Billy Joe Royal was born in 1942 and lived in Valdosta, Georgia until he was nine years old when the family moved to Atlanta. Since Royal had always wanted to be in a band he took steel guitar lessons. Within no time, his uncle felt he was good enough to be in a radio show thanks also to Royal’s beautiful voice.
That became the start of a singing career that saw him release hit after hit. By the time the musician passed away in 2015, he had recorded over 60 singles. Let’s take you through some of the best Billy Joe Royal songs of all time.
10. Drift Away
Mentor Williams wrote the song and John Henry Kurtz performed it originally. However, as with most great songs, cover versions were released, the most memorable one being Dobie Gray’s.
It helped popularize the song in 1973 after it became #5 on the Billboard 100. Years after in 1981, Royal also released his version; other artists like Michael Bolton and Uncle Kracker have done covers of the song too.
9. Save the Last Dance for Me
It was first recorded by The Drifters in 1960, but Royal was never one to pass on a chance to sing a beautiful song. Its inspiration is from Doc Pomus’s wedding to Willi Burke in 1957. Pomus walked on crutches after contracting polio as a child.
Therefore, at his wedding reception, he had to watch as other men danced with his bride. He, therefore, came up with the lyrics telling his spouse to save the last dance for him.
8. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
In 1967, Royal released “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” another masterpiece by Joe South but surprisingly, Royal never liked that song. South still released his version a year later for his debut studio release and immediately after, other artists saw the potential the song carried.
Within no time, they had their versions with Gray’s being the first to reach mainstream radio. However, it was Lynn Anderson who turned it into a big hit, according to Country Thang Daily.
7. Burned Like A Rocket
Royal decided to become a mainstream country singer in 1980. “Burned Like a Rocket” was his choice of song to help him make the transition from his pop style.
He released it in 1984 but two years later, a space shuttle exploded, resulting in the song being allegedly pulled from mainstream radio. Still, it had already made great strides in the industry by becoming Royal’s first song to be on Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
6. Funny How Time Slips Away
This is a timeless classic that artists keep discovering and doing covers. It was originally performed by Billy Walker in 1962 after Willie Nelson wrote it. It talks about a tragic love that has two lovers parting ways.
Other legends such as Elvis Presley have done covers of the song, each inspired differently. Although Royal did not reveal what inspired him to cover the song, Glen Campbell had his reasons for choosing the song in his final album.
Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011 and knew it was only a matter of time before he could no longer perform. “Funny How Time Slips Away” had been one of his favorites and he had to have it in his final album before bidding goodbye to the music scene.
5. To Love Somebody
Royal had a soft spot for cover songs and this is another, originally sung by The Bee Gees in 1967. Songfacts published that Bee Gees wrote the song with their manager, Robert Stigwood, in mind. Barry Gibb clarified that it was not in a homosexual way but rather deep admiration for the manager.
4. Boardwalk Angel
Perhaps this song would never have seen the light of day had the film “Eddie and the Cruisers” not been produced in 1983. The movie is about a Jersey club band so of course, original songs were part of the deal.
Although it was about a Jersey band, producers opted to go with a Rhode Island band and hence picked John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band. Among the songs they perform in the movie is “Boardwalk Angel,” which must have captivated Royal so much that he did his version in 1991.
3. Cherry Hill Park
This song caused so much controversy as Cherry Hill residents wondered if the girl mentioned in the song, Mary Hill, was from Cherry Hill. According to Courier Post, Royal confirmed in one interview that indeed he had been inspired by Cherry Hill, New Jersey but not in the way that most people thought.
The singer did not even write the song as Billy Gilmore and Robert Nix penned it for him. All the same, the controversy helped to push it to the top as it became the last time Royal was ever in the top 20 in the Pop category.
2. I Knew You When
When you listen to this song, you can hardly tell that Royal was still trying to break out as a singer. A school auditorium served as a recording studio, with a microphone being placed in a septic tank for the echo effect.
The improvization paid off and “I Knew When,” another song South wrote for Royal, peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The funny thing is Royal felt it had more potential of being picked by a major label than “Down in the Boondocks.”
1. Down in the Boondocks
Royal probably owes his success to South, the songwriter who penned the lyrics of this massive hit that helped the country singer’s career to take off. According to Reuters, the two met when Royal was performing on a radio program, “Georgia Jubilee.” The 1965 breakout single launched Royal’s career as it became a hit overnight in Cincinnati before finding its way to #9 on Billboard Hot 100. It still captivates, and it is, therefore, no surprise that other artists went ahead to record covers; D-Faction has a pop-reggae version.
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