As a new decade dawned in January 1970, the Vietnam War raged on, the Beatles broke up, the Apollo 13 mission narrowly avoided tragedy, political unrest spilled into the streets and Oklahoma-born B.J. Thomas had a splashy new hit in "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
While popular tunes on the radio then often reflected the turbulence of the times, Thomas' signature song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1969 Western outlaw classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was both robust and soothing: "Because I'm free / Nothin's worryin' me." It topped the Billboard singles chart for four weeks straight.
Now, more than 40 years later, those "Raindrops" are falling again.
Thomas, who turns 71 next month, has reinvented the past for the present with acoustic interpretations of 12 of his best-known hits on a collection titled The Living Room Sessions, which entered the Billboard country charts at No. 39. While the recording was done in a Nashville studio, the mood is intimate and relaxed, each track performed live with minor redubs. (See Thomas performing in the video below.)
Mixing old songs and new friends
"I thought it was a good way to reintroduce me to a new audience," says Thomas, speaking from his Arlington, Texas, home, of his first release on the indie label Wrinkled Records. He at first resisted revisiting such favorites as "Hooked on a Feeling," " I Just Can't Help Believing" and "Rock and Roll Lullaby." "But someone said, 'Do it unplugged.' It was a lot of fun to go back and do them with a new feel."
"I had my wish list, and I went to them one by one and everyone was willing to do it," he says. "It was pretty flattering." One sentimental choice for a partner was Sara Niemietz, 21, who first made an impression on Thomas as a 4-year-old fan who joined him onstage and sang "Hooked on a Feeling." They share an encore of that moment together on the new album.
"She's listened to a lot of my recordings and they influenced her voice," he says of his protégé, who has since done soundtrack work and acted on Broadway. "She is the best female singer I've heard in my life."