Bill Cosby, one of the greatest and most beloved comedic entertainers of all time, is a one-hit wonder. Huh?
Cosby was enjoying his first wave of success in the 60’s. He was the first black comic to be truly accepted by mainstream (all right, white) America. He had a string of successful comedy albums, co-starred with Robert Culp in I Spy (making him the first black co-star of a dramatic TV series), and won three Emmys. Pretty impressive, but his greatest achievements were, of course, yet to come. You could sum up his success in one word: likability. He’s just so personable, virtually anyone can relate to him, and his brand of humor has no barriers.
But enough about my admiration for Cos; we’re here to focus on one specific little window of his career. After conquering comedy and television, where to branch out next? You guessed it, Cosby decided to record a music album. He had discovered a group of Los Angeles studio musicians and hired them to open for his standup shows. Their association with Cosby got them a deal with Warner Brothers, and Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band put out a string of R&B and pop hits into the early 70’s. We’ll examine them a little more closely at some point, but they were the backing band for Cosby’s 1967 album Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings. The album consisted mostly of R&B covers, one original song, and this quirky track.
Cosby semi-rhythmically tells a joke while the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band does a pretty faithful cover of Stevie Wonder’s hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” from the previous year. If you look at the songwriting credits on the label at the top of the page, you’ll see the name Cosby. That’s Henry Cosby, who co-wrote the original song with Stevie Wonder and Sylvia Moy and is no relation to Bill Cosby. The single became an unexpected hit and went to #4 in September 1967 despite most Top 40 programmers’ reluctance to play songs over three minutes long. This was Cosby’s only Top 40 hit, which makes him, yes, a one-hit wonder.
Today, of course, Bill Cosby is a living legend, and he’s not done just yet – he’s set to star in another television series in 2015, when he will be 78 years old. Now that’s some kind of work ethic. He’s become quite outspoken on today’s social issues on both sides of the color line, and bless him for it. He’s certainly earned the right to tell it like it is. So let’s listen to Cos’s one and only Top 40 hit. From the fall of ’67, here’s “Little Ole Man.”
Cute. Come back tomorrow as we reach another long-dormant part of your brain with an “oh, wow” song!