In 2003, the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame gave their Johnny Mercer Award to a very well-known songwriter called Jimmy Webb.
Each year, The Songwriters’ Hall of Fame bestows the Johnny Mercer Award on someone who has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame and who has, in the opinion of the awarding committee, a long-term history of outstanding creative works.
As the writer of a treasure trove of classic songs…including “Up, Up and Away”, “Wichita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park”…Jimmy Webb thoroughly deserved his Johnny Mercer Award.
However Jimmy Webb also has a round-about connection to the best song ever written…in my opinion at least…even though, superstar songwriter though he is, he didn’t write it.
Here’s the connection…
One of my favourite Jimmy Webb songs is his 1970 composition “PF Sloan”. Its lyrics tell the bittersweet story of a songwriter who left everything behind and just disappeared from view. Nobody knew where he was or what he was doing. He just picked up and left one day.
“PF Sloan” was reviewed in Rolling Stone Magazine when it first came out, correctly in my view, as “…a masterpiece that couldn’t be improved on”.
I’m not sure how many people realised it at the time…his name was hardly on everybody’s lips or the focus of popular culture…but PF Sloan was the name of a real songwriter.
He and Jimmy Webb worked together through much of the 1960s, writing songs and hanging out together with all the most important characters in Southern California’s music scene.
In addition to his songwriting talents, PF (Phil) Sloan was an in-demand session guitar player in the early to mid-60s. He worked with, and wrote for, bands such as the 5th Dimension, Jan and Dean, and The Mamas and Papas.
In fact, I can guarantee you will have heard Phil Sloan playing his guitar hundreds of times. It’s his guitar you hear playing the suspended chord right at the beginning of one of The Mamas and Papas biggest hits, “California Dreaming”.
If you need a reminder of that great song…also one of my very favourite songs of all time…there’s a video here (https://youtu.be/3kcmwXUdDCE ). Incidentally, the guy with the guitar in the video is John Phillips, lead singer, songwriter and vocal arranger for the Mamas and Papas, rather than Sloan himself.