"Some people always complain that their life is too short, so they hurry it along
Their worries drive them insane but they still go along for the ride
As for me, I have all the time in the world..."
"We were just about convinced that we'd never have a smash single. We almost sank The Monkees with Someday Man - Listen To The Band on the B-side got more airplay." The release of Paul's debut album, then, was never likely to test the noblesse of that opening lyric. By the end of the following year, the Nichols/Williams team was America's most in-demand.
Nichols was from Missoula, Montana, a city at the convergence of five mountain ranges, spreading down the Clark Fork and Bitterroot rivers. In 1968 he released an album as evocative as his rural roots with brother and sister Melinda and Murray MacLeod. Roger Nichols And The Small Circle Of Friends came out on A&M with help from the cream of the West Coast - it was produced by Tommy LiPuma, engineered by Bruce Botnick, with Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks in attendance. Nichols' lyricist was Tony Asher, and in many ways Small Circle is a lyrical sequel to Pet Sounds - a little older, a little wiser, an album for early twenty-somethings thinking of settling down, but still turning to Smokey Robinson songs for relationship advice.
The album didn't do too well (though it did sell 50,000 copies when it was re-issued in Japan in the nineties, encouraging a belated sequel), but A&M owner Herb Alpert was impressed enough to get Nichols a staff job as a songwriter for A&M publishing, which is where he was introduced to Paul Williams.
Soon he was acting alongside John Gielgud and Rod Steiger in Tony Richardson's The Loved One. "I was suddenly living my dream, 23-years old playing a 13-year-old squeaky voiced genius." His looks - part cherub, part Jim Henson creation - meant he was made for character parts, usually a good deal younger than his real age. In The Chase (1965) he taunts Robert Redford with a snippet of one of his own tunes - which inspired Paul to write, if only for his own amusement. A few months later he unsuccessfully auditioned for The Monkees. Acting work was drying up, and a short-lived publishing deal with Ishmael Music, part of White Whale, ended after three months with Paul being told he had no future in music.
Owing Reprise one more album, Paul recorded Someday Man in '69 with Roger producing. The pair had already released a legendary publishers album, We've Only Just Begun, that was a beauty in its own right. On Someday Man, Williams' warm, intense vocals - like a reedier Gene Clark, with a similar emotional tug - are a perfect match for Nichols' soft magic: there's the baroque Americana of I Know You, and the incredible switches on Roan Pony from urban paranoia to panoramic dreamscape. Oboes and harps figure strongly. "It was really Roger's album," Paul modestly reckons, "he did everything, charts, player choices. I wasn't an artist yet, not as much as I would become in a few more years I think."
The critics' indifference to the record hardly seemed to matter as the Carpenters' recordings of the Nichols/Williams canon - starting with We've Only Just Begun - sent their publishing cheques into the stratosphere. The former was originally written for a bank, a jingle commissioned after one of the bank's executives heard Nichols' Small Circle of Friends album. It was written the day before the ad company's deadline. Then Richard Carpenter saw the ad, the Carpenters cut their version, it reached no.2 in the States, and was nominated for a Grammy. A swathe of classics followed: I Won't Last A Day Without You, Rainy Days And Mondays, Let Me Be The One. By 1973, Nichols and Williams had "gone our separate ways after several years of day-to-day contact. I was off chasing movie dreams. I had a huge ego and a performing career ahead of me and I was using and drinking so my perception may have been altered."