There are few things that put me in as great a mood as dependably as the peerless showmanship and soaring voice of Sammy Davis Jr., especially on performances’s like his criminally underrated 1972 recording of “The People Tree.” This forgotten MGM records single was the follow-up to Sammy’s surprise number one success with “The Candy Man” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Like its predecessor, “The People Tree” was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley which, according to Facebooker Mark Moran, “Is from a musical called The Good Old Bad Old Days that played 309 performances in the West End, but never made the Broadway transfer.” The record featured the Mike Curb Congregation on the saccharine-sweet background vocals and a wonderful arrangement by the legendary Don Costa.
“The People Tree” was a virtual carbon copy of “The Candy Man” in every way but one: though it was released only a few months later, the soundalike record stiffed commercially, peaking at a dismal number ninety-six on the pop chart and a middling number sixteen on the Adult Contemporary chart. Evidently, the public couldn’t handle Sammy’s ebullient sugar buzz more than once a year. For that reason, I take particular pleasure in rescuing “The People Tree” from cultural deforestation and reacquainting an undoubtedly still-indifferent world with over two minutes of 1970s pop perfection.
I recommend listening to “The People Tree” often as an inexpensive alternative to anti-depressants or those weird lights they sell to mimic sunlight for people with Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD). If you are a real Stargayzer like me, you will appreciate its many pleasures: its jaunty introduction which promises several minutes of bubblegum bliss; its perfect rhymes (“what a source of mutual satisfaction/when we see the tree bear fruit/evidence beyond dispute of all our mutual attraction”); its something-less-than-soulful call and response vocals and, most especially, when Sammy riffs on the outro, “Hey look at that tree!” Well Sam, it’s been over forty years and I’m still lookin’ (and listenin’!) My only regrets? I sincerely wish “The People Tree” was longer and that I had even one friend to sing it with.
More Sammy Davis, Jr.:
A Stargayzing Guide to 13 of the Most Over-the-Top Vocal Performances of The 1960s, Volume One
More Bad Songs I Love: