Each month in “The Story Behind,” I’ll explore the history of a well-known Top 40 hit based on interviews I’ve conducted with individuals who performed some of the most familiar pop hits of the 1960s and ’70s. This month, I’ll look at the Tyme’s “So Much in Love.”
Philadelphians Donald Banks, Albert Berry, Norman Burnett, George Hilliard, and late-addition George Williams actually started out as the Latineers “because we thought the name sounded good, like we had a Latin sound,” Burnett says. “About that time, there was a radio station contest for Tip Top bread. The deal was that you’d do your song, they’d play it on the radio, and people would send them the end wrappers of the bread telling them who they liked in the contest.
“Well, we were nervous, and we didn’t sing our best. But a promoter heard our audition when we were doing our tape for the radio program, and he told us to go to Cameo-Parkway Records. We called and set up an audition with Billy Jackson, the A&R man.”
For the audition, the group sang a song they had written called “As We Strolled,” which would eventually be retitled “So Much in Love.” “A few weeks went by, and nobody called us, so we called them, and they were happy we called because they had lost the phone number!” Burnett says. The group signed with Cameo-Parkway, but “Bernie Lowe, the owner of Cameo-Parkway, didn’t like our name, so he named us the Tymes. I don’t know where he got it, but that’s how our name came about.”
With a new name, the newly titled “So Much in Love” was released in June 1963 and went all the way to #1. Burnett says the sounds of the seabirds and waves crashing at the beginning of the song were to give it a romantic feel, and after the song became successful, two other songs released that year, the O’Jays’ “Lonely Drifter” (released in September) and Robin Ward’s “Wonderful Summer” (released in November) used similar sound effects but neither charted as high as the Tymes’ disc.
Almost overnight, the group went from being unknowns who just happened to be on the same label with Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, Bobby Rydell, the Orlons, and the Dovells to having a #1 record. “The song was bigger than us — we were really unprepared. We did a tour with Dick Clark, but our inexperience showed. Len Barry was with the Dovells at the time, and he came up and said, ‘You guys perform like you just met right here on stage!’ We really had to grow into the song.”
“So Much in Love” was followed by a cover of a Johnny Mathis standard written in 1957, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” (#7), but after a few poorly performing records through 1964, they left Parkway. At this point, they were singing backup for other artists, even providing the background vocals for old labelmate Len Barry on his #2 smash “1-2-3,” and they also tried a release on their own Winchester label that failed.
Next, they signed with MGM, who dropped them after two non-charting releases before they signed with Columbia. At Columbia, their first release was their first pop Top 40 record since “Wonderful, Wonderful,” 1968’s cover of the song “People” from the musical Funny Girl, which stalled at #39.
Not long afterward, Hilliard left and was replaced with Charles Nixon. Still searching for a label, the group’s producer, Billy Jackson, had them cut some demos he hoped Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff would find suitable for their fledgling Philadelphia International label, but they passed and Jackson took the tapes to RCA.
RCA signed the group and took the very song Gamble and Huff had passed on, “You Little Trustmaker,” and released it in 1974. The song shot up to #12 on the Billboard pop charts and broke the Top 20 at #18 in the UK, and the group was suddenly hot once again.
They followed that with the release of a song that was huge on the Carolina beach music scene, 1974’s “Ms. Grace.” “Ms. Grace” was written by husband-and-wife team John and Johanna Hall. (John would be a member of the group Orleans, which would later chart with hits such as “Still the One” and “Love Takes Time.”) Despite the chart impetus provided by the success of “You Little Trustmaker, “Ms. Grace” only reached #91 on the Billboard charts. In England, however, it soared all the way to #1. “It’s a nice song, a different type of song,” Burnett says, “a really beautiful song.”
Yet surprisingly, the Tymes’ newfound success was short-lived, and after charting once more with “It’s Cool” in 1976 (#68), there were no more chart records. A number of personnel changes followed, and today the living members of the group continue to perform in England and the US.