Three-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Mathis has been a staggeringly popular recording artist and performer for more than 60 years. His 1958 LP Johnny's Greatest Hits (Columbia) is widely acknowledged as the prototypical best-of collection and, like much of his discography, it sold in massive quantities. Although best known for his 1957 classics "Chances Are" and "Wonderful! Wonderful!" he has scored hit singles on one chart or another every decade since. The 81-year-old singer's current The Voice of Romance Tour draws material from throughout his long career, rightly focusing on the hits. But a deeper dig into Mathis' massive discography unearths many gems and a few oddities, revealing him as a rare diamond among music icons—with only slight imperfections.
"When Sunny Gets Blue" from Warm (Capitol, 1957): As the lesser-heard B-side of "Wonderful! Wonderful!" this tune helped established the Mathis formula: exactingly enunciated, effortless vocals against a lush string accompaniment. "Sunny" got some latter-day publicity when DJ Rick Dees (of "Disco Duck" fame) cut a parody version that included the memorable lyric, "When Sunny sniffs glue." The composer sued Dees and lost.
"Night Dreams" from The Singles (Legacy/Sony Music, 2015): Written by "Strangers in the Night" composer Bert Kaempfert, this one is vintage easy-listening Mathis. Released as a Columbia single in 1968, it reached the lower rungs of the Adult Contemporary charts that year—but it would take nearly a half-century for "Night Dreams" to find its way onto an album. The Singles box set stands as one of the best Mathis collections, with more than 30 songs previously unavailable on CD.
"Evil Ways" from Close to You (Columbia, 1970): This, however, is the tune you're thinking of—Santana's first Top 40 hit. For his cover, Mathis changed his easy-listening ways. His version doesn't exactly rock, but it swings hard and features a tasty Hammond organ solo. It's not impossible to imagine parents and teens of the day actually enjoying this track together.
"Everytime You Touch Me (I Get High)" from I Only Have Eyes for You (Columbia, 1976): With its wah-wah guitars and understated brass and strings, this cover of a tune by country crooner Charlie Rich was Mathis' B-side of minor hit "Yellow Roses on Her Gown." It might disappoint crate-diggers who think they've discovered a long-lost Johnny Mathis psychedelic record. He's in standard romantic crooning mode, but the arrangement feels forced; it might have done better in a version by Barry White.
"The Lights of Rio" from Different Kinda Different (Columbia, 1980): As recently as last year, Mathis' live set included "Brazil (Aquarela do Brasil)," a song he cut in 1998. From 1980, "The Lights of Rio" is one of his earliest Brazilian-flavored musical excursions. By this stage in his career, he had found success recording duets with popular female singers and, on this LP, his vocal foil is one Paulette McWilliams of R&B/disco/funk band Rufus—though she only sings five words.
"Most of All There's You" from The Biggest Bundle of Them All (MGM Records, 1968): Even the great Johnny Mathis turns out an occasional dud. Perhaps his most cringe-worthy recording ever, "Most of All There's You"—from the soundtrack to the 1968 Raquel Welch caper comedy The Biggest Bundles of Them All—hasn't appeared on any Mathis release. His vocals aren't quite awful; he gamely sings along to an overwrought melody replete with vocal whoops, choirs and grating, tuned percussion. More than any other song on this list, don't expect to hear this one at the show.