Doris Troy is Worth More Than "Just One Look"

Doris Troy in London, 1972
Photo Credit
Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

When it comes to looking at the career of Doris Troy, don’t just look at the numbers.

Why? Because if you just look at the numbers, then what you see is that Troy - who died on Feb. 16, 2004 - found her greatest career success as a solo recording artist with a song that took 10 minutes to record, had a run-time of less than two-and-a-half minutes, gave her a Top 10 hit, and made her a one-hit wonder.

This, of course, is not to say that “Just One Look” is not a fabulous song, because it’s not just fabulous, it’s downright iconic. Plus, a couple of those numbers are actually pretty good, like how little time it took for Troy to deliver that performance and how well it did on the charts. Still, if you look beyond that song, not to mention behind that song, you find that Troy’s story is a treasure trove of fascinating facts.

Here are just a few of them:

She was discovered at age 16 by James Brown while she was working as an usherette at the Apollo Theater.

Using the pen name “Doris Payne,” she started a career as a songwriter in 1960, composing the song “How About That” for Dee Clark.

When she first started her recording career, she sang alongside Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick as a backup singer for Atlantic Records, working on songs by - among others - Solomon Burke and The Drifters.

She was part of the original lineup of The Sweet Inspirations, along with the Warwicks and their aunt, Cissy Houston, a.k.a. Whitney’s mom.

The version of “Just One Look” that climbed to No. 10 in 1963 was actually a demo produced by Buddy Lucas, one which was so good that Atlantic Records decided to just go ahead and release it as-is.

She also only had one hit in the U.K., but it wasn’t “Just One Look,” it was “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” which hit No. 37 in December 1964.

After moving to London in 1969, she contributed vocals to the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but she also started playing shows of her own, often backed by a keyboard player named Reg Dwight. (He’d soon change his name to Elton John.)

Another development from her move to the U.K.: she was signed by the Beatles to Apple Records, where she co-produced her self-titled debut for the label with George Harrison. Okay, fine, it was also her swan song for the label, but did you ever record an album for Apple Records? No? Well, then, you just got one-upped by Doris Troy!

And for the record, that was a trick question, because even if you’d said that you had recorded an album for Apple Records, we would’ve said, “Oh, yeah? Well, did your album feature guest appearances by Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Billy Preston, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, and Klaus Voorman? Didn’t think so!”

Among the other artists who benefited from her backing vocals were Billy Preston, Tom Jones, Long John Baldry, Dr. John, Carly Simon, the Spencer Davis Group, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Dusty Springfield, and...um...Hang on, we feel like we’re forgetting one...

Oh, right: she’s on Dark Side of the freaking Moon!

She played a number of shows at Ronnie Scott’s club during her time in London, as well as recording a live album at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park (The Rainbow Testament).

After releasing her 1974 studio album Stretching Out to limited success, she returned to the U.S., where she started working the casino and nightclub circuit, but she found a career renaissance in 1983 as a result of Mama, I Want to Sing, a stage musical about her life which she co-wrote with her sister, Vy Higginsen. In addition to running for 1,500 performances at the Heckscher Theater in Spanish Harlem, it was also staged in London - where Chaka Khan and Deniece Williams variously played Troy’s aunt - and was later adapted into a film starring Ciara, Patti LaBelle, Billy Zane, and Ben Vereen, among others.

Alas, Troy wasn’t there to see the film version. Of course, you already knew that, since we mentioned up front that she died in February 2004. But for the past few minutes, we kept you focused not on her death but, rather, on her life...and, frankly, isn’t that what we should be doing anyway?

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