Throughout the documentary about him. Still Alive (2011), Paul Williams seems amazed that anyone would want to do a documentary about him. But Paul Williams has had a remarkable life – and yes, as of this writing (August of 2021), he is still alive. He started out doing a parachuting act for a circus. He moved to Hollywood to be a famous actor, but turned to music when acting jobs were hard to get. They would come much more frequently after a few hit songs and an Oscar for “Evergreen”, which he co-wrote with Barbara Streisand. He also still skydived frequently and managed to quit drugs and alcohol.
He’s an excellent songwriter, but mainly he works in collaboration with someone else. His best strength is his lyrics. For example, he only wrote the lyrics for “Evergreen” while Barbra Streisand wrote the tune. Many songwriters have found out that it’s more lucrative to do soundtracks than more conventional albums, so Paul Williams did many soundtracks. Keeping this list to just 10 Paul Williams albums was difficult.
# 10 – Someday Man
Paul Williams became a songwriter for A&M Records, where his hard work was recognized by publisher Chuck Kaye. He introduced Paul Williams to another A&M house songwriter, Roger Nichols, and soon Paul Williams scored an album deal. All of the songs on this album were co-written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. They would work continuously for four years. Paul Williams would later call Roger Nichols “my music school.” Roger Nichols would write a melody, then lock Paul Williams in a closet until the proper lyrics were produced. The result, released in 1970, is worth repeat listening, although at times it’s overproduced. If the title track sounds familiar, that’s because it was covered by The Monkees. Paul Williams auditioned to be one of The Monkees, but was turned down. Another notable track is “To Put Up with You”, which is funnier than the title suggests.
# 9 – Phantom of the Paradise (Soundtrack)
This is one of those movies that was panned when it was released, so, of course, that meant it grew a cult following. It did, however, receive an Academy Award nomination for the soundtrack. Groups like Daft Punk and directors like Guillermo del Toro have been inspired by the movie. Paul Williams not only wrote the soundtrack, but also played the heavy. The Brian DePalma movie has a lot in common with The Rocky Horror Picture Show – but came out a year earlier. A notable track was a parody of over-the-top rock ballads, “Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye.” The band that performed it were Paul Williams’ backing band. Originally, Brian De Palma wanted Sha Na Na to play The Juicy Fruits. Paul Williams was originally offered the role of the hero of the film, but he turned the role down in favor of the villain because he said he was “too little.”
# 8 – Life Goes On
Paul Williams did a fair share of collaboration on this 1972 album, but songs that he wrote by himself are featured, including the elegant “The Lady is Waiting” and “Where Do I Go from Here”, which was featured in the 1974 acclaimed movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. One notable collaborator worked with here was Paul Williams’ brother Mentor Williams on the song “Rose.” Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt make guest appearances on “Life Goes On”, but you can barely hear them. Paul Williams is in fine voice, however. Another notable track is “I Won’t Last a Day Without You”, which contains the lyric, “When there’s no getting over that rainbow” – a little ironic since a few years later Paul Williams would pen one of his best-known hits, “The Rainbow Connection.” This is a mostly upbeat album with rich arrangements which is great to chill out to.
# 7 – Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (Soundtrack)
After appearing on The Muppet Show in 1976, even singing with two Muppets made to look just like him, Paul Williams made a big impression on Muppet creator Jim Henson. He asked Paul Williams to work on a special project, a one-hour adaptation of a beloved children’s book by Russell Hoban. All of the songs are under three minutes long. Perhaps the standout is “The Bathing Suit that Grandma Otter Wore”, which is actually a song about a bathing suit which could be used as either a pirate’s sail or the diaper of a baby whale. Don’t let the Christmas aspect put you off enjoying this.
# 6 – A Little Bit of Love
This was Paul Williams’ best selling album to date, if you don’t count the soundtracks. It wound up at a respectable #95. It came in his most prolific year, 1974. He put out so much work because he was hooked on drugs. Many years later, he became sober and put a lot of work into helping others become sober. He collaborates with a cast of several here, including Ken Ascher, Gary Ulmer, Jack Conrad and the king of movie soundtracks, composer John Williams (no relation.) The stand-out track is “Sad Song” (not to be confused with the Lou Reed song of the same title) which sounds like it should be on Just an Old Fashioned Love Song, but did wind up on Paul Williams’ guest spot on The Muppets.
# 5 – Bugsy Malone (Soundtrack)
Bugsy Malone, Alan Parker’s first film, is one of those movies you either love or hate. It’s a gangster movie, yet all of the cast is under 20. That being said, none of the children sung on the soundtrack. All of their voices were overdubbed by adults. Paul Williams would later say that one of his biggest regrets was not insisting that Jodie Foster sing her own songs. This is one of those movies ignored when released that, of course, gained a cult following. It was a much bigger hit in the UK than in the US.
Both the movie and the songs got a recent popularity boost when Micky Dolenz turned it into a stage musical. Paul Williams was told not to write Depression-era music and proceeded to do just that. He did get to sing “Bugsy Malone” in the film’s soundtrack. It took a remarkably short time to write. Other incredibly catchy tunes include, “So You Wanna Be a Boxer?” “Down and Out” and “Bad Guys.” In fact, these songs are probably in your head right now. You’re welcome.
# 4 – Ordinary Fool
This 1975 album blends original songs with songs that appeared in movies. This was made around the same time as the Bugsy Malone soundtrack, and indeed, one of the songs from that movie makes it in here a year before the movie’s release. “Old Souls”, a song from Phantom of the Paradise makes it in here, too. And, then, there’s the theme from The Day of the Locust. But all of the songs fit together to make a much more rounded look at Paul Williams’ songwriting and singing talents. The arrangements are more restrained, which highlights just how good the lyrics are. Even the use of silence helps makes “Lonestar” extra-special. The album is full of little touches like that.
# 3 – The Muppet Movie (Soundtrack)
Jim Henson like Paul Williams’ music so much for Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977) and then for the Muppet’s first movie, called The Muppet Movie (1979). Paul Williams knew he needed help for a project this big, and called on Kenneth Ascher. Paul Williams told Jim Henson that he would let the Muppet creator hear the songs as they were being written in order to offer constructive criticism. Jim Henson said he trusted Paul Williams to write good songs and would only hear them for the first time when they needed to be recorded. The result is not only a collection of incredibly catchy tunes, but also tunes that did bring out the character of each Muppet or Muppets singing them. The biggest hit was “The Rainbow Connection”, arguably Paul William’s most-loved song, and several award nominations. More importantly, the album was not only a big hit, but a big part of many people’s childhood.
# 2 – Just an Old Fashioned Love Song
This 1971 offering is a darker album with better harmonies and more restrained piano-based arrangements than for his debut album. This includes some introspective songs like “Waking Up Alone” that showed a remarkable maturity for a guy in his early 30s. If the album title sounds familiar, that’s because the title song was a hit for Three Dog Night. Paul Williams’ version is arguably better. Listening to this album, it’s hard to believe it was right after the over-produced and slightly goofy Someday Man. This is an album of a songwriter really getting to know his craft. Paul Williams only collaborated on four of the eleven songs, with the most notable collaborator being Graham Nash on “Simple Man.”
# 1 – Here Comes Inspiration
Paul Williams’s voice is best here, and the songs are incredibly strong. Notable tracks include the quirky and incredibly short “Nilsson Sings Newman”, the oft-covered “You and Me Against the World” and a wistful song of running away from it all, “What Would They Say.” This is one of those albums that just isn’t a collection of songs, but becomes a friend you can rely on, no matter what mood you are in. Some songs were written just by Paul Williams, but others were in collaboration with Ken Ascher, stern taskmaster Roger Nichols, Ron Davies and Johnny Williams, who may have been his brother. This was one of three albums Paul Williams would release in 1974. Even after all these years, the songs and the singing hold up. In an interview with American Songwriter, Paul Williams would say that he was proud that “Rainy Days and Mondays”, a song that took months to write, sold over three million in sheet music, meaning it was a song people wanted not just to listen to, but learn to play.