Interview -- Elliot Lurie (Looking Glass)
could steal a sailor
from the sea."
~ Looking Glass ~
Elliot Lurie was a singer/songwriter for the 70s band Looking Glass. The band recorded two albums and had a couple of hits along with a handful of deep-track FM cuts. And as many bands are wont to do...Looking Glass called it a day and handed over the keys. However, before cutting out, Looking Glass did leave us with the #1 hit song..."Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)." Now there have been plenty of #1 songs that have climbed to the top spot faster. And plenty of #1 songs that have stayed at the top spot longer. But the list begins to thin when it comes to #1 songs that have had some real staying power years and years after their run. And as the 50th anniversary draws to a close, the song "Brandy..." still remains an ageless and endearing wonder.
A song of unrequited love without all the drippy, maudlin sadness that often stains so many other attempts. Every boy dreams of meeting a girl as loyal, faithful, and strong. And every girl dreams of meeting a faithful boy of equal and honest measure. This time the song gets it right. A song everyone can sing along to...and without modesty. Unabashed and unfettered. Shakespeare in a bottle. And Elliot Lurie gave us this one. Elliot Lurie...Go get you some.
Elliot Lurie Interview -- November 2022
Casey Chambers: It's the 50th anniversary of Looking Glass' self-titled debut album along with the timeless and iconic song..."Brandy." Let's start with how the band got its name.
Elliot Lurie: I think that we were all sitting in my car trying to come up with a name for the group and we may have been slightly under the influence of something. (laughs) And we started looking at the rearview mirror in the car and we thought, 'Well, we are sort of reflections of ordinary folks here, why don't we call ourselves The Mirrors?' But then we said, 'No, that's no good.' It was the psychedelic days and we started talking about how a mirror is just a looking glass. And we all thought that was cool. We'll do that. We'll call ourselves Looking Glass.
Casey Chambers: And you guys were all college rats, right?
Elliot Lurie: Yeah, we were all students at Rutgers University in New Jersey when we met. And we became a local band playing fraternity parties and local bars. And that's how we got together. We eventually got a manager and began making some demos. And our manager brought them to Clive Davis and he liked them enough to set up a showcase for us at a club called the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in New York. And we played a set there for him. After the set, he told our manager, 'Yeah, they're good. I'll sign them.' (laughs) It was very exciting. We really hadn't been looking for a deal for that long. A couple of companies were interested, but you know, Clive's great. And he was very enthusiastic and we were very excited to sign with him.
"Looking Glass" - Looking Glass (1972)
Casey Chambers: And when you went into the studio to cut the first album, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" made its appearance. And you wrote it. How did that song come together?
Elliot Lurie: After we finished with school, we thought we'd give it a try and see if we could get something going professionally. And three of the four of us rented a house way out in the northwestern corner of New Jersey in an area called Hunterdon County. Beautiful country out there. It's right near the Pennsylvania border. Woods. Streams. A really nice area. And while living in that house, I wrote the song the way I usually do. I grab my acoustic guitar and play a chorus until I get a progression that I kinda like. And then I sort of free associate nonsense lyrics over it.
I had a girlfriend in high school named Randy. And I was just singing her name as the story came together. But then I thought, 'Well, Randy's a problem because that could be a male or a female name. And the character in the song is a barmaid.' So I changed it to Brandy. I just wrote it up in my bedroom at the farmhouse in New Jersey. The story just kinda came together from the first verse and I wrote it from there. But, you know, it's a really very, very short story in three minutes. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: But it says everything we need to know. And it's so catchy.
Elliot Lurie: We did a lot of harmony vocals on our stuff. And we just jammed it out. Once a song was written...when the song was complete or almost complete...we would take it down to the living room and put it in front of the rest of the band. And the band would play with it for a while finding spaces that needed to be filled. There were always some spaces. And we'd come up with those background vocals.
"Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" - Looking Glass / "Looking Glass" (1972)
Casey Chambers: Interestingly, "Brandy" wasn't the lead single from the album, was it?
Elliot Lurie: It wasn't. As I said, we were a bar band. We played fraternity parties. We were a four-piece band and we rocked a lot harder. And we were a little bit concerned that "Brandy" was more pop than our sound was. So we thought we'd wanna release something a little bit more hard-edged as a single. But "Brandy" obviously was the hit and so that was the sound that Looking Glass became associated with. We still rocked a little harder in person, so sometimes I think people were a little taken aback when they came to see us in concert. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: What song did the label choose to go with?
Elliot Lurie: It was a song called, "Don't It Make You Feel Good." And honestly, I find it difficult to listen to that track anymore. (laughs) Because I was still learning how to sing on mic and my vocal performance was really not that great.
Casey Chambers: So "Don't It Make You Feel Good" was released as the first single, yet "Brandy" is the song that really takes off. What happened?
Elliot Lurie: Well, nothing at all happened with "Don't It Make You Feel Good." And we thought that was it. Our career was over. But there was a promotion man who would go to radio stations, or they did back then anyway, and bring the latest releases from the label they worked for and try to get the program directors to play them. And the promotion man had a test pressing of our band. A test pressing was an acetate version that could be played eight or 10 times before it wore out. They made them before they released the actual commercial albums. Anyway, he went to see a disc jockey in Washington D.C. and asked him if he'd heard this Looking Glass stuff. And the disc jockey said, 'Well, yeah, ya know, we played that "Don't It Make You Feel Good" but nothing happened with it at all.' And the promotion man, Robert Mandel, who I'll always be grateful to, asked the disc jockey, 'Have you heard this other track called, "Brandy?" Let me just play a little bit of that.'
He played it for him and the disc jockey liked it. And as soon as he put the song on the air, the station started getting tons of requests for it. And he played it a couple more times. People loved it and kept requesting it. And they were going to the stores looking to buy it, but couldn't because there was no single yet. When the record company saw the reaction "Brandy" was getting in that one area, they rush-released it as a single. And if that promotion man hadn't played it for that one disc jockey, no one would've ever heard the song. I'm grateful and I'm still in touch with Robert Mandel today.
"Golden Rainbow" - Looking Glass / "Looking Glass" (1972)
Casey Chambers: What was that like for you guys watching the song take off?
Elliot Lurie: What was interesting was as soon as it became popular in that one market, we had a meeting with the record company in New York. And the guy who was the head of promotion told us, 'This is gonna be a number one record. It's gonna sell a million copies.' And the song hadn't even been physically released yet. We asked him how he knew that and he said, 'If it gets that kind of reaction in this particular city, it's gonna be similar all around the country, and you guys are going to have a number one hit.' And we were all...'Okay, that's great!' (laughs)
Casey Chambers: With that kind of pronouncement, you guys must have been freaking out watching the charts.
Elliot Lurie: Oh yeah, of course, we were. We did. We did. And we were very frustrated because I think for four or five weeks, "Brandy" was at number two on the charts, and "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan was at number one. And, we were all joking for Gilbert O'Sullivan to move out of the way. (laughs) And for one week, he finally did. Our song made it to number one. And then I think the following week, we dropped back to number two again. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Was Looking Glass working the road a lot in those days?
Elliot Lurie: Yeah, we did. We toured quite a bit. From the time "Brandy" was released, we toured for about two and a half years pretty consistently. And it was kind of interesting. You know, we had that big hit, but it really wasn't enough to headline the larger places. So the tours we went on were kind of unusual. We would headline clubs that would seat 400 or 500 people. And then to fill in the dates, we would open for much bigger acts at bigger places. And sometimes the match was a good one. (laughs) And sometimes it wasn't at all.
I remember one time we opened for Alice Cooper. And this was during the days when he was doing his full-on act with the guillotine where he pretends to have his head chopped off. (laughs) And his fans were not interested in "Brandy" or Looking Glass in the least! (laughs) And we would come out and start playing and the crowd would be saying, 'Bring on Alice! Bring on Alice!' But then, like I say, smaller clubs we would headline and people would come specifically to see us. We did a lot of good dates with the Jeff Beck Group at the time. That was a decent match. We did a couple with Steely Dan and that was a good match. I think they had just hit a bit, probably in 1973, and we opened a few shows for them. So, those were the kind of dates we were thrown into. It was interesting.
Casey Chambers: The staying power of "Brandy" has been pretty amazing. And the song has also been a big influence on other artists, as well. It might surprise some of your fans to know that the band Kiss is one of them.
Elliot Lurie: I tell you, it's funny. Apparently, I live in the same neighborhood as Paul Stanley and he has been very public about the fact that his song, "Hard Luck Woman" was inspired by "Brandy." And I was at the supermarket a few weeks ago and saw him there. And I went up to him and said, 'I wouldn't wanna bother you, I mean, I respect your privacy. But I wrote that song, "Brandy."' And he said to me, "Elliot Lurie!" (laughs) So he knew who I was. And we took a selfie together at the supermarket. So that's at least one song I know was inspired by "Brandy" for sure.
"Hard Luck Woman" - "Kiss / "Rock And Roll Over" (1976)
Casey Chambers: Very cool. "I want to rock and grocery shop all night!" (laughs) And the song shows up in movies and TV all the time. I've heard the song featured in an episode of "Ozark" and in episodes of "The Wire" and "Better Call Saul." How cool is that?
Elliot Lurie: It's really cool when that happens. One I thought was especially cool was "Guardians Of The Galaxy 2" because it was used so prominently. And it introduced a whole younger generation to the song. So that was a great experience. I had seen the first "Guardians Of The Galaxy" and I loved the movie and the way they used the '70s music in it. And then about a year after, I got a letter from my music publisher telling me they wanted to use it in "Guardians of the Galaxy 2." They always send script pages along with a request for my approval...and when I read it and saw how it was being used, I said, 'Oh, wow! This is not just a background song. This is part of the movie.' So I was really excited. And before the movie came out, they sent me clips of the scenes in which it was used, and I was watching it with my wife, and we were just like, 'Whoa! This is really major. This is great!' (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Looking Glass' self-titled album has moments of an almost country rock FM vibe that's easy to carry around. "From Stanton Station" and "Golden Rainbow" as well as "Catherine Street" are all deep tracks that I've heard on the cooler radio stations. But quite different from your hits.
Elliot Lurie: Yeah, the band was very interesting. We were very eclectic in our influences. So we did all different kinds of material. To an extent, I think that might've been why the albums and the band weren't nearly as successful as "Brandy" at the end of the day. It was hard to tell exactly who Looking Glass was. We had two writers in the group. Myself and Piete Sweval. And we wrote very differently and we had very different voices. He was a high tenor and I'm a baritone. I don't know if you've ever heard our second album called, "Subway Serenade" but that one was a really fun and well-made album because we recorded it with a great record producer named Arif Mardin.
Casey Chambers: I've seen Arif Mardin's name on a lot of albums. John Prine quickly comes to my mind.
Elliot Lurie: Yeah, he did everybody from The Rascals to Aretha Franklin. Even Norah Jones, late in his life. So he was a fantastic record producer and a wonderful gentleman. He passed away unfortunately a few years ago.
Casey Chambers: So he produced your second album, "Subway Serenade" and the song "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" became another big hit for you guys.
Elliot Lurie: Yeah, ya know, people think we're a one-hit wonder, but technically we weren't because that record did enter the Top 40. In certain cities, it was a big hit. In other cities, not so much. But I do remember at the time when it was stalling on the charts, the record company would tell us, 'Well, it's a turntable hit.' We said, 'Well, what does that mean?' They said, 'People request the song and it gets played a lot on the radio, but for some reason, they're not going out and buying the single.' Since the charts were made up of a combination of airplay and sales, it lingered around on the charts from the airplay it was getting, but it didn't get way up there because of the lack of sales, I guess.
"Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" - Looking Glass / "Subway Serenade" (1973)
Casey Chambers: I really like "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne." Love the moody vibe. Nighttime drivin' stuff. Surely made AM radio sound better.
Elliot Lurie: I still like listening to that record because the band at that point was playing as well as we ever did in the studio. And the production was so good. We had gotten our studio chops down and Arif was a great producer. He wrote a beautiful brass chart for the song. And it's the kind of thing that if you have a really good system and you listen to it on a good vinyl, you'll notice it still sounds pretty good technically. It's just a well-produced, well-made record for its time.
Casey Chambers: After Looking Glass disbanded, you began a whole other successful career working as a music supervisor for a number of popular films. How did you get started doing that?
Elliot Lurie: I got lucky. (laughs) A friend of mine introduced me to a friend of his who introduced me to another person. And it turned out that this woman I had worked with when we were at Epic Records...I did one solo album for Epic Records that failed miserably and probably rightfully so (laughs)...had become one of the first really successful music supervisors. Her name was Becky Shargo and she had done "Urban Cowboy" and "Footloose." And I was really trying to figure out what to do with my life after having been a recording artist. And I told her, 'Becky, if you need some help, I'll work for you for nothing if you'll teach me the business.' And she did. I did that for about 25 years. I was an independent music supervisor. And then I was the head of the music department at 20th Century Fox Studios for about 10 years. So I was in that for a long time.
Casey Chambers: So when you're a music supervisor for a movie, what does that mean? What exactly do you have to do?
Elliot Lurie: It depends on the movie and it depends on the director. In certain movies, it's a very creative job, and you help the director with everything from choosing the right composer to putting songs in the movie and where they should go and putting together a soundtrack. And then there are other movies where it's really just more of a budget and business job. The director knows exactly what they want, and you've gotta try to acquire it for them within whatever the budget is that they have. So it's a very interesting job. I learned a lot about the movie and TV business that I hadn't known. I met a lot of great directors. I learned that people in the movie business are even crazier than people in the music business. So it depends. Sometimes it was a very creative job, sometimes it was more of a business job and sometimes it was a little bit of both.
"Subway Serenade" - Looking Glass (1973)
Casey Chambers: I noticed in the late '90s that you were the music supervisor on a pair of comedies that had originated from "Saturday Night Live." I think that's pretty cool. What do you remember about doing those?
Elliot Lurie: Those were both fun movies to do. I came to those movies through a director who I had worked with on a couple of things...Amy Heckerling. She directed "Clueless." And she worked on a lot of the "Saturday Night Live" stuff either as a producer or director. She brought me into "A Night At the Roxbury." (1998) And the other one was "Superstar" (1999) ...the Mary Katherine Gallagher movie. Now, those were both fun. A lot of good people to work with. "A Night At the Roxbury" was fun and creative because we knew what the tone of the movie was gonna be. It was like this disco kind of thing. And we obviously had to get their signature song. ("What Is Love" by Haddaway) That was the first hurdle. We had to make sure we got the rights to that song. The song they always bobbed their heads to. (laughs) And then after that, we had to fill out the movie with things that were in the same...we used to call it the same gene pool. Music that was in the same gene pool. We tried to put together a successful soundtrack and so we had to have some original things as well as some preexisting things. So that movie was especially a lot of fun to work on. And they varied. Some of them were great experiences. Some of them were less so. I was very lucky to be able to find a career that kept me involved with music, even though I was not writing or performing it. Both creatively and business-wise, I was very lucky to get that.
Casey Chambers: And now you're back performing on stage again. That's a great thing.
Elliot Lurie: Yeah, since I kind of went into semi-retirement, I've had the opportunity to play and perform again. And I do it from time to time now. Not regularly because frankly, at my age, the travel really takes a toll so I don't travel too much. But I have a couple things coming up. I have a singer-songwriter kind of show that I do at small clubs. I'm doing one of those here in L.A. this week that I'm really excited about. I was in Mayetta, Kansas three weeks ago. I did a private event. And I did one at the Prairie Band Casino along with Felix Cavaliere from The Rascals and Mark Farner from Grand Funk. So I was out your way about three or four weeks ago.
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" / Opening Scene (2017)
Casey Chambers: Oh, no way! Up near our state capitol in Topeka. That sounds like a lot of fun.
Elliot Lurie: Yeah. And I'm doing another one in December that I'm really excited about. There's a show that I do every Christmas on the Jersey Shore. There's a band there called Brian Kirk and the Jirks. They're a really big Jersey band. They have a full horn section and everything. And I sit in with them every Christmas. It's a fundraiser for local charities. And this show, to celebrate our 50th anniversary, I am also having the original drummer and the original keyboard player from Looking Glass join me. It will be the first time the three of us have performed on stage together in over 30 years. So, I'm very excited about that. So anybody in the Jersey Shore area in December, check it out. December 17th at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. It'll be a very New Jersey experience.
Casey Chambers: What a special show that will be. Before I let you go, how about recommending a few albums?
Elliot Lurie: A few albums that I really love. One thing that I was really excited about is the new 2022 reissue of the "Revolver" album. Like most people my age...The Beatles changed my life. And this version of the "Revolver" album has slightly different mixes and outtakes that are wonderful. I listen to a lot of country music these days too. I like country, although it's getting a little overproduced. I do like to listen to a lot of stuff that comes out of Nashville. And I also highly recommend an artist named John Hiatt. Whatever he puts out. His albums are terrific.
Casey Chambers: Off the top, what's a John Hiatt song you like?
Elliot Lurie: There's one...it's an obscure one. My wife hates when I play it because the first line is so unusual, and makes her cringe. (laughs) It's called, "Ethylene." The track is fantastic. The words are cool as hell.
Casey Chambers: Excellent. "It's been a slow turning." (laughs) Thank you for taking time to speak with me. And for all the fine music. It's been a real treat.
Elliot Lurie: It was good talking to you, Casey. Thank you and take care.