The world knows Andy Williams primarily for two things: his definitive version of “Moon River,” and his annual Christmas specials. (You could perhaps add his piercing blue eyes and his dazzling, ever-present smile.) The words wholesome, happy, and charming would certainly be apt descriptors. Easy Listening would be another. So hearing his heartfelt, regret-filled rendition of “A Song For You” is somewhat of a revelation. One does not expect such a nakedly emotional vocal from a singer grouped with artists like Perry Como, Jack Jones, and Robert Goulet. Smooth and sometimes schmaltzy, yes; honest and personal, not so much.
Hundreds of artists have covered “A Song For You” since its initial release in 1970. Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Cher, Michael Bublé, and Christina Aguilera (just to name a few) have all recorded versions. The song has even become so associated with Donny Hathaway over the years that many people assume he wrote it. (Leon Russell actually wrote it and recorded it on his debut album. Leon’s musical story is quite impressive and will appear eventually in greater detail.) The song has become a modern standard, with Elton John going so far as to call it “an American classic.”
And over the last 40 years, only one person out of the hundreds has taken the song and made it a hit (albeit a minor one) on the Billboard pop charts. That would be Mr. Andy Williams. And he sings the hell out of it. He never did another song like it.
Andy Williams passed away a few weeks ago. He was a consummate entertainer, and will be missed. Celebrate him this Christmas, because we’ll not see his like again.