Nov 17, 2015

James Taylor - Handy Man - on James Taylor Greatest Hits Volume 2 Album (1977)

James Taylor - Handy Man - on James Taylor Greatest Hits Volume 2 Album (1977)
'70s Lite Rock on WLCY Radio

"Handy Man" is a rock and roll song written by singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell. Recordings by Del Shannon and also The Sparks Of Rhythm list Charles Merenstein as a co-writer as does BMI. The Sparks Of Rhythm version on the Apollo 541 single version released in 1959 credits Andrew Barksdale and Merenstein as writers omitting Jimmy Jones. The song is noted for Jone's singing "Comma, Comma Comma Comma" lyrics, which is heard at the beginning as well as in the Coda of the song, before the song's fade.

It was originally recorded by The Sparks Of Rhythm, a group Jones had been a member of when he wrote it, although he was not with them when they recorded it. That version was in a minor key, and had a completely different melody. When Jimmy Jones recorded it, the song was changed to a major key, with a completely different melody, which has become the version that is generally known today. In 1959, Jones recorded the song himself, in a version which had been reworked by Blackwell, who also produced the session. The song featured a whistler, who is heard throughout the lyrics. "Handy Man" went to number three on the R&B charts and number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, becoming a million seller. The song was a hit again in 1964, hitting at Number 22, for Del Shannon, and again for James Taylor, whose slow version was a hit in 1977.

Measured in terms of popularity on any chart, Taylor's version of the song was the most successful. It hit #2 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart and reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and was knocked out of the pole position by his then wife Carly Simon. Taylor's version also earned him his second Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Male. Taylor's version featured Leah Kunkel, the ex-wife of Russ Kunkel, as backup singer, singing the "Comma Comma" sections in harmony, which is heard after the first time the whole lyrics is sung, as well as in the Coda of the song.

Allmusic critic Jason Elias compares Jones' original with Taylor's version stating that "where Jones’s version was chipper and a little obnoxious," Taylor's version "is so laid back it’s almost somnolent." Elias notes that Taylor's slowed down version has the benefit of allowing him to shade the words in new ways. Elias also praises Taylor's guitar playing.

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