Forever No. 1 is a Billboard series that pays special tribute to the recently deceased artists who achieved the highest honor our charts have to offer — a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single — by taking an extended look back at the chart-topping songs that made them part of this exclusive club. Here, we honor the late B.J. Thomas with a look at his second and final Hot 100 No. 1, the 1975 country meta-weeper “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.”
Listeners mostly familiar with B.J. Thomas as the performer of the better-remembered No. 1 hit “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” — or as the original singer of the breezy pop culture staple “Hooked on a Feeling” — might be surprised to hear that his second No. 1 came with a country song. But Thomas’ roots in the genre ran deep, dating back to an early love of Hank Williams growing up in Texas that eventually led to a cover of the country legend’s signature ballad “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with his mid-’60s group B.J. Thomas and the Triumphs. Their cover climbed to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966, becoming Thomas’ breakthrough hit.
However, when greater success came with poppier singles like “Feeling” and “Raindrops” in the late ’60s, Thomas drifted away from country for most of the early ’70s. His rich baritone remained well-suited for country, however, and in a review of his 1974 Very Best of B.J. Thomas compilation, critic Robert Christgau even posited that Thomas never embraced rock because “he was, and is, a country singer [at heart].” That would be borne out a year later when, at the end of a multi-year dry spell on the pop charts, Thomas would rebrand as a country singer with the 1975 set Reunion.
Stewarding Thomas’ country reinvention was Tennessee fixture Chips Moman, who ran the American Sound Studio in Memphis — where dozens of hit singles and albums were recorded, and famous visits were paid by Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield for their respective In Memphis sets — before moving to Nashville in 1972. Moman was also a renowned producer and writer. He produced the entirety of Reunion for Thomas while also co-writing the set’s lead single, “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.”
The story behind the song, as told by its writers and performers to Fred Bronson in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, is a modest one, to say the least: Moman and co-author Larry Butler didn’t write it for Thomas or any other singer in particular, and it wasn’t inspired by any particular experience of theirs. (“The guy who wrote ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ never had been to the moon,” Moman quipped to Bronson. “You do have to have some imagination.”) And if Thomas himself found any particularly strong connection to the material, he wouldn’t likely recall it anyway: He was at the nadir of a debilitating drug habit while recording Reunions, and according to Bronson, “barely remembers the recording session” for “Somebody.”
This all probably should have been inauspicious beginnings for a potential comeback hit. But in the case of “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” it worked, because the song wasn’t a classic tearjerker like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” anyway — rather, it was a sort of meta tribute to those timeless country songs and the legions of perhaps less-immortal heartbreak ballads they inspired. The song doesn’t make any grand claims about Thomas’ own problems; all we know about his current misery is that he “misses his baby,” and that while he’s out in the world, he wants to hear a song that makes everyone as sad as he is, so he doesn’t have to “cry all alone.” Even the titular request is kept purposefully vague and somewhat lazy: Thomas doesn’t care what the song is or who it’s by, as long as someone’s left in pain at the end of it.
The effect isn’t one of conveying any resounding devastation on the part of Thomas or his writers, but rather, just a sort of weary exhaustion, which Thomas doesn’t try to escape with his own sonorous but slightly delirious delivery. “Somebody” doesn’t even really have much in the way of verses to advance its story; outside of a two-line intro, it’s mostly just the same pair of refrains circulated over and over until they’re pretty tiring in their own right. But in its own way, it’s still as relatable and recognizable as any country song that describes heartbreak in excruciating detail. Instead, it nails the overall emotional and physical fatigue that comes with one too many heartbreaks and one too many drunken barroom singalongs, until you barely even remember how else you used to engage with love or music.
It also serves as a sort of riff on country balladry in general, and the reputation the genre had long developed by the mid-’70s as being primarily a vehicle for tales of near-cartoonish woe — like the old joke about playing a country song backwards and getting your dog, your truck and your wife back. “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” sends up country music by treating it as a genre full of countless unavoidable and interchangeable torch songs for bringing the mood down, where one is as good as another when it comes to getting the job done. (Even the ten-word title — at the time the longest for a No. 1 single in Hot 100 history — could be read as a wink at country’s predilection for long, parenthetically inclined song names.) It never comes off as mean-spirited in its ribbing, though, because Thomas’ vocal is so straight-faced, because the song’s breezy production is so gentle and convivial, and because Thomas is such a natural fit within country that it never feels like outsider commentary. Rather, it feels knowing and affectionate towards the genre, like toothless teasing between old friends.
In any event, the sentiment connected in the mid-’70s, a time when country music was infiltrating the Hot 100 like never before, with crossover stars like John Denver and Olivia Newton-John helping the genre find common ground with pop audiences. A month after “Somebody” topped the Hot 100 — replacing Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom,” and lasting for one week before giving way to Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” — two more country songs followed it to the top spot, in Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” “Somebody” also found success with adult contemporary listeners, topping Billboard‘s Adult Contemporary airplay chart (then known as Easy Listening), which helped it become one of the biggest multi-format hits of 1975.
Thomas’ run as a country star in the mid-’70s was brief: Reunion failed to produce another crossover hit on the same level as “Somebody,” and by 1976, Thomas had kicked drugs and pivoted to gospel music, recording spiritual albums for Myrrh Records for the next half-decade. But he found his way back to country music again in the mid ’80s, releasing New Looks on Columbia. The album even spawned a pair of Hot Country Songs chart-toppers, in “Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love” and “New Looks From an Old Lover” — not exactly Somebody Done Somebody Wrong songs themselves, but still worthy of a barroom singalong or two in their own right.