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September 14

Story Behind the Song “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich

A song written by Kenny O’Dell, “Behind Closed Doors,” was Charlie Rich’s first No.1 hit on the country charts. The song spent 20 weeks on the country charts and also a crossover hit on the pop charts.

Back in 1958, Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, suggested that Charlie Rich was the only artist who could rival the great Elvis Presley. Chet Atkins of RCA also had a high praise for Rich, he even said that he is “one of the finest talents I’ve ever encountered.” Occasionally through the years, Charlie seemed on the verge of approaching his potential, but it wasn’t until “Behind Closed Doors” came along in 1973 that the dam burst and the accolades came flooding in.

Signed by Epic Records five years earlier, Rich languished over the correct approach in which to market his music. He was influenced by a variety of musical styles that his music was simply too wide-ranging for most radio programmers to feature. Billy Sherrill, Rich’s producer at Epic Records, said the biggest complaint he heard about Rich from deejays was that he was too bluesy for country while others said he was too country for anything else. However, like other record executives, Sherrill firmly believed in Charlie’s ability and he knew that all they needed was the right song for Rich’s career to take off. Billy explained, “nobody really knows what the right song is until it comes along. It’s like a pretty woman. No one can say what it takes to make her pretty, but when you see her, you’ll know.”

Sherrill found the “right” song in the catalog of Kenny O’Dell, who had written Rich’s first top-ten single “I Take It On Home” in the fall of 1972. By the end of the year, O’Dell brought a new song to Billy called “Behind Closed Doors.” It had started with just a title he jotted down and carried in his wallet. Kenny had only that title and a little guitar riff in his head for a couple of years and was in absolutely no hurry to finish it. He finally did though, and the song proved to be the exact ingredient to send Charlie Rich’s career into high gear.

During his Sun days back in Memphis, Rich had often played piano on some of Jerry Lee Lewis’s recording sessions. Likewise, Charlie turned over the keyboard duties on his own records to the house pianist. For example, when Rich was under contract to RCA Victor between 1963 and 1965, Floyd Cramer was used. At Epic, it was Hargus “Pig” Robbins who worked all of Charlie’s sessions, and Pig developed the classic bluesy opening piano riff for “Behind Closed Doors,” which O’Dell had envisioned as a guitar line when he was fleshing out the song. After the recording was completed, Billy Sherrill decided to make a couple of changes at the end of the second verse, and Rich overdubbed the new words.

Initially, “Behind Closed Doors” drew the expected amount of controversy because of its suggestive lyrics, and some radio stations prohibited the playing of it. This was common practice in those days and the protests always backfired, turning the records into even bigger hits. Such was the case with “Behind Closed Doors.” It reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart April 28, 1973.The record climbed to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart and had sold a million copies by September. The following month, it garnered the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” trophies from the Country Music Association, and later won a pair of Grammy awards.

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