Donny Osmond began his professional career in the early 1960s, as the dimpled, five-year-old frontman of the family barbershop quintet. These days, he is still a reliable Las Vegas nightclub draw; an occasional above-the-marquee star of touring Broadway musicals; and an on-again, off-again host of syndicated television chat- and game-shows. For one golden period in the 1970s, however, this hardworking showbiz survivor was a bona fide superstar. That period was well underway on this day in 1971, when 13-year-old Donny Osmond earned his first solo (and second overall) #1 hit with “Go Away Little Girl.”
Performing together as the Osmonds, Donny and his brothers Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay had burst onto the pop scene just seven months earlier with the #1 hit “One Bad Apple”—a brazen imitation of the bubblegum soul of the Jackson 5. And just as the Jacksons of Gary, Indiana, would soon do with their own lead singer, the Osmonds of Ogden, Utah, quickly moved to make a solo star out of Donny. “We push whoever is in front, and the rest of us divide the work necessary to keep the front runners in first place and the family strong,” is how Olive Osmond—matriarch of the Mormon show-business clan—once explained the process by which her young Donny was soon elevated above his less telegenic brothers.
The material chosen for Donny’s debut fell squarely into the teenybopper mainstream. “Sweet and Innocent,” his debut single, climbed as high as #7 on the pop charts, followed by “Go Away Little Girl,” written by the legendary team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and previously a #1 hit in 1963 for Steve Lawrence. A string of similar cover tunes would follow, including Paul Anka’s “Puppy Love,” Frankie Avalon’s “Why,” Nat “King” Cole’s “Too Young” and Johnny Mathis’ “The Twelfth Of Never,” all of which were Top 20 hits. A 1973 cover of Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” however, would be Donny’s last Top 20 hit until 1988, when he returned with the #2 hit “Solder of Love.”
In the intervening 15 years, however, Donny Osmond appears not to have derived all the joy he might have from the success that made him a favorite of the Tiger Beat set in the early 1970s. “Throughout my 20s and into my 30s, I would apologize for my career, for all of the cheesy music I was a part of,” says the conflicted former teen idol. “It wasn’t until my late 30s or early 40s…[that I] thought to myself, ‘You know what? That music was great for what it was, people loved it, it was incredibly successful—why should I feel bad?'”