Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One-Hit Wonder Week: "Undercover Angel" by Alan O'Day

I always think of "Undercover Angel" as the song that got the most spins on the jukebox at the Regal Beagle. It's got that late-Seventies combination of smuttiness and good cheer, an upbeat tale of some kind of succubus infesting Southern California.

Alan O'Day was, in fact, a native of Hollywood, a singer and pianist who played in a few local bands before landing a job working on the music for such classic films as The Sadist and Eegah! After spending most of the Sixties playing around L.A. in a group called Alan, Bob & Denny, O'Day decided to focus his energies on becoming a songwriter and sold songs to people like Cher and Bobby Sherman. A song he co-wrote called "Rock and Roll Heaven" found its way to Climax (of "Precious and Few" fame), and then was offered to the Righteous Brothers, who pointed out that all the dead rock stars the song mentioned were from the '50s and '60s, and that there was no shortage of more recent dead rock stars to choose from. With Jimi and Janis and Otis and even Jim Croce in the lineup, "Rock and Roll Heaven" became O'Day's first big hit, going to Number Three in the summer of 1974.

Later that same year, O'Day would have an even bigger hit, one he wrote himself and that took three months to write, Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby," which was the last and final Number One song of 1974. Shortly thereafter, Warner Bros. set up a special label, Pacific Records, for its composers who also performed, and O'Day was the first guy they signed. "'Undercover Angel' started with the title," O'Day said later. "I love the word 'undercover.' Looking back on it, I think the word angel was invoked because of Charlie's Angels, the TV show, but I didn't really know that then. I just put the two words together and I loved what it said and I've got to write a song 'Undercover Angel.'"

So he did, and it came out in February of 1977, just the single with no album behind it. It took a while to gain traction, but in May, "Undercover Angel" crashed into the Top Forty, and by July, it was at Number One. All across America, people were saying, "What?," then saying, "Ooh-ooh-ooh-whee," then saying, "All right!" O'Day went on a little tour, even though he had neither a band nor an album, playing mostly radio stations. At the advanced age of 36, Alan O'Day was a pop star.

"In some way, it has something to do with you and in someway, it has nothing to do with you," O'Day said. "I remember driving in Westwood in Los Angeles, stopping at a signal and a guy walking across the street saying, 'I know you. You were on American Bandstand.' They'd played the American Bandstand that morning and happened to remember my face."

Except for a hit in Australia, that was it for Alan O'Day's solo career. Eventually he began writing songs for the Muppet Babies TV series, which may not sound like much but I'm sure beats having a real job. I can't find a video for "Undercover Angel," but if you want to hear the song, try this:

1 comment:

Alan said...


Thanks for the story. Mostly accurate, except that it was not the Brothers Righteous who suggested more current dead people, but their producers Lambert & Potter. I'll always be indebted for their contributions.
Your timing is interesting, as I'm about to release my first full length album in 28 years, probably before September. Please check alanoday.com in a couple weeks!
Alan O'Day