Friday, January 31, 2014

Helen Reddy, The #29 Female Artist of the Rock Era

Helen Reddy was born in Melbourne, Australia.  At the age of four, she sang and danced on the Australian vaudeville circuit with her parents.  Between the ages of 12 and 17, however, Helen became rebellious and desired rather to be a housewife and mother.  So she married, and divorce soon came, but not before daughter Traci was born.  

To support herself and Traci as a single mother, Reddy resumed a singing career.  She won a talent contest on the Australia television show Bandstand, and traveled to New York City to claim her prize, recording time to cut a single for Mercury Records.  Upon arriving, however, Helen was told by Mercury that her prize was only the chance to audition for the label, that Mercury considered the Bandstand footage her audition, and that she was unsuccessful.  Reddy had but $200 to her name and a return ticket to Australia, but she decided to stay in the United States with her three-year-old daughter and pursue a singing career.

Often, Reddy found it tough to work, and several shows only had 10-12 people in the audience.  She didn't have working papers, so she had to make several trips to Canada to find gigs.  

In 1968, fellow entertainer Martin St. James threw Reddy a party with an admission price of five dollars so Helen could pay her rent.  It so happened that 22-year-old Jeff Wald, who was to become Helen's manager and future husband, was at that party.  

Jeff and Helen married three days after meeting, and the family lived in the Hotel Albert in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Wald was fired soon after, and Helen supported them for six months singing at hospital and charity benefits.

The family soon moved to Chicago, where Wald secured a job as talent coordinator at Mister Kelly's.  Reddy sang in several lounges, including Mister Kelly's, and began to gain a following.  

In 1968, Helen signed a recording contract with Fontana Records.  Her first single, "One Way Ticket", was not a hit in the U.S. but did chart (#83) in her native Australia. 

Less than a year later, Jeff was hired at Capitol Records and the family moved to Los Angeles.  Jeff had success managing acts such as Deep Purple, but Helen wasn't getting anywhere.  Finally, after five months of phone calls to Capitol executive Artie Mogull, Jeff arranged for his wife to record a single. 

She recorded Mac Davis's "I Believe In Music" backed with "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar.  The "A" side went nowhere, but a DJ in Canada flipped the record over, and it instead became the hit, #2 in Australia, #8 in Canada and #13 in the United States.

It was pretty much a one-off recording; either the effort went nowhere and Reddy's career went the same direction, or it resulted in a hit and would jumpstart her career.  The latter is what occurred.  Reddy released the album named after her first hit, and then a self-titled release later in the year that included a #8 hit on the Easy Listening chart--"Crazy Love".

In 1972, Reddy released the album I Am Woman.  The title song was released as a single, and initially was not accepted.  It wasn't until females all over the world adopted the song as an anthem and began requesting it from radio stations in huge numbers that the song re-entered the chart.  It then shot up to #1 in the U.S. and Canada and #2 in Australia.

Reddy won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I Am Woman".  "Peaceful" was the follow-up, and Helen was just beginning a period of amazing dominance of Adult radio--the single reached #2 on the Easy Listening chart and #12 overall in both the U.S. and Canada.

Helen was a key factor in advancing the career of Olivia Newton-John.  She encouraged her friend to move from Britain to the United States, giving her the best opportunity to expand her career.  At a subsequent party at Helen's house, Newton-John met producer Allan Carr, who in turn offered her a role in the movie Grease.  Reddy released her fourth album Long Hard Climb in 1973, and it contained another smash for her.  "Delta Dawn" was Top 10 in every major country, and it was #1 in most, including the United States, Canada and Australia.

"Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" became a #1 smash in Australia, attained the same position on the Easy Listening chart in the U.S. and #3 overall, and #5 in Canada.


The following year, Helen released the LP Love Song for Jeffrey.  A song which reflects the encouragement that Helen received from her father at an early age ("Keep On Singing") gave Reddy her third straight #1 on the Easy Listening chart.  Overall, it was #10 in Canada and #15 in the U.S.

Next, Reddy released the single "You And Me Against The World", with daughter Traci providing the spoken bookends.  It too was a #1 Adult hit and #9 overall in the United States and Canada.

Helen headlined shows with a full chorus of backup singers and dancers to standing-room-only crowds on The Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Her opening acts were Joan Rivers and the up-and-coming Barry Manilow.  Reddy also appeared regularly on talk shows and variety programs, such as The Carol Burnett Show and The Bobby Darin Show.  In 1973, Helen hosted her on The Helen Reddy Show as a summer replacement series for The Flip Wilson Show, which gave guests such as the Pointer Sisters and Albert Brooks national exposure.   Reddy also was a semi-regular host of the popular late night show The Midnight Special from 1973-75.

In 1974, Helen released the album Free and Easy, which contained the smash "Angie Baby".  It was #1 in the U.S., #3 in Canada and #8 in New Zealand.

"Emotion" was a great follow-up, becoming Helen's sixth straight #1 on the Easy Listening chart and her eighth consecutive to reach either #1 or #2.

The lead single from Helen's 1975 album No Way to Treat a Lady, "Bluebird", topped out at #5 on the Easy Listening chart.

Reddy's next single, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady", returned Helen to the top of the Adult charts, but it also hit #2 overall in the United States and #8 in Canada.

Meanwhile, Helen appeared as a nun in Airport 1975, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer--Female.  Helen was also in the all-star chorale in the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Helen was on a tremendous roll.  Reddy's next hit, "Somewhere In The Night", peaked at #2 on the Easy Listening chart, her 11th straight Top 10 Adult hit.

In 1976, Reddy released the album Music, Music.  It contained her eighth #1 Adult smash of her career of just five years to this point--"I Can't Hear You No More".

"Gladiola" was also a Top 10 Adult hit for Helen.  The following year, she released the album Ear Candy.  The lead single finished her amazing run on the Adult charts (and one of the best in history for any artist), as "You're My World" peaked at #5.  It was #13 overall in Canada and an underrated #18 in the United States.

"You're My World" would be Reddy's final Top 40 hit.  In the 1980's, however, she starred in musicals such as Anything Goes, Call Me Madam, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Blood Brothers (both on Broadway and the West End).  Helen also served as Parks and Recreation Commissioner in California for three years.  She wrote and published an autobiography, The Woman I Am, in 2006. 

Reddy scored 15 Top 40 hits, with 6 Top 10 songs and three #1's.  On the Adult chart, Helen charted 25 hits, with 15 Top 10's and an incredible eight #1 songs, six of them consecutively.  She has sold over 15 million albums in the United States and over 25 million worldwide. 

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