Midnight Music Confessions
The Osmonds’ Bad Apple
It feels revelatory.
No, not The Osmonds and their 1971 smash hit, “One Bad Apple,” but the fact that they recorded it at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which, along with its sister studio The Muscle Shoals Sound, also produced such recording stars as The Staple Singers, The Rolling Stones, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Cher, Rod Stewart, and Aretha Franklin.
As music historian Charles L. Hughes documents in his book, Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South (UNC Press 2015), The Osmonds’ first hit is actually part of, a product of,
“THE MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND.”
“‘One Bad Apple’ is a nearly perfect example of the larger racial and stylistic crisscrossing that the Muscle Shoals sound was meant to symbolize” (121).
Get this: the song was written by George Jackson, an African American who was the first Black writer FAME ever hired. The Osmonds’ management at MGM Records (headed by conservative musician Mike Curb), wanted the band to sound like those other Jacksons, meaning like one of the Soul bands so popular in the early 70’s. George Jackson would have never been recommended had it not been for white musician/producer, and FAME cofounder Billy Sherrill, one of the “kings of country music.” And the musicians backing the Osmonds were the first “truly integrated studio band in Muscle Shoals” (118–21).
Of course, there were problems, and not just that the white boys from Utah lived in a trailer in rural Alabama during the sessions. More specifically, the soul-ed up sound pissed off Black artists everywhere, another instance, some felt, of the white “raping” of Black artists and Soul (122–3). And it wasn’t that the song did Soul badly; many actually thought it did it “too well“ (121).
The song went #1 on the Pop charts (also scoring high on the R&B/Soul charts), apparently preventing The Jackson 5 from achieving their fifth number one single, also ironic because the song was first pitched to Michael and his brothers.
What should all of this mean to you and me?