Didn’t We (Jimmy Webb)
Although the copyright of the song is dated 1967 at the Database of Popular Music, Jimmy Webb has indicated that the song was included in a high school musical presented during his senior class assembly. If we accept the information and dates given in the following Webb quotes from various interviews as accurate, then a version of the song was most likely performed in the high school musical sometime in the spring of 1964.
From an interview with Jimmy Webb conducted by Tom Nondorf, published at Playbill.com on 8 August 2009:
Q: Were you influenced by show music in your songwriting?
Webb: Oh yeah. When I was in high school, I did the high school musical that you hear so much about. Our senior assembly was a musical that I wrote. One of the songs in it was “Didn’t We?” When I was doing my two years of half-heartedly majoring in music at San Bernardino Valley College in California, I wrote another show called Dancing Girl. [There is] something about those blue and red theatre lights that make that pink color that gets my blood racing.
The quote to follow indicates that Webb spent his senior high school year at a school in Colton, California. Sure enough, the name “Jimmy Webb” is among the 20 names included in the CHS Class of 1964 Alumni List at coltonhigh.org.
From an interview with Jimmy Webb conducted by Terry Gross for the NPR program Fresh Air, dated 10 February 2004:
GROSS: Now your family moved to Southern California, to San Bernardino, in 1964 [actually in 1963, as his response suggests]. Did your father get a church there?
WEBB: Yes, he was pastoring in Colton, and I finished my high school in Colton. I graduated as a senior from Colton High School. It was the year that JFK was assassinated…
Webb confirms that the move to Southern California occurred in 1963 in a piece by Calvin Gilbert titled “Jimmy Webb Revisits His Past With Just Across the River,” published at CMT.com on 18 February 2011, featuring an interview with the songwriter.
I got out there in the summer of the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys were wafting from every suburban window that was open. That kind of very gentle summer…1963.
If Webb and his family moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1963, and his final year in high school began that fall, in the year that JFK was assassinated, then the senior assembly featuring a musical he had written, which included the song “Didn’t We,” presumably occurred in the spring of 1964. Webb, born on 15 August 1946, was then 18 years old.
However, in his 1999 book Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting, Webb says, on the first page of “Chapter Two: In This Room You’ll Never Make a Mistake,”
While in college, I had written my first musical–a sophomoric attempt called Dancing Girl-which contained a passable ballad entitled “Didn’t We?” The theatre arts department at the small college I had attended declined to produce the musical–a disaster for me since I had written the show instead of taking my midterms.
Dancing Girl was the musical he was working on during the “two years of half-heartedly majoring in music at San Bernardino Valley College,” a period that presumably began in the fall of 1964 after he graduated from Colton High School. In this quote from Tunesmith, he refers to Dancing Girl as his first musical, conveniently ignoring the 1964 high school musical, and the fact that “Didn’t We” was included in the earlier work, according to the 2009 interview with Tom Nondorf cited above.
Collectively, Webb’s comments in the various interviews cited above indicate that he’d written a version of the song by the spring of 1964, and that it was performed in that year, his final year in high school, in a musical that he had written for the senior assembly. The song was later included in Dancing Girl, a musical he wrote during the two years he attended San Bernardino Valley College, c. 1964-1966.
Richard Harris — from the album A Tramp Shining, (US) Dunhill DS 50032, released in April 1968; released in the UK in 1968 as RCA Victor SF-7947; also issued in the US, in April 1968, as the B-side of “MacArthur Park” on the single Dunhill D-4134 (also Dunhill 45-4134, 45-D-4134)
A Tramp Shining is the debut album of Richard Harris, released in 1968 by Dunhill Records. The album was written, arranged, and produced by singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb. Although Harris sang several numbers on the soundtrack album to the film musical Camelot the previous year, A Tramp Shining was Harris’ first solo album. “MacArthur Park” was one of the biggest singles of that year, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. The album as a whole was also highly successful, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Album of the Year” in 1969.
From a Jimmy Webb interview conducted by Dave Simpson, and published in The Guardian (theguardian.com) under the title “How We Made MacArthur Park,” on 11 November 2013:
Bones Howe, a fellow producer, had asked me to create a pop song with classical elements, different movements and changing time signatures. MacArthur Park, more of a suite than a song, was everything he wanted, but when we presented it to his new act, the Association, they refused to record it. It was the late 1960s and I was doing music for an anti-war pageant with some Hollywood stars, including Mia Farrow and Edgar G Robinson. Richard Harris and I started hanging out after rehearsals and drinking Black Velvets: 50% Guinness, 50% champagne. One night after a few, I said: “We ought to make a record.” He’d starred in the movie Camelot and sang every song in it beautifully. A few weeks later, I received a telegram: “Dear Jimmy Webb. Come to London. Make this record. Love, Richard.” He always called me Jimmy Webb.
I got a flight and stayed with Richard in Belgravia. Over the course of two days, we tore through 30 or 40 of my songs. I was playing the piano and singing. He was standing there in his kaftan, waving his arms and expressing excitement at some songs, not so crazy about others. The best went into his debut album, A Tramp Shining.
Des O’Connor — from the 1968 album I Pretend, (UK) Columbia SCX 6295
Lorez Alexandria — title song from the 1968 album Pzazz Records LP-320
Frank Sinatra — recorded in Hollywood on 18 February 1969, with an orchestra conducted by Don Costa
Glen Campbell — from The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, Season 2, Episode 4 — airdate: 15 October 1969
Thelma Houston — from her 1969 album Sunshower, ABC/Dunhill Records DS 50054
From a Songfacts interview with Jimmy Webb, conducted by Dan McIntosh on 16 May 2011
I had been working in the studio with Johnny Rivers and Mark Gordon co-producing, and I was just kind of a gopher. I went around and did everything. I did rhythm parts for my songs. But I had a good friend in Marty Paich, and he was teaching me the basics – I guess you would say the fundamentals of orchestration. And finally when we got in to do Magic Garden with Bones Howe that was the first album that I was ever given complete freedom to do my own orchestration.
And it turned out great. And the next album was the Thelma Houston album, Sun Shower [sic], which has some of the most fantastic orchestrations I’ve ever done. I don’t know whether I’ve ever really gotten up to that level again. But, I mean, it was just something that I was doing. It was learning on the job, but at a fantastic rate.
Andy Williams — from his 1969 album Happy Heart, Columbia CS 9844
Gene Ammons Quintet — personnel: Gene Ammons (tenor sax) Sonny Phillips (organ) Billy Butler (guitar) Bob Bushnell (electric bass) Bernard Purdie (drums)
- Recorded on 11 November 1969 at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; released on the 1970 Gene Ammons LP Brother Jug!, Prestige PR 7792 (PRST 7792)
- The following side was issued in September 1970 on the single Prestige 45-734, as the B-side of “Son of a Preacher Man.” The note on the label, “Taken from PRST 7792,” suggests that it’s an edit of the album track, which is about 2 1/2 minutes longer.
Johnny Mathis — from the 1969 LP Love Theme From “Romeo And Juliet” (A Time For Us), Columbia CS 9909
Cissy Houston — from the 1970 album Presenting Cissy Houston, Janus Records JLS 3001; the recording was also issued in 1972 on the single Janus J 190, b/w “It’s Not Easy” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil) — All tracks on the album feature arrangements by Bert DeCoteaux, and were produced by Bob Finiz, Charles Koppelman, Donald Rubin.
J. Vincent Edwards — from his 1970 album Thanks, (Germany, Netherlands) CBS S 64036
Ray Price — from the 1970 album You Wouldn’t Know Love, Columbia CS 9918
The Friends of Distinction, lead vocal: Barbara Love — from the 1970 LP Whatever, RCA Victor LSP-4408
Frank Sinatra — live; date unknown, possibly 1970
Tony Mottola — from his 1970 album Close to You, Project 3 Total Sound PR 5050SD
Dionne Warwick — from the 1970 album I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, Scepter Records SPS 581
Dorothy Squires — from the 1971 album At the London Palladium , (UK) Decca DBC 9/10, and (UK) President Records PTLS 1043/4 (link changed 25 August 2016) — recorded live at the London Palladium on 6 December 1970
Barbra Streisand — from The David Frost Show, taped on 5 February 1971; however, the episode never aired, according to the 1970-79 timeline at the Barbra Streisand Archives Library
Jimmy Webb — live at the BBC, possibly on the Old Grey Whistle Test TV program, 1971(?)
Photographs, evidently from this appearance, published at Getty Images and elsewhere are said to have been taken during the taping of an episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and are dated 28 June 1971. However, I’ve been unable to confirm that date. Episode guides from the program, such as the one at tv.com, indicate that the first episode of season 1 aired on 21 September 1971.
Stéphane Grappelli — originally released in 1973 on the Stéphane Grappelli album 1973, (US) Pye Records PYE 12115
Jimmy Webb — from the 1996 album Ten Easy Pieces (Guardian Records)
Jimmy Webb biographies:
- Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Internet Movie Database
- Famous Composers
- Donald’s Encyclopedia of Popular Music
- Excerpt from Jimmy Webb interview published in Songwriter Magazine, March 1976 issue
- “Songwriter Jimmy Webb” interview conducted by Terry Gross for the NPR program Fresh Air, dated 10 February 2004
- “THE LEADING MEN: Szot, Burgess and Webb,” by Tom Nondorf, published at Playbill.com, 9 August 2009
- “Jimmy Webb Revisits His Past With Just Across the River,” by Calvin Gilbert, published at CMT.com on 18 February 2011
- Songfacts interview with Jimmy Webb, conducted by Dan McIntosh on 16 May 2011
- Jimmy Webb responses from an interview conducted by Dave Simpson, published, without interviewer questions, in The Guardian under the title “How We Made MacArthur Park,” on 11 November 2013
- “This is Where I Came In: The Song Cycles of Jimmy Webb,” by Matthew Weiner, published in Stylus Magazine on 28 February 2005