The Songwriters – Diane Warren

The 1990s. An eerie, all-pervading shadow descends on the earth. The synthesisers and sequencers and samplers have taken over. Technical advances allow bad singers to have their false notes corrected by computers. Producers and entrepreneurs are the new superstars. Songwriters are banished into the past, where their old-fashioned skills are still valued, but they are now an underground movement.

Talent is revealed as an abstract notion, a gift conferred on the naive but grasping, the desperately ambitious, by the new elite; the Technocrats. Panels of TV “experts” guide a gullible public in what should be considered good.

A bleak, barren, shiny, antiseptic world masquerades as the entertainment industry. And at the same time, oddly, technology allows small-time individuals to create and make available their own little creations.

And then, out of the deafening darkness of high-tech production, there emerges a latter-day Aladdin’s Lamp of song who has been there all along: Diane Warren.

She’s a strange woman, by all accounts. Writers of pop songs inevitably plough the fields of love and romance, but Warren’s life appears to have been notably short of those things. Even her mother has been quoted as saying she should stop writing for a while and get out more.

Let’s start with Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion. The French-Canadian beanpole has a tremendously strong voice, but it’s nothing without killer material, and Warren specializes in that. Everybody goes to her when they need a hit. Even reformed rock bad boys Aerosmith, who no longer needed the money to buy cocaine and booze because they had given it up. They took I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing into the dainty but lucrative environs of the pop charts.

The man with the huge voice and matching hair (apart from a drastically receding front half), Michael Bolton, was furnished by Warren with How Can We Be Lovers (If We Can’t Be Friends). Incidentally, on a personal note I am very grateful for the intro, in which he sings the title, tipping me off so I have time to hit the off button before the song really gets going.

Cher has always provided work for writers, and contributed to Warren’s bulging retirement plan with If I Could Turn Back Time.

A relatively early hit for Warren was Rhythm Of The Night, a cheerful latiny hit for DeBarge in the days when Gloria Estefan ruled.

If I haven’t said anything complimentary about Warren’s songs so far it’s because by and large I find them efficient rather than affecting. But they can’t all be like that, and sure enough there’s Toni Braxton’s Unbreak My Heart, which can take on a suitably noble, sob-worthy aspect after a few Merlots.

Even better is country gal Leann Rimes with How Do I Live, which brandishes some real emotion amid the clever chord changes.

So, we may not be able to think of any straight off, but there are hundreds of this woman’s songs in existence. Johnny Mathis, Tony Hadley, Jody Watley, Jimmy Barnes, Gary Barlow, Chicago, MeatLoaf, Deniece Williams, Joan Jett…  The bountiful catalogue of Diane Warren is all around us.

 

 

Advertisements

The Songwriters – Albert Hammond

Here’s a man who has been making  a very good living writing songs for  decades without quite becoming a household name.

Albert Hammond has several claims to fame: he’s the guy who, in the early 1970s, did It Never Rains In Southern California and Free Electric Band, both hits in his own name. Fast forward 30 years and he had a rock star son: Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes.

But what of the rest of the life of Albert Hammond Sr? Well, let’s start with The Air That I Breathe, an anthemic hit for The Hollies in 1974, and since covered by a  host of acts from Cilla Black to Judy Collins and Julio Iglesias to Simply Red.

But none of these songs represented the start for Hammond. In 1967 there was a cutesy (i.e. irritating) song by Leapy Lee called Little Arrows, while Irish middle-of-the-road singer Joe Dolan did well in 1969 with Make Me An Island.

This is the sort of opening salvo of a songwriter’s career that makes it quite clear he’s not going to sit around and wait for his mature classic to appear; he has a living to make and whatever catchy nonsense falls from his brain, he’s going to make some money from it if he can.

While the following are nothing to be ashamed of – and they sold in chart-making quantities in the UK – they’re unlikely to make  many people’s list of classics either: Freedom Come Freedom Go (Blue Mink), Gimme Dat Ding (The Pipkins) and Good Morning Freedom (The Fortunes).

As it happens, Hammond’s gift did mature. From his early days working with Mike Hazlewood (he always wrote with a partner) he went on to collaborate with Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager and Diane Warren, none of whom would have wanted to taint themselves with substandard material.

The songs that flowed from Albert Hammond after the initial period form part of the adult-oriented rock canon, from  Tina Turner’s I Don’t Want To Lose You to One Moment In Time, Whitney Houston’s version of which was used as the theme song for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (I don’t know if they used Little Arrows during the archery events) .

Hal David provided the words for 1984’s To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before (Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson), while Diane Warren was on the scene by the time of Don’t Turn Around, originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler but a hit for Aswad in 1989 and Ace of Bass later on.

One rather strange credit for Albert Hammond is connected with Radiohead’s breakthrough hit Creep, which some people seemed to think bore enough of a similarity to The Air That I Breathe to warrant a threat of legal action. I must have listened to both songs a hundred times and it never occurred to me, but Radiohead conceded there was a strong similarity and Hammond settled out of court for a percentage of the royalties.

The mercenary nature of the music business was demonstrated again when  Starship, which had evolved from the ultra-hip 1960s counterculture beast that was Jefferson Airplane, made a bucketload of money out of Hammond and Warren’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.

Mission accomplished, then, for Albert Hammond, who has done what he was put on this earth to do – and good luck to him (and thanks for one or two nice ones along the way).

 

The Wisdom of Pop Songs – The drugs don’t work

drug 4
If your thing is done and you want to ride on: cocaine. Don’t forget this fact, you can’t get it back, cocaine. She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie…

It is true to say that people who work in the music business  are more likely to use drugs than, say, bricklayers or accountants. Anyone can get hold of something if they really want to, but if you’re a professional musician, you won’t have to try too hard. It sounds like fun to many people, and most will try something and either continue with it occasionally or just decide they don’t want to do that.

Smoking cannabis is like a rite of passage in such circles, but what worries non-users who care about someone who is exposed to that world is that the same people who sell a bit of grass are quite likely to have access to other things.

The 1960s saw an explosion in freedom of choice, and for a while everyone was happy. But trouble was lurking, as Steppenwolf pointed out in The Pusher.

The dealer is a man with a lump of grass in his hand
But the pusher is a monster and God he’s not a natural man
Goddam, goddam the pusher

drug 2
Come on – do I look like I smoke dope?

Then the drug-related deaths started to happen.

Whatever you believe about the 1970 demise of Jimi Hendrix – and ‘choked on his own vomit’ tells only part of the story among the conspiracy theories –  he was no choirboy. A gentle, peaceful character by all accounts, despite the media’s portrayal of him as the ‘wild man of pop’, he was living the rock’n’roll lifestyle all right, and that didn’t mean mineral water and early nights.

Janis Joplin’s number was up around that time, too, with heroin and alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.

Jim Morrison checked out of the hotel of life soon afterwards, with heart failure blamed for his departure and no autopsy performed. A heroin overdose is widely believed to be the real cause.

And so to the death of Gram Parsons, who succumbed to a mixture of morphine and alcohol.

drug 1
The ‘Jake’ they were encouraging to clean up his act was guitarist Paul Kossoff (centre, front) and guess what – he died of  a “heroin-related heart problem”

With ‘drugs’ now considered all one thing by many people, in the US and elsewhere the ‘Just say no’ campaign sent a clear message to the youngsters who are presented, as on a conveyor belt, as potential customers for the purveyors of drugs, prescription and illegal alike. But even though the next generations couldn’t claim they weren’t aware of the dangers, and their spokespeople may have said the right things, humans are fallible.

drug 5
Yeah, cos it’s like serious. It’s by our friend Ed Sheeran and it’s called… The A Team

The bravado continued.

While the highly intelligent, studious Walter Becker of Steely Dan gained worldwide respect for his contribution to their music, he and Donald Fagen (but I suspect Walter either wrote or strongly influenced the lyrics) gave us Time Out of Mind and the blasé lines

Tonight when I chase the dragon
The water may change to cherry wine
And the silver will turn to gold

Becker is still alive, but in 1978, before the song was released on 1980’s Gaucho album, he was sued over his girlfriend’s overdose death in his apartment. Shortly after Gaucho, Steely Dan split up and he moved to Hawaii, where apparently he managed to quit drugs altogether.

Johnny Thunders, one-time guitarist with the New York Dolls and then his own band the Heartbreakers, bragged about his drug use on Chinese Rocks and duly died a drug-related death years later.

Whitney Houston came through a stormy, cocaine-fuelled marriage to Bobby Brown, only to fall victim to her weakness in 2012.

Amy Winehouse’s breakthrough album Back to Black is like a diary of her substance-abusing life. On Rehab she proudly declares that they’re trying to get her to enter a rehabilitation program but “I won’t go, go, go”.

drug 3
The man said “Why you think you’re here?”  I said “I have no idea”

It was tragically predictable that, with that wonderful album under her belt and a bountiful future ahead of her, she wouldn’t be able to get it together and live a careful life, although the terrible irony is that when alcohol finally nailed her it was because she had been dry for a while and had lost her tolerance to it, so when she hit the bottle like old times, her body couldn’t handle it.

And so it goes on. Defiant and foolhardy, the rebels carry on while knowing it can only lead to trouble.

The warning songs continue too, such as Ed Sheeran’s song The A Team, about a crack-addicted prostitute, which was covered by teen sensations One Direction.

But it won’t stop the tide. Rock’n’roll is rebellious, and if you tell it not to do something… it’s not going to listen.