Singing legend Johnny Mathis struck gold when he teamed up with R&B songbird Deniece Williams for the 1978 chart-topper "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late." The song is about a couple who finally realize that there's no spark left in their relationship and decide to part ways. Mathis and Williams' voices complement one another nicely on this bittersweet breakup ballad. The duet was born out of Mathis' desire to take his music in a new direction. As a result, Mathis' producer, Jack Gold, and CBS Records' A&R exec, Mike Dilbeck, enlisted fellow CBS recording artist Williams to record a duet with the velvet-voiced crooner.
The song was penned by songwriters Nat Kipner and John Vallins. Their demo of the ballad first caught the attention of UK label Polydor Records, and they had one of their signees, an English Pop duo, record a version of the song. Then Kipner's son, songwriter Steve Kipner, recommended that the song be placed with an American music publisher. Shortly thereafter, Mathis showed an interest in recording the song, and the Pop duo's version was never released.
The late Nat Kipner was a songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur. As a producer and A&R manager for Australian record label Spin Records, he produced and co-wrote several tracks for The Bee Gees in the 1960s and played a pivotal role in the band's early success.
The recording sessions for "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" took place at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Those present at the sessions included legendary arranger Gene Page; keyboardists Michael Rubini and Sylvester Rivers; guitarists David T. Walker and Melvin "Wah-Wah Watson" Ragin; drummer Ed Greene; and bassist Scott Edwards. In our interview with Scott Edwards
, he discussed what it was like working with Page in the studio.
"Another great arranger was Gene Page, who would write out everything," said Edwards. "He wrote out like a symphonic score. But sometimes it may not be quite right, and that's when the producers will say, 'Musicians, go for yourself.' That's what happened on Johnny Mathis and Deniece 'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,' and that's how you got your rep. Because if you could do a Gene Page session and play everything he wrote, then he may tell you, 'Do what you want.' But the fact that you could read it, that qualified you to be on that session. And that qualified you to be on other sessions, because Gene was like the graduation of college for musicians. And he wrote everything."
This song is from Mathis' album You Light Up My Life, released in 1978. The track reached the top spot on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it also topped both the US R&B and Adult Contemporary charts. It peaked at #3 on the UK Singles Chart and climbed to #9 on the Canadian Singles Chart.
The song helped recharge Mathis' career. It was his first number-one single on the US pop charts since his classic "Chances Are," which was released 21 years earlier in 1957. And it was his first Top-10 single in the Hot 100 since his song "What Will Mary Say" charted at #9 in 1963. The duet was also his only song to reach #1 on the R&B charts.
Additionally, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" was certified gold and silver in the US by the RIAA and also in the UK by the British Phonographic Industry.
The song was the second biggest hit of Williams' career. The four-time Grammy winner had her biggest hit six years later in 1984 with the upbeat R&B/Pop smash "Let's Hear It for the Boy," which was featured in the popular film Footloose. In an interview with Blues & Soul magazine shortly after the release of "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late," Williams said that she and Mathis "felt really relaxed around each other" during the recording session: "The vibes were great," she said. "It was particularly interesting, because it was a first for both of us. Neither had ever done a 'duet' per se, and it seemed like we just fell right into the groove." Williams also traded vocals with Mathis on a cover of Australian pop singer Samantha Sang's 1977 hit "Emotion." The duet was on the B-side of "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" and also appeared on Mathis' album You Light Up My Life.
Hoping to capitalize on the huge success of this song, CBS rushed Mathis and Williams back into the studio to record an entire album together. The album, That's What Friends Are For, was released in late June of 1978. The collection was made up of love songs and Pop ballads, and produced a moderate hit with the duo's cover of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic "You're All I Need to Get By." The track climbed to #47 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #10 on the Hot Soul Singles Chart. And it charted at #45 on the UK Singles Chart. A few years later, Mathis and Williams teamed up again to record the duet "Without Us," which was used as the theme song for the hit '80s sitcom Family Ties.
In addition to Williams, Mathis has recorded duets with several other talented female vocalists, including Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole and Nana Mouskouri.
This song was covered by English power pop band Silver Sun for their album Neo Wave. The band also released the track as a single, and it charted at #20 on the UK Singles Chart in 1998.