I Believe In Music

Anybody remember a pop group called Gallery from the early 1970s? Headed up by a very talented guy named Jim Gold, their biggest hit was “Nice To Be With You” in 1972. That song peaked at #4 on the national charts, and hit #1 in many markets. To Gold’s credit, he wrote that forgotten gem. It’s a terrific song, but we can’t really call it a “standard” in the tradition of American Pop. In retrospect, it ranks as good “bubblegum” music.

So what of this group, Gallery? Why mention them at all in this forum? Believe it or not, it was Gallery that had the biggest chart success with our forgotten gem of the month: “I Believe in Music.” The song is synonymous with Mac Davis, who wrote it, and sang a very capable version that hit nicely on the country charts. But in the pop millieu, Gallery had the most success, and even their version stalled at #22 nationally.

Despite the lack of heavy chart success, the tune is instantly recognizable and certainly has status as a standard. Vocalists like Perry Como, Helen Reddy, (both excellent), Kenny Rogers, Donny Hathaway, (both did overworked gospel-influenced versions), and even Pat Boone (not his best work) took turns with the song. As mentioned, Davis’ version is solid, but it probably isn’t the version you hear in your head when you hum the tune. That version was probably an interpretation by a forgotten lounge act you saw somewhere…and that folks, is the very definition of a “standard.” It’s a song that works so well, everybody sings it.

Oddly enough, the cleanest, and arguably the best interpretation of “I Believe in Music” was recorded as filler for a country music album by The Statler Brothers. Although they were undeniably a country act, the Statlers were no strangers to standards, having composed a few themselves. They claim the Mills Brothers as one of their biggest influences, so it’s no surprise that they could fill a song with harmony. And they did
it to perfection on “I Believe in Music.” But what is strange is that the lead vocal was handled by Phil Balsley, who was known as the quiet member of the quartet and easily the weakest vocally. Weak is relative, since Balsley was surrounded by three of the most distinctive voices in country music history.

In any case, the Statler’s version is an absolute harmonic gem, and it’s nearly impossible to find. Recorded under the direction of Mercury’s Jerry Kennedy, it was filler material for a long out-of-print album called Country Symphonies. If that version ever becomes available on mp3 format, it’s well worth a listen.

Some more interesting stuff about Davis then, and why he rates mention in the annals of American Popular Song…

His first and perhaps most lasting hit was recorded by Elvis Presley, the chart topping “In the Ghetto.” Davis next struck the top of the Adult Contemporary charts with Bobby Goldsboro’s rendition of “Watching Scotty Grow.” Didn’t know he wrote those, eh? Considering both are nearly 40 years old, they fit solidly in the arena of classic American pop.

Davis himself topped the charts in 1972 with “Baby, Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” It spent three weeks at #1. Now here’s the odd part: Although “Baby, Baby Don’t Get Hooked” comparably stiffed as a country song — it maxed at #26 — it gets significant airplay on country stations these days, and very little on oldies or easy listening formats. Funny how time changes our perceptions.