“Show and Tell” is just one of those songs that thrills me whenever it comes on the radio. It’s been doing that since Al Wilson released it in 1973. I was only vaguely aware of the original version, written by Jerry Fuller and released by Johnny Mathis the previous year. It’s Wilson’s version that has stuck with me, and no wonder. The single was a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 19, 1974, and selling over two million copies. Cashbox named “Show and Tell” a top single of the year.
Al Wilson wasn’t exactly confident that he would make it as a singer. After working odd jobs around his San Bernardino, CA home (he was born in Meridian, MS, but his family moved to California while he was in high school), he spent four years touring with a vocal group called Johnny Harris and the Statement. After two years in the Navy, during which he sang with the enlisted men’s chorus, Wilson studied stand-up comedy in case his music career faltered.
After performing in several other vocal groups, Wilson got an audition with Johnny Rivers, who signed him to his Soul City label. Rivers produced Wilson’s 1968 hit “The Snake” (a Northern Soul anthem in the UK), which reached #27 on the singles chart. Wilson had several minor hits in 1968 and 1968, and then basically disappeared for several years before re-entering the spotlight his biggest hit, “Show and Tell.”
Wilson had several lesser hits concluding with 1979’s “Count the Days,” and then spent the next 20 years on the club circuit. He died of kidney failure on April 28, 2008.