27 June 1942 |
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Mills grew up in Verdun, Quebec and started playing piano at the age of three. He attended McGill University for five years. He began with Engineering, switched to a B.Sc. programme, then Arts and finally studied in the Department of Music. He entertained his fraternity brothers (Delta Upsilon) with songs from ragtime to a new artist Bob Dylan. The fraternity piano had thumbtacks on every hammer and produced a unique sound. In the late 1960s Mills became a member of The Bells. He left the band in 1971 just before it had international success with the single "Stay Awhile."
Mills worked as a pianist for CBC-TV and recorded his first solo album, Seven Of My Songs, which produced the hit single "Love Me, Love Me Love". The song made its debut on the Canadian charts in October 1971 and early the following year peaked at number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 8 on Billboard′s Easy Listening chart His follow-up single, a cover of Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" made Top 25 in Canada but stalled at number 106 in the U.S.
Mills released an album in 1974 that featured "Music Box Dancer", but it was not a hit initially. When he re-signed with Polydor Records Canada in 1978, the label released a new song as a single, with "Music Box Dancer" on the B-side. The single was sent to easy-listening stations in Canada, but a copy was sent in error to CFRA-AM, a pop station in Ottawa. The program director played the A-side and could not figure out why it had been sent to his station, so he played the B-side to see if the record was mistakenly marked. He liked "Music Box Dancer" and added it to his station's playlist, turning the record into a Canadian hit. Iconic Ottawa Valley radio personality Dave "50,000" Watts gave the record extensive airplay on the station. The album went gold in Canada, which prompted Polydor in the US to release the album and single.
In Nashville, news producer Bob Parker at WNGE-TV began playing the song over the closing credits of the newscast. Nashville DJs quickly latched on and both the single and album were hits. The million-selling Gold-certified single reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1979 as well as number 4 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart, while the album reached number 21 on the Billboard Top Album chart  and also went gold. Polydor awarded a gold record to TV station WNGE for breaking the single in the U.S.
It was Mills' only U.S. Top 40 pop hit; the follow-up, another piano instrumental titled "Peter Piper", peaked at number 48 on the Billboard Hot 100 although it was a popular Top 10 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Mills managed one final Adult Contemporary chart entry, "Happy Song", which peaked at number 41 at the beginning of 1981.
He continued to release albums until the early 1990s, and in 2010 did a Christmas tour with Canadian singer Rita MacNeil. Mills and MacNeil toured again in November–December 2012.
Film and television appearances
"Music Box Dancer" was for a while, the theme song of the local Los Angeles CBS half hour TV documentary show "2 on the Town" back in 1979 through the early 1980s.
"Music Box Dancer" has been heard on an episode of The Simpsons and in the Kill Bill movies. It was used as the theme tune to the BBC2 golf programme, A Round with Alliss, and also as a popular track on the BBC1 trade test (testcard) transmissions.Other Frank Mills tracks including 'Sidewalk cafe' were used on BBC1 and BBC2 in the 1970s and 1980s during testcard, ceefax and intervals between programmes.
There is a song in the musical Hair called "Frank Mills", although the number has nothing to do with this artist.
- "Frank Mills", The Canadian Pop Encyclopedia
- Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2002; Joel Whitburn's Top Adult Contemporary 1961-1993
- American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, March 10, 1979.
- Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2008; Joel Whitburn's Top Adult Contemporary 1961-2006
- The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Albums, 3rd ed.
- Joel Whitburn's Top Adult Contemporary 1961-1993