There have been a number of instrumental (or mainly instrumental) Top-40 hits over the years. In the mid-sixties, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass were among the most consistent hit-makers.
Another song that was not technically an instrumental, although the recording artist was known for his piano playing and distinctive keyboard flourishes, was Born Free. A decade before (1955) Roger Williams had a prior smash the movie tune Autumn Leaves. Autumn must have been Williams’ favorite season, because in autumn 1966 his rendition of Born Free was a giant.
British vocalist Matt Monro sang the theme to the movie Born Free (based on a true story film about a lioness, raised in captivity in Kenya, that was returned to the wild). At the film’s premier, the vocal was left out by the producers. In the meantime, Roger Williams’ cover version came out and it was gaining a head of steam. The producers hurriedly edited Monro’s song back into the movie. If you are thinking to yourself “eligibility for best song at the Academy Awards,” you are on the right track.
The real hit was by the late Roger Williams and not Monro. In September/October ’66 Williams’ cover of Born Free went all the way to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, for six weeks, it sat at #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening singles chart. When Born Free won the Academy Award for best movie song, it was Roger Williams who performed at the Oscars. Born Free, composed by John Barry and Don Black, beat out other strong contenders that were, also, hits in 1966 —Georgy Girl and Alfie.
Moving on to our “Found Performance.” There are very few videos available of Roger Williams playing Born Free. Those that are out there contain poor to marginal audio or video. Not being a quitter, I edited my own version based on what was available. This video consists of an edit of Williams’ Academy Award performance, but it is backed with the sound from the familiar single. It includes a few shots from the Born Free film trailer as well. I admit the edit is not a perfect meld, in part because the Oscars’ performance lasted more than four minutes, and the single was less than three minutes long. Another factor, that was impossible to alter, was his hit single included all male vocalists and, at the Oscar show, the chorus consisted of dozens of young people (girls and boys). With those disclaimers, I think it all turned out pretty well and it is more satisfying than not having any good quality examples of Roger Williams’ artistry.
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