The Vinyl Dialogues Blog

Stories behind memorable albums of the 1970s as told by the artists

A ‘fine girl’ turns 45: Elliot Lurie of Looking Glass details the writing of his iconic song ‘Brandy’

The original members of Looking Glass: Elliot Lurie, far right, Jeff Grob, Larry Gonsky and Pieter Sweval as they looked in the early 1970s. (Photo courtesy of Elliot Lurie)

The original members of Looking Glass: Elliot Lurie, far right, Jeff Grob, Larry Gonsky and Pieter Sweval as they looked in the early 1970s.
(Photo courtesy of Elliot Lurie)

Elliot Lurie picked up his J-200 acoustic guitar and sat down in the upstairs bedroom of a farmhouse that he and his bandmates had rented in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

The farmhouse had been built around the turn of the 20th century and was surrounded by 88 acres of farmland. The band, which had been fairly successful playing bars and fraternity houses in the late 1960s in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had rented it for $240 a month with the hopes that it would provide an atmosphere that was conducive to creating music that would take the band to the next level.

Even though he was just out of college in 1970, Lurie had already developed his own way of songwriting, which included playing a chord sequence and melody that worked for him, then just free associating from there.

In high school, Lurie had a girlfriend named Randye. So he started inserting the name Randye into the lyrics of what he was creating that day in his bedroom.

“I got the story in my head and I had a few lines with a verse that was kind of interesting. Then I got to the chorus and to Randye,” says Lurie. “But Randye is a weird name because it can be taken as a male name or a female name.

Elliot Lurie as he looked in the early 1970s. (Photo courtesy of Elliot Lurie)

Elliot Lurie as he looked in the early 1970s.
(Photo courtesy of Elliot Lurie)

“The song is about a barmaid, so I thought, why don’t I change the name to ‘Brandy.’ So that’s what I did,” Lurie says. “But when I first finished writing it, I didn’t jump up and down and say, ‘this is a hit.'”

But it was. Not only that, but “Brandy,” released 45 years ago by the band Looking Glass, would go on to become one of the most iconic songs of the 1970s.

There were, however, a series of twists and turns that complicated the efforts to even get the band’s recording career off the ground.

Lurie, keyboardist Larry Gonsky and bassist Pieter Sweval were all classmates at Rutgers University in the late 1960s. They were joined by drummer Jeff Grob, who attended a nearby New Jersey community college.

One evening, the four of them were sitting in Lurie’s 1965 Chevy Supersport convertible — “imbibing something or other,” according to Lurie — and trying to think up a name for the band.

“We were looking in the rearview mirror and we thought, what’s another way to say mirror? Well, looking glass would be another way. And it was the 1960s and that had some kind of psychedelic overtones,” Lurie says. “What we liked about the name was that we were kind of like ordinary guys and we thought we were sort of a reflection of whoever may be listening to us.”

Looking Glass made a local name for itself as a cover band playing local bars and frat houses at Rutgers and Princeton University and at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Elliot Lurie as he looks today. (Photo courtesy of Patti Myers)

Elliot Lurie as he looks today.
(Photo courtesy of Patti Myers)

As the band became more successful on the local scene, it would  mix some original songs into its sets, something that Lurie says was “tolerated” by the local following the band had established.

Upon graduation, the band members wanted to pursue a career in music, an idea that didn’t originally sit too well with their parents.

“Of course, they were all appalled because we were middle class and lower middle class kids and our parents had saved up to send us to state university in New Jersey, and the idea of becoming musicians was abhorrent to them,” Lurie says.

But the band members each convinced their parents to give them a year to see if they could make it in the music industry. And that’s how the young musicians ended up in the rural New Jersey farmhouse, creating music and honing their craft during the week while maintaining their bar and frat house gigs on the weekends.

The band eventually attracted the attention of Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, who liked what he heard, especially “Brandy,” and he wanted to see the band perform live. So he set up a showcase gig for Looking Glass to open for Buddy Guy at the Cafe au Go Go in Manhattan. And based on what Davis saw that evening, he signed Looking Glass to Epic Records, the label that Columbia used for new artists.

Things happened pretty quickly from there with the band’s debut album, the self-titled “Looking Glass,” which was recorded in both Memphis and Manhattan.

Four of the songs that ended up on the album were written and had lead vocals by Lurie and the other four songs on the album were written by and had lead vocals by Sweval.

Once the album was completed, it was released on June 6, 1972. But “Brandy” wasn’t the first song to be released as a single. The band members liked a Lurie-penned song, “Don’t It Make You Feel Good,” as the first single.

“We put it out and it did nothing,” said Lurie. “That could have been it right there; that could have been the end of the story.”

But it wasn’t.

As was often the case in those days, Harv Moore, a disc jockey at the Top 40 radio station WPGC-AM/FM in Washington, D.C., was urged by Robert Mandel, a promotions man at the record label, to listen to the “Brandy” track off a test pressing of the LP.

“The promotion man went in to hang out with Harv and he said, ‘Have you heard this Looking Glass thing?’ And Harv said, ‘Yeah, but it’s not really happening.’ And the promotion man said, ‘You really got to listen to the rest of the album, this group is pretty good.’ Back in those days, that could happen. A promotion man could have a relationship with a disc jockey and ask him to listen to something and he would,” Lurie says.

Moore liked “Brandy” a lot. And he played it a lot. A week later, the band members got a call from record company officials telling them that a disc jockey in Washington, D.C., had put “Brandy” in regular rotation on the station and the phones were ringing off the hook.

“We said, are you sure? And the record company guys said, ‘We’ve done this before; we do this for a living. If you have a song in a major market like this and the requests are like that, it’s going to be a hit.’”

Within a few months, other radio stations in other major markets around the country had “Brandy” in regular rotation and the fan reaction was the same.

Looking Glass had a smash No. 1 hit single.

Despite the success of “Brandy,” which made it to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles charts, the U.S. Cash Box Top 100 singles chart and the Canadian RMP singles chart, the Looking Glass album only made it to No. 113 on the U.S. Top 200 albums chart in 1972.

There was a theory floated in recent years that the inspiration for “Brandy” was actually a women named Mary Ellis, a spinster in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where Rutgers University is located and where Lurie went to college. Local legend has it that Ellis was seduced by a sea captain who vowed to return from his journeys to marry her. Ellis allegedly would look out over the Raritan River in New Brunswick awaiting his return, which never did happen.

But Ellis wasn’t the inspiration for the song, according to Lurie.

“No, that’s an incredible coincidence,” he said. “I write fiction.”

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27 Comments

  1. Donna

    I was barely five years old when this song came out and I still love it just as much as I did then! Some songs just touch a person, often for no particular reason.

    • Yes, Donna. And this certainly is one of those songs. – M2

    • Maria

      I agree , I am a 55 yr female and every time I hear this song I blast it !!

    • Nathalie Mason

      I was a teenager and before Brandy came out my parents and I were in Nevada/Calif at a casino where the band was also at. My aunt talked to them and found out they were in this band called “The Looking Glass.” When the song came out I was so excited. It was great.

  2. Wendi Summers

    This is an incredibly well written article. It made me feel like I was actually there. Thanks for the story!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Wendi. Elliot Lurie is a great interview and a story like that isn’t possible without him sharing that detailed information. Thanks for reading and commenting. – M2

  3. Carol Machuga

    6/26/2018 Looking Glass is right up there with The Association, Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds, Frankie Valli, The Lettermen, Kenny Rogers, Bread, The Eagles, Jay and the Anericans, I can go on and on, and then I start to feel bad that those happy times and that music is gone. The memories of music from the late 50s through the 70s will be with us forever. Thank you Pandora!

    • Gail

      Where was the farmhouse in Hunterdon County? I live there and would love to see it.

      • Gail:

        I went back and checked the notes from my interview with Elliot. Here is the verbatim quote, which doesn’t reveal the exact location of the farmhouse:

        “So we rented a farmhouse out in the northwestern corner of New Jersey, Hunterdon County, which is a lovely area. We found an old farmhouse that had been built around the turn of the century. And we rented it. I think we paid $240 a month for the house, which had 88 acres of farmland around it. It was a wonderful, bucolic kind of place.”

        That’s the only clue from the interview I have about the farmhouse’s location.

        Thanks,
        M2

      • jim chironna

        I read years back that it was in Glen Gardner N.J. but they didnt give the exact location. Always wanted to see it myself…

  4. Mel

    I love this song I also was very young when this song came out 3, but my mother played it relentlessly on the stero. Very interesting article about the band. Now I play it for my 11 year old daughter and she now knows all the words also. ❤️
    Mel

  5. Carol Tielking

    I remember listening to this song over and over and over again. I did NOT have a boy in my life – I was kinda like Brandy wishing I had. I was 15yrs at the time. But I had Epilepsy and the kids picked on me even beat on me. So I was a loner also. I read books and listened to music to escape my life. Thank you for this song. I DO have a niece named Brandi and I did marry a Sailor – after he got out.

  6. Ibrahim

    I was six years old in July 1972 when I came to United States from India My dad came and I can 71 and I had become a student at Rutgers University

    The family stayed in student housing on Busch campus. And I distinctly remember listening to the song as a seven-year-old riding in the backseat of my dad’s car listening to him sing to it as the song played on the radio

    I love the song back then and I still love her today so thank you Elliot ! I’m proud to say that he is a Rutgers graduate as am I my parents and sisters

  7. Jennifer Whitfield

    I absolutely love this song it’s one of my very favorites. I was seven years old when it came out and I loved it then as much as I do now. When I hear it on the radio, I blast it. When I do karaoke and it’s available I sing it, loud ann proud. I can’t say I do it justice but I put my heart into it. It’s still my fave song. I’ve got it on my mom’s 8 track, a 45 and a cassette. It’s on my playlist from ITunes now. I’d love to see y’all perform it live one more time. I was little and never got to see that, 8 p.m. was my bedtime then. 💗

    • Thomas Moon

      I was in the Navy on various ships in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam war. I would often listen to “Brandy” with headphones on with an amp while on my break from duty. It’s a nice, peaceful song.

  8. Patricia Sharp

    I have the song Brandy in my list of favs, was just listening to it, thought I’d quickly look them up. Read your article, fabulous! One of the best of the 70’s.

  9. MARYLYN QUINN

    Loved it then and still today! I was 10 when i heard Brandy!

  10. Adam Lasek

    One of my all time favorite tunes!
    A story, fantastic vocals and arrangement and here we go! ” Brandy” is a treat every time iI hear it. You have to sing along!

  11. Stacey Cashin

    I love this song. I loved it when it came out and I love it just as much today. This is my go to song. When my friends hear it they always think of me.
    It’s such a great song.
    Thank you Looking Glass it’s a classic!

  12. Mark

    I’ve loved this song, since the first time I heard it. I think it was in the mid-1980’s that my sister told me that the song was about the mother of a girl who lived next door, in San Diego, CA.

  13. Charlene

    I was in 8th grade when “Brandy” came out. I fell in love with it! It’s 2019 now, I still love the song, I know all of the words; I still have my record (45 single). “Brandy” puts me in a great mood. One question, the story about Mary Ellis being the source of the song isn’t true is it? Wasn’t it Elliot Lurie girlfriend in college named “Randye?”

  14. Kristiina Hollo

    Yesterday heard Brandy as a background to a tv ad. Wow took me right back to my teen years. In 2 minutes i pulled it up on Youtube and was grooving. Still sounds great and I love the story of the band. Many thanks.

  15. George Cassimus

    When the song “Brandy” first came out I was a 14 year old teenager and I loved the song. Sadly, the group “Looking Glass” never had another hit song. When I was in my mid thirties I was a bartender in Panama City Beach (I tended bar a a beach bar named Busters) I often would go drinking at a “Super Bar” named Spinnaker, where I met the manager of Spinnaker- and it turned out that he was actually a member of Looking Glass! Small World.

  16. John Hosterman

    I love this song too. But I didn’t find out until recently that Pieter died of AIDS. We lost a whole generation of incredibly talented people in those early years of HIV, when it was, literally, a death sentence. Thankfully, his music will far outlast all of us.

  17. Linda

    I am 58… I remember the first summer I heard that song back in the early seventies, in Memphis Tennessee where we lived then… I’d walk miles to the community center.. And swim all day… And that song would play on the loudspeaker… And I’d go rollerskating at night… And that was one of the songs that was played..omg I love that song… That was one of the most awesome summers of my life… And ” Brandy” brings back wonderful memories of it all.

  18. Vicki Morse

    Loved the song when it came out in ’72. When I had my first child in 1978 it was supposed to be a boy and I was going to name him Brandon. Turned out to be a girl so I named her Brandy! Song is a classic and is now the lead in song for Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Awesome!

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