Mac Davis and Helen Reddy probably spent as much time on TV soundstages in the mid-’70s as they did in recording studios. It’s easy to see why TV producers came calling as soon as they landed their breakthrough hits in the early ‘70s — both stars had an easygoing manner and a broad appeal that made them ideal for television.
Both singers died on Tuesday (Sept. 29) — at the same age (78).
Their career arcs were strikingly similar. They crossed paths numerous times. Reddy recorded Davis’ “I Believe in Music” on her 1971 debut album. (It was the B-side of her breakthrough hit, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”) Davis was a guest star on Reddy’s 1973 TV series, The Helen Reddy Show.
Both hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972 with songs they wrote or co-wrote — Davis in September with “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and Reddy in December with “I Am Woman.” Reddy returned to the top spot in 1973 with “Delta Dawn” and in 1974 with “Angie Baby.” Davis never returned to No. 1, though he made it back to the top 10 in 1974 with “Stop and Smell the Roses.”
Reddy had a summer replacement TV show on NBC in 1973, filling in for The Flip Wilson Show. Reddy also hosted The Midnight Special, one of the first late-night shows that focused on pop music. The show debuted as a weekly series in 1973. Reddy was its permanent host in 1975-76. Davis had a network variety show, also on NBC, that ran intermittently from 1974-76.
Both also starred in their own variety specials. Davis had 11 variety specials from 1975-83. Reddy had a special in 1979 with Jane Fonda as her special guest.
Davis was active until the end. He played Rev. Riggs on Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings in 2019.
Both artists were frequent award show hosts. Reddy co-hosted the American Music Awards four times in the ‘70s. Davis co-hosted it once in 1981. Davis co-hosted the CMA Awards three times with Barbara Mandrell from 1980-82. He co-hosted the ACM Awards twice in 1984 and 1986.
Reddy won a Grammy for “I Am Woman” (more on that below). Davis never won a Grammy, though he received three Grammy nominations. Davis never won a CMA Award either, though he was nominated for their top prize, entertainer of the year, in 1974. But he did win the Academy of Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year award that year.
Both Davis and Reddy tried their hand at movies. Davis had more success, co-starring with Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty in 1979. Reddy had the lead in Pete’s Dragon, a 1977 Disney film that failed to find its audience. In the film, Reddy introduced the warm ballad “Candle on the Water,” which received an Oscar nomination. Both would also appear in sequels that were not destined for Oscar glory — Reddy in Airport 1975 and Davis in 1983’s The Sting II. Reddy went on to a successful stage career, including a starring role in a Broadway run of U.K. musical Blood Brothers.
On March 3, 1973, Reddy gave one of the most clever and career-boosting acceptance speeches in the history of the Grammy Awards. When she won best pop vocal performance, female for the feminist-themed “I Am Woman,” she said, “I only have 10 seconds, so I’d like to thank everyone concerned at Capitol Records. I’d like to thank my husband, Jeff Wald, because he makes my success possible. And I’d like to thank God because She makes everything possible.”
It’s a great line, of course, cheeky and fun. And it was considered far more provocative nearly 50 years ago than it would be today.
Reddy lucked out because the night’s big winners, Roberta Flack (who won for record the year) and George Harrison (who was the lead artist on the album of the year winner) weren’t present at the Tennessee Theatre in Nashville, where the show was held that year. So every newspaper that covered the Grammys led with Reddy’s clever comment. It was a star-making moment.