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Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) - Looking Glass
Looking Glass was formed in 1969, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The four members -- Elliot Lurie (lead guitar), Lawrence Gonsky (piano), Pieter Sweval (bass), and Jeff Grob (drums) -- all shared a common love of rock 'n' roll and, in particular, the sound of the Young Rascals.
The band played the usual round of bars, dances, and frat parties until their graduation rolled around. It was then that they decided to pool their funds and make a firm commitment toward their communal future. Taking a cue from what the Rascals had done, they began looking for a group home -- an isolated structure in which to live, develop their act, and refine material. They finally found one near the Pennsylvania border, in Glen Gardner, New Jersey. It was an aging farmhouse surrounded by eighty-two acres of open country. The boys plunked down their rent and made a pact to spend one year at the farmhouse, rehearsing, writing songs, and in general, "polishing the Looking Glass."
By 1971, the group felt confident enough to begin circulating a demo tape to record companies. After several rejections, it came to the attention of Clive Davis, then head of Columbia Records. He came out and watched the band perform at a bar in New York City. Among the songs in their set was "Brandy," a tune written and sung by Elliot. Clive liked what he heard and saw, and signed the group to Columbia's subsidiary, Epic Records.
The song had been inspired by a girl in Elliot's life who had a name similar to "Brandy." He started the song as a guitar instrumental and then had Larry play the melody over and over on the piano. Slowly, through free association, Elliot put together a story for his song and filled the lyrics. He later admitted that although the girl was real, most of the ballad was fictional.
Looking Glass cut the song at least three times, first as a part of their demo and then at an unsuccessful session in Memphis. The third version was recorded in New York, in a marathon production that ran many hours. After being disappointed before, the group redid the song three or four times, until guitars, drums, and voices blended perfectly. Then the track was added to their first album, which was issued by Epic early in 1972.
"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" was not the label's first choice as a single. However, the song was picked off the album by a deejay in Washington, D.C., who played the song heavily and built up a strong local demand. When finally issued as a 45, "Brandy" sold slowly, but eventually gained momentum and finally peaked at number one in August 1972. The same month, it was certified as a million-seller by the RIAA.
More than a year went by before Looking Glass scored a follow-up hit, but it finally came in September 1973. However, "Jimmy Loves Marianne" was only a mild seller. Soon after, Elliot Lurie, who'd written and sung lead on both Looking Glass hits, announced he was leaving the group to begin a solo career. The others replaced him and then changed the group's name to one word -- Lookinglass. However, the whole band fell apart soon afterward.
Looking Glass suffered from a problem common to many groups -- a wide rift between their live sound and their sound on vinyl. People came to Looking Glass concerts expecting the same kind of New York pop sound they'd heard on "Brandy." They'd hear that sound, but it was mixed in with hard-rock remnants of the boys' bar-band background. Everyone knew "Brandy," but not the group Looking Glass -- four men who never quite established their own musical identity.
"Part of the problem that I saw with the group," Lurie once said, "was that 'Brandy' was not really typical of our live repertoire. We were a lot more of a hard-rock band than that record signified. When we went on tour, people who liked 'Brandy' were often disappointed with the overall show because we didn't really sound like the record. It was heavily overdubbed with strings and horns, and we were basically a guitar, piano, bass and drum rock 'n' roll band."
Lurie had no luck on the charts after leaving Looking Glass and turned his attention to supervising music for movies. In 1985 he produced the soundtrack for the John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis film, Perfect.