Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds on Whitney Houston. Bernie Taupin, Elton John's songwriting partner. Kenny Rogers, himself. Plus Many More. Billboard talks to some of the biggest names in adult contemporary. Their perspectives? Crucial.
Top AC artist of all-time; most AC No. 1s (16); most AC chart hits of any artist (68).
Bernie Taupin, lyricist and John's primary collaborator. They started writing together in 1968, split in 1976 and resumed working together in 1983:
"Elton would call me to tell me a song had hit No. 1. . . I'm not being blasé, but I didn't relate to it that way. Elton has an extraordinary recollection of those figures. We'd write and record something . . . and someone might say, "That sounds like a hit." Then we'd write something else the next day and record it. We weren't purposely writing for a single, but it was the commodity of the '70s.
"In the earlier days we wrote before we went into the studio, and as time went by we'd write in the studio. When we did the albums in France at Château d'Hérouville [Honky Chateau, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road] it was a living and recording situation. Same thing at Caribou Ranch [where Caribou, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies were recorded].
"It was always up to the record company to pick the singles. The one they never thought of as a single was [1974's] "Bennie and the Jets," which became a single after a DJ started playing it in Detroit [on WJLB]. One of the songs I always loved was "Sacrifice" [No. 3 peak on AC in 1989]. That's a classic song. And I loved "The One" [No. 1 on AC for six weeks in 1992]."
Russ Regan, former president of UNI Records, signed John to his first U.S. record deal and worked with him from 1970 to 1973:
"I was trained by Berry Gordy [at Motown] and I loved Elton's songs and his voice. He'd been given his release from Bell Records and five record companies had already passed on him. Lennie Hodes worked for Dick James Music. He called and said . . . he thought I would get it. I did get it. Best thing was, we didn't even have to pay an advance. We brought him [to Los Angeles] and on Aug. 25, 1970, he delivered one of the top 10 greatest nights in rock concert history at the Troubadour. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to make a star.
"I look for songs that are what I call anthems. One of my favorites? [1972's] "Tiny Dancer." I was in London, in the studio, at the session. That was magic. Elton John-let's face it-is an incredible singer, an incredible pianist and an incredible philanthropist."
Billy Brill was senior VP of promotion at MCA in the '80s and '90s when John's AC chart No. 1s included "Healing Hands" and "The One." Brill now books entertainment at casinos as CEO of Billy Alan Productions:
"When we made [1983's] "I'm Still Standing" I felt "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" was the hit single [No. 2 on AC] but Geffen wanted to go with "Blue Eyes" [two weeks at No. 1 on AC in 1982].
"When I was with Elton in the '70s at Caribou, we'd sit by the pool all day while Bernie would write. At the end of the day we'd get in the Jeep, go to the studio and they'd knock it out. Then we'd drive over to the Chicken Shack. Elton has always been competitive and he always wanted to make each song a success. He's one of a kind. When he did "The Lion King," I remember when I heard "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" [No. 1 on AC for eight weeks in 1994] I looked at Elton and said, "That's your Academy Award." He just smiled."
Johnny Barbis, who started working with John in the '70s, has been his manager since 1980:
"Elton . . . would go to eight to 10 cities with every release. He signed every autograph . . . one of the most gracious guys I've ever known . . . We traveled all over the country to do listening parties-Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, New York-and in every city he'd talk to the program directors. MCA was his home and when he came back from Geffen there was such a great feeling about it. He'd been off the radio for a few years and people came back-at top 40, on rock, AC-across the board. He always had great, fun records and that was the magic. It was in the records. He could come back tomorrow with a great record and get it on the radio today. Elton is the one who has transcended all these years."
All as told to Phil Gallo.