Here’s a man who has been making a very good living writing songs for decades without quite becoming a household name.
Albert Hammond has several claims to fame: he’s the guy who, in the early 1970s, did It Never Rains In Southern California and Free Electric Band, both hits in his own name. Fast forward 30 years and he had a rock star son: Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes.
But what of the rest of the life of Albert Hammond Sr? Well, let’s start with The Air That I Breathe, an anthemic hit for The Hollies in 1974, and since covered by a host of acts from Cilla Black to Judy Collins and Julio Iglesias to Simply Red.
But none of these songs represented the start for Hammond. In 1967 there was a cutesy (i.e. irritating) song by Leapy Lee called Little Arrows, while Irish middle-of-the-road singer Joe Dolan did well in 1969 with Make Me An Island.
This is the sort of opening salvo of a songwriter’s career that makes it quite clear he’s not going to sit around and wait for his mature classic to appear; he has a living to make and whatever catchy nonsense falls from his brain, he’s going to make some money from it if he can.
While the following are nothing to be ashamed of – and they sold in chart-making quantities in the UK – they’re unlikely to make many people’s list of classics either: Freedom Come Freedom Go (Blue Mink), Gimme Dat Ding (The Pipkins) and Good Morning Freedom (The Fortunes).
As it happens, Hammond’s gift did mature. From his early days working with Mike Hazlewood (he always wrote with a partner) he went on to collaborate with Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager and Diane Warren, none of whom would have wanted to taint themselves with substandard material.
The songs that flowed from Albert Hammond after the initial period form part of the adult-oriented rock canon, from Tina Turner’s I Don’t Want To Lose You to One Moment In Time, Whitney Houston’s version of which was used as the theme song for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (I don’t know if they used Little Arrows during the archery events) .
Hal David provided the words for 1984’s To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before (Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson), while Diane Warren was on the scene by the time of Don’t Turn Around, originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler but a hit for Aswad in 1989 and Ace of Bass later on.
One rather strange credit for Albert Hammond is connected with Radiohead’s breakthrough hit Creep, which some people seemed to think bore enough of a similarity to The Air That I Breathe to warrant a threat of legal action. I must have listened to both songs a hundred times and it never occurred to me, but Radiohead conceded there was a strong similarity and Hammond settled out of court for a percentage of the royalties.
The mercenary nature of the music business was demonstrated again when Starship, which had evolved from the ultra-hip 1960s counterculture beast that was Jefferson Airplane, made a bucketload of money out of Hammond and Warren’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.
Mission accomplished, then, for Albert Hammond, who has done what he was put on this earth to do – and good luck to him (and thanks for one or two nice ones along the way).