Composer, pianist and singer Mervyn Warren went on a whirlwind promotional tour for the Warner Bros. film "Joyful Noise" last week flying cross-country to appear on "Late Night With David Letterman" with Dolly Parton on Thursday, performing with Queen Latifah and Parton on "Today" on Thursday morning and then fly back to L.A. for a Society of Composers and Lyricists screening and Q&A Thursday night.
The film, which opened Friday the 13th, concerns a gospel choir from Georgia as it attempts to win several competitions while Parton and Latifah feud as their offspring become romantically linked. Warren's key role was to take the songs Todd Graff wrote into the script and give them modern gospel arrangements. When they did a read-through for producers Alcon Entertainment in 2009, they included six performances to demonstrate the impact the music would have.
(L-R) Dolly Parton, Mervyn Warren and Queen Latifah go over a song in the green room of the 'Today' show Thursday morning. (Photo: Ray Costa)
The film was budgeted in the $30 million-$35 million range and Warren estimated the music costs were "in the ballpark of $2 million." He broke down the creation of critical musical moments for the audience at the screening at the Harmony Gold screening room in Los Angeles.
Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." "One of the most expensive covers. Todd and I were amazed at what they were charging - it was staggering. Todd and I said there was no way Alcon will pay for this. We couldn't find another song that did what that song does lyrically. Fortunately, it was one of the songs performed at the read-through and Alcon (approved the synch), even with that high price tag."
Siedah Garrett and Glenn Ballard's "Man in the Mirror." "Siedah is one of my best friends and I even called her one day to say 'bitch, I'm putting more money in your pocket.' When I arrange anything, I (aim to) make a record. I had a lot of ideas, but I couldn't use them because it's early in the film. The band had to be small, it had to be relatively simple so I couldn't go crazy instrumentally because of where we were in the film."
Usher's "Yeah!" (written by Lil Jon, Sean Garret, Patrick J. Que Smith, Ludacris, Robert McDowell and LRoc). "The medley (performed near the film's conclusion) went through several versions. The original version didn't have Usher's 'Yeah.' It was 'I'm bringing Jesus back.' That's what it was until last summer and Justin (Timberlake) wouldn't let us use it. The way it was communicated was that he was tired of the song. We swapped that out with 'Yeah!'"
Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." "This was one of the more bizarre things. Right before shooting (began) in the summer of 2010, Todd said 'we don't have a big feature for Latifah in the medley. We have to add something.' Everyone loves ('Signed, Sealed, Delivered') but what I wanted to use was ('As'). For some reason we got clearance on 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' but they didn't answer us on 'As.' The music supervisors called and called and I even called and left a message for Stevie saying 'we really want to do this and we're recording in a week so we need to know. Yes or no.' Stevie didn't call me back. Now, with 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' there, I can't imagine it any other way."
Billy Preston's "That's the Way God Planned It." Recording based on Billy Preston's live version (on 'Concert for Bangladesh'). "I don't like songs, as a rule, that speed up. I like energy, but I don't like things that start slow and build tempo so I got rid of it, not knowing that Todd loved that part. He says 'what happened to the fast part? I have to have that.' Rather than guessing about (how to adjust the arrangement), I did exactly what Billy does - you can line it up with the Billy Preston performance, they match exactly. The song has no bridge, it's verse chorus, verse chorus, so I wrote (a bridge) and used phrases from the existing song. Todd did not initially like that because it's not in the original. I felt it needed something else and did it, and he said it's probably going to come out. I said OK. It's still there."