What the Williams family does, apparently they do well. Older brother John J. was a NASA rocket scientist who received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in the busy-for-NASA year of 1969. Younger brother Mentor was also a songwriter, as well as a producer and mixer of note. And while Paul was apparently rejected by both the Mickey Mouse Club and the Monkees, he’s still the one you’ve most likely heard of. After all, he has six Oscar nominations—one of which he shares with apparently-no-relation John Williams—including a win for “Evergreen.” And I hold that he should’ve won for “Rainbow Connection,” especially because I have seen Norma Rae at least twice and don’t remember “It Goes Like It Goes.”
Yes, I have also seen Phantom of the Paradise, but not until adulthood, and so yes, the first place I think of him is always going to be surrounded by Muppets. In fact, there are two options for surrounded by Muppets that I was struggling with, and I’ll give you the second one as a bonus after the article. I think for most people, they see him as the piano player at the El Sleezo. I’m not sure they even know he wrote those songs, because I’m not sure most people think about that sort of thing unless it’s, like, the credits song by someone topping the charts.
Though, you know, in 1979, Paul Williams was not exactly not topping the charts. His Muppet Show appearance was in 1976, and he sang his own “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song” and “Sad Song,” the former a top-ten hit for Three Dog Night and the latter from his own album that, while not a hit, did make it to 95 on the Billboard 200. He won his Oscar writing for Barbra Streisand that year. That was the year he made Bugsy Malone. Probably it was upon agreeing to guest on the show that the connection was forged that would lead to his being in the movie and to his composing its songs.
But okay, let’s go back to not-Muppet Williams, because it is a fascinating array. I challenge you to name another single human who wrote for both the Carpenters and Daft Punk. He hosted the Mickey Mouse Club 25th Anniversary Special, again despite being rejected for the show itself, and wrote a song for the Monkees, despite being rejected for that show. He wrote for Helen Reddy. He wrote the songs for Ishtar and wrote and sang the theme from Secret of NIMH. Even if he’d never gone anywhere near a puppet in his life, we’d still know him.
And, of course, he’s acted. Oh, yes, the piano player. And Swan. But he was the Penguin on Batman: The Animated Series. On Babylon 5. On an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where he played the leader of a planet that had never heard music. Community and Baby Driver and various other favourites around here. And one of his songs is “Still Alive” from that documentary about the guy who thought he was dead, which came out well after he’d dealt with his addiction, and while it was before he collaborated with Daft Punk, it was after he’d collborated with Scissor Sisters. So.
Back when I was drinking, I would imagine things that weren’t there and I’d get frightened. Then I got sober and two robots called and asked me to make an album.