In this country ballad, Charlie Rich is desperate to track down his girl, who walked out on him after a heated argument the night before. Regretting his harsh words, he wants to apologize and get her back - but he has to find her first. If any of us see "the most beautiful girl in the world," we're supposed to make amends on Charlie's behalf. He sings:
Tell her I'm sorry
Tell her I need my baby
Oh, won't you tell her that I love her
Rich released this as the follow-up to "Behind Closed Doors," his first #1 on the Country chart after years of minor hits. "The Most Beautiful Girl" fared even better. A triple chart-topper, it went to #1 on the Hot 100, Country, and Adult Contemporary tallies.
This is actually a combination of two different songs. Norro Wilson, who wrote the tune with Nashville scribe Rory Bourke, released an early version titled "Hey Mister" in 1968, but it went nowhere. That song, which also tells the story about a guy who loses his incomparably gorgeous girlfriend, was tricky to write. According to Wilson, the songwriters were having trouble coming up with descriptions of what the prettiest girl should look like. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
"Everybody's got a most beautiful girl or guy," he explained in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits. "Whoever that person is, is the most beautiful in the world to somebody."
With that old adage in mind, "Hey Mister" was on the road to becoming "The Most Beautiful Girl." That's where producer Billy Sherrill, who's listed as the third co-writer on Rich's single, comes into play. He initially rejected the song, but after hearing another of Wilson's compositions, "Mama McCluskie" (with the now-familiar lyrics, "Tell her I love her, tell her I need my baby"), he suggested they combine the two.
The resulting track was first recorded by Joe Stampley, who had a #1 Country hit earlier in the year with the Wilson-penned "Soul Song," but his version wasn't released. It became Rich's biggest hit, instead.
Sherrill, who also produced Behind Closed Doors, was hesitant to cut the track with Rich but relented due to peer pressure from the opposite sex. Rory Bourke told The Tennessean in 2013, "As I understand it, the girls over at Columbia at the time just ragged on him until, finally, he put it out. And the rest is history."
Rory Bourke's wife, Rita Welty, is listed as Wilson's co-writer on "Hey Mister" but, curiously, not on "The Most Beautiful Girl." Bourke told The Tennessean that Rita was probably the inspiration for the remorseful track. The night before the songwriting session, Bourke and Wilson went out drinking, and Rita wasn't happy about it.
Rich didn't start out as a country singer. He began his career as a jazz/blues musician doing session work and some songwriting at Sun Records in the late '50s until he released his first hit, the rockabilly number "Lonely Weekends," in 1960. It wasn't until he connected with Billy Sherrill, an architect of the "countrypolitan" sound that combined traditional pop elements with country music, that he shifted his focus to country music and found mainstream success.