Malone or the make-believe ’70s TV variety show that’ll be playing in your head during a listen through.
Other standout tracks include Williams’ collaboration with Brill Building-hitmaker Jeff Barry on “Brand New Song.” Written around the same time as Barry’s chart success with Andy Kim, “Rock Me Gently,” “Brand New Song” has the snap-and-drive characteristic of Barry’s best work. It wouldn’t be out of place as a single for the Archies, and we mean that as the highest of compliments.
“For the Life of Me” opens with the lyrics “For the life of me/I will never understand/Why shoot-’em-ups are popular/And making love’s been banned” and only gets better from there. It’s like a lighter take on “The Hell of It” from The Phantom of the Paradise. Much, much lighter and encapsulates the moral sentiments of more liberated Americans in the ’70s.
“Here’s Another Fine Mess,” written for the Burt Reynold/Dom Deluise movie The End is a beautiful ballad and would have sounded great in the hands of the Carpenters. It’s reminiscent of their style of layered backing vocals and subtle melancholy. Meanwhile, some of the songs Williams wrote alone, like “Strange New Feeling” and the aforementioned “Here’s Another Fine Mess” are funkier and more unfettered than other tracks on the album and are interesting because of their directness.
This re-release includes four bonus tracks. All are pure accessory, but the Williams’-sung version of “When the River Meets the Sea,” written for the Jim Henson-directed Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (1977) starts as a typical church-like hymn then cycles through a number of musical styles. For one of Williams’ most enduring and contemplative songs, he sounds like he’s having a lot more fun with this version.
A Little on the Windy Side is a rare and pleasant addition to the collection of any Williams enthusiast, ’70s radio rock aficionado, or anyone who wants to take a trip back to their sun-drenched, Muppet-infused childhoods. One can only hope that more re-releases of Williams’ back catalog are on the way.
Get your copy of Paul Williams’ A Little on the Windy Side from Real Gone Music’s online shop!