‘Brandy’ by Looking Glass (It’s a Fine Song)

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Think back to the music you were listening to in 1972 and, quite likely, arena-filling giants come to mind first: The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, the Allmans. FM radio was on it: Every city had at least one station supplying a steady diet of the latest classic rock, playing their albums and promoting their larger-than-life concerts.

But over in that parallel world of AM radio, it was still all about the song. Top 40 stations didn’t play albums, and if you wanted a hit single, you weren’t going to get there with a 20-minute guitar solo: You needed to grab the listener in three minutes. In the land of the Hot 100, it was still feasible for an artist to score a chart-topping smash with one catchy tune and then disappear forever.

Just ask Looking Glass. Who?

You are forgiven if you don’t remember their name. But we bet you remember their song. It was called “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” and for one week only, in the summer of 1972, it was the best-selling, most often played single in the United States of America.

The band that would become Looking Glass was formed at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1969, with Elliot Lurie (guitar and lead vocals), Larry Gonsky (keyboards) and Pieter Sweval (bass) in its original lineup. They disbanded for a while due to lack of work, but soon got back together with Jeff Grob now on drums. For two years, they played (under various names) frat parties and beer joints, gaining some popularity on the Jersey Shore, while trying to write their own material.

It was Lurie who came up with “Brandy,” although at first he called her by a different name. “Brandy is a made-up individual,” Lurie told The Tennessean in 2016. “The name was derived from a high school girlfriend I had whose name was Randy with an ‘R.’ Usually when I write—I still do it the same way I did back then—I strum some guitar and kind of sing along with the first things that come to mind. Her name came up. Then I started writing the rest of the song, and it was about a barmaid. I thought Randy was an unusual name for a girl, it could go either way, and (the song was about) a barmaid, so I changed it to Brandy.”

An ad in the May 27, 1972 issue of Record World. “In Washington, they know good ‘Brandy’…” Soon, Looking Glass was heading for #1

Lurie recalled for the newspaper that it took him a couple of weeks to craft the song, and that the band tried it in the studio with three different producers. The final version, recorded in New York City, was released on May 18, 1972, by Epic Records after its president, Clive Davis, caught Looking Glass at a Manhattan showcase and recognized the band’s potential. A disc jockey at WPGC-AM in Washington, D.C., gave the song a spin, the phones lit up, and Looking Glass was soon on the charts, heading for #1. Record World magazine dug it too: “Cut that was forced from group’s new album is a tuneful, soulful effort deserving of heavy action. Fine story and harmonies,” they wrote.

“Brandy,” as Lurie noted, was basically the tale of a barmaid in a busy seaport town. As in so many songs before and since, she longs for her true love, but for him, nothing could match the lure of the wide-open sea.

“The sailors say, ‘Brandy, you’re a fine girl’ (you’re a fine girl)
What a good wife you would be (such a fine girl)
But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea.”

At night, the song continues—as Looking Glass plays spiritedly behind the singer—Brandy “walks through a silent town and loves a man who’s not around.” She can still hear him say—you guessed it—that she’s a fine girl who’d make a good wife, but that’s not gonna happen.

Neither, sadly, would another hit record for Looking Glass. Following the single’s sole week at the top, in late August of 1972, they managed to eke out two more charting singles in 1973: “Rainbow Man,” which peaked at #104, and “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” a #33 single. The group also placed two albums on the charts, but neither cracked the Billboard top 100.

Related: What were the other big radio hits of 1972?

Lurie reactivated the name Looking Glass in the early 2000s with new members but that ship, like Brandy’s dream boy, had already sailed.

In an odd twist, in 1974 single Barry Manilow covered a song originally released in 1972 by a singer named Scott English. Its title, too, was “Brandy,” but in order to avoid confusion Manilow’s recording changed it to “Mandy.” It gave him his first charting single—and his first #1.

Related: Bill Murray and… Clint Eastwood (!) sang it together at a private event

Jeff Tamarkin

10 Comments so far

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  1. Billy K.
    #1 Billy K. 28 November, 2018, 18:18

    From what I understand, Elliott Lurie became an executive at CBS records later on.

    Reply this comment
  2. Dave the oldies lover
    #2 Dave the oldies lover 22 May, 2019, 14:01

    Song was resurrected for that Marvel hit movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 in 2017!

    Reply this comment
  3. Mustang Sally
    #3 Mustang Sally 14 October, 2019, 21:06

    I don’t remember calling Rock n Roll classic rock in the 70s or even the 80s. It was just Rock. Getting too old to remember – lol. But keep the stories coming cause I love the news you bring. Awesome newsletter! Many great times return to mind.

    Reply this comment
  4. Gordo
    #4 Gordo 19 May, 2020, 11:45

    A friend forwarded the site to me and it has been a godsend during the lockdown. You guys have exquisite taste and really know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. I have forwarded many of your columns to various friends some of whom are blues enthusiasts, some rock, some pop, you cover it all and generally demonstrate great taste and good writing in how you do it. I hope your business can survive the CV situation… it would be a true loss to music journalism to lose you. Keep up the great work thank you so much!!

    Reply this comment
  5. RecordSteve
    #5 RecordSteve 6 November, 2020, 13:22

    Ditto! Keep giving us music info/memories to
    live on….

    Reply this comment
  6. Gregg
    #6 Gregg 24 April, 2021, 19:42

    Classic Rock goes all the way back to the summer this played. Our local rock station played all summer, “CFUN goes classic, soon!” We thought they’d be playing Mozart, soon.

    Reply this comment
  7. Bobby
    #7 Bobby 5 July, 2021, 16:53

    Opened up for these guys way back in the early 70s. Lurie was just gone at the time. Nice and fun guys, chugging Champangne from the bottle in the dressing room before the show. Drummer played chrome Fibes and he let me play them, bought a set soon after.. Good times.

    Reply this comment
  8. Carrieann
    #8 Carrieann 19 May, 2022, 00:23

    I love this song — always takes me back to 1972 – as a senior in HS

    Reply this comment
  9. Dino Saur
    #9 Dino Saur 26 August, 2022, 23:08

    Call it a one-hit wonder – I choose to call “Brandy” a perfect pop song, one of many of the early 70’s
    i.e. – “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes”(Edison Lighthouse), “Temptation Eyes”(Grassroots), and “Go Back” (Crabby Appleton), etc. – tunes that still play just as fresh in 2022.

    Reply this comment
  10. Jmack
    #10 Jmack 27 August, 2023, 13:18

    Simply a great song start to finish got all the ingredients to be a classic one hit wonder which it certainly is ….I think his voice is unique and that adds a lot to it.

    Reply this comment

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