It’s also what happens when the unexpected and unintended lead to entirely pleasant results for all concerned. It’s like fate with less drama.
So let’s jump back to Olympia, Washington in the late 1950s where Gary Troxel and Gretchen Christopher attended the same high school. Gretchen already had stars in her eyes and began writing songs with the intention of trying to break into showbiz through singing, songwriting, dancing, or any other way she could find.
There are a couple of different variations regarding the next part of the story. I like this one:
As Gary and Gretchen sat waiting for a ride home after school, he began to sing a made-up, doo-wop style melody. Gretchen realized it fit perfectly with an unfinished song written by her and her friend Barbara Ellis called “Softly, Softly.” Even though Gary had plans to enlist in the US Navy, the three teens decided to form a group. Calling themselves Two Girls & A Guy, they recorded the new song–now known as “Come Softly”– and somehow managed to get it into the hands of a local music bigwig already in the process of forming a small record label called Dolphin.
The bigwig flipped over the tune. He dubbed the trio The Fleetwoods and took them into a Seattle studio where they laid down the track a capella, the only accompaniment being the light shaking of Troxel’s car keys in his hand. Session musicians later overdubbed other instruments which led to some moments where everyone was out of tune or out of time.
Before the single went into stores, one more change became necessary. Due to fears that radio stations might find the original title too suggestive, the name was changed to “Come Softly To Me,” despite the fact that the phrase doesn’t appear among the lyrics. They might have been a touch too paranoid, but as Lou Reed once sang, “Those were different times.”
The American public certainly didn’t have a problem with the song, sending it straight to #1 in the spring of 1959. The Fleetwoods charted a dozen more songs, including another #1, but eventually broke up due to growing up. And it all started with a chance meeting and some serendipitous improvisation.
So grab your steady guy or gal for a twirl around the floor, with what surely had to be the top slow-dancing prom song of the year. Only don’t make me break out my ruler, youngsters. Let’s see some space between those waists.