Marvin Hamlisch, who died yesterday in Los Angeles at age 68, leaves behind a chart legacy on The Billboard Hot 100 that stretches over 45 years, from his first pop hit in 1965 to a pair of “A Chorus Line” remakes by the Glee Cast in 2010. His biggest hits on the Hot 100 were all by female artists, from Lesley Gore in the 1960s to Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and Melissa Manchester in the 1970s to Lauryn Hill in the 1990s.
The New York-city born composer was just 19 years old when he saw his first chart ink in early 1964. For her second album, Lesley Gore recorded “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” written by Hamlisch with Howard Liebling. “Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts” debuted on The Billboard 200 the week of Jan. 25, 1964 and peaked at No. 125. It would take another year and a new, poppier recording of the song to break it as a hit single. Featured in the film “Ski Party,” the song peaked at No 13 in August 1965 and was Hamlisch’s first turn on the Hot 100.
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Hamlisch scored again on the Billboard album chart in 1964. Signed to Capitol Records in 1963, Liza Minnelli asked her friend Marvin to help her find songs for her debut album. “Liza! Liza!” was filled with standards, but also included another Hamlisch-Liebling composition, “The Travelin’ Life.” “Liza! Liza!” debuted on The Billboard 200 the week of Nov. 21, 1964, peaking at No. 115 in its eight-week chart run.
Hamlisch returned to the Hot 100 in 1967 with another hit single by Gore. “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” had been produced by Mercury’s Quincy Jones, who signed the teenager to the label and helmed all of her earlier hits, including “It’s My Party” and “You Don’t’ Own Me.” In ’67, Gore was working with producer Bob Crewe, and they went into the studio to record the Hamlisch-Liebling song “California Nights,” which sailed to No. 16 on the Hot 100 in March 1967.
Seven years later, Hamlisch had his biggest Hot 100 success as a songwriter, when he wrote the music for the film “The Way We Were.” The title song, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, was recorded by the movie’s star, Barbra Streisand. The single spent three weeks at No. 1, giving Hamlisch his only chart-topper on this tally. A cover version by Gladys Knight, recorded as a live medley with “Try to Remember” from the off-Broadway musical “The Fantasticks!” brought Hamlisch back to the top 20 when it peaked at No. 11 in 1975.
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A year earlier, Marvin Hamlisch became more of a household name when he made his only appearance on the Hot 100 as an artist – ironically, with a song he did not write. Hamlisch composed the music for the film “The Sting,” and the MCA label issued his version of Scott Joplin’s 1902 composition “The Entertainer” as a single. The instrumental spent two weeks at No. 3 in May 1974.
Before the ’70s were over, three more divas spent time on the Hot 100 with music by Hamlisch. In June 1977, Aretha Franklin had a new entry with “Break It to Me Gently,” written by Hamlisch with Carole Bayer Sager. The single peaked at No. 85 and was Franklin’s final Hot 100 entry on the Atlantic label. One month later, another Hamlisch-Sager song entered the chart. Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” from the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” spent three weeks at No. 2, tying Paul McCartney’s 1973 hit “Live and Let Die” as the highest-ranking Bond theme to that date.
Hamlisch and Sager closed out the decade with another Hot 100 soundtrack song, Melissa Manchester’s “Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love),” No. 76 in 1979.
In 1996, Hamlisch found himself back in the top 10 of the Hot 100 sharing writing credits with Streisand, Bryan Adams and Mutt Lange on “I Finally Found Someone,” a Streisand/Adams duet from “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” a film starring Streisand and Jeff Bridges. Three years later, Hamlisch earned another Hot 100 songwriting credit, thanks to Lauryn Hill sampling the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It All Be So Simple” (based on Gladys Knight’s version of “The Way We Were”) in her song “Ex-Factor,” which peaked at No. 21.
Hamlisch’s Hot 100 writing credits stretch into the 21st century thanks to the cast of “Glee,” and two remakes from the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line.” First, “What I Did for Love” peaked at No. 51 in October 2010 and then three weeks later, “Sing!” went to No. 87.
Hamlisch conquered other Billboard charts, especially the Adult Contemporary list, where Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” had a seven-week stay in pole position. Streisand’s “The Way We Were” had a two-week reign and Knight’s remake spent a week at No. 2, making it her highest-ranking AC hit. Streisand and Adams’ “I Finally Found Someone” also reached the runner-up spot and remained there for two weeks. Manchester’s “Ice Castles” theme was a No. 13 hit on the AC chart. As an artist, Hamlisch scored another No. 1 on the AC chart, when “The Entertainer” spent a lone week in first place.
Hamlisch also went to No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, when Franklin’s “Break It to Me Gently” became her 17th chart-topper on this survey. The Wu-Tang Clan bubbled under the Hot 100 with “Can It All Be So Simple” but failed to make the main chart; they had no such problem on the R&B chart, peaking at No. 82 in 1994. And Hill’s “Ex-Factor” sailed to No. 7 in 1999.
Thanks to the Wu-Tang song, Hamlisch even made one appearance on the Hot Rap Singles chart, where “Can It All Be So Simple” reached No. 24.
Finally, Hamlisch had great success on The Billboard 200 after the Gore and Minnelli LPs, especially in 1974 when he topped the albums chart twice. The soundtrack to “The Way We Were” was No. 1 for two weeks in March and the soundtrack to “The Sting” ruled for five weeks in May. Two decades later, “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” propelled by the hit single, went as high as No 16. Hamlisch’s best-known Broadway musical, “A Chorus Line,” had a cast album that reached No 98 in 1975. The 2006 revival cast album didn’t appear on The Billboard 200, but peaked at No. 3 on the Top Cast Albums chart.
From Liza to “Glee,” from Lesley Gore to the Wu-Tang Clan, from “The Sting” to “A Chorus Line,” Hamlisch leaves behind a vast and diverse song catalog that will no doubt see his name return time and time again to the Billboard charts, whether in remakes, samples on undiscovered compositions by a musical master whose work underscores the way we were, the way we are and the way we will be.
Marvin Hamlisch’s Top 10 Hot 100 Hits As A Songwriter*:
This ranking is based on actual performance on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart. Songs are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at No. 100 earning the least. To ensure equitable representation of the biggest hits from each era, certain time frames were weighted to account for the difference between turnover rates from those years.
1. “The Way We Were,” Barbra Streisand (No. 1, three weeks), 1974
2. “Nobody Does It Better,” Carly Simon (No. 2), 1977
3. “I Finally Found Someone,” Barbra Streisand & Bryan Adams (No. 8), 1996
4. “The Way We Were/Try to Remember,” Gladys Knight & the Pips (No. 11), 1975
5. “If You Remember Me,” Chris Thompson & Night (No. 17), 1979
6. “California Nights,” Lesley Gore (No. 16), 1967
7. “Ex-Factor,” Lauryn Hill (No. 21), 1999
8. “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” Lesley Gore (No. 13), 1965
9. “Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love),” Melissa Manchester (No. 76), 1979
10. “What I Did for Love,” Glee Cast (No. 51), 2010
*Since Hamlisch didn’t write “The Entertainer,” it’s not included in this top 10. If it had been eligible, it would have ranked third.