Backstage Pass: Songwriters Hall of Fame - When I Wrote That Hit

The Songwriters Hall of Fame will celebrate the 100th anniversary of ASCAP, the 75th anniversary of "Over the Rainbow" and these ­songwriters, ready to reminisce.

Doug Morris, chairman/CEO, Sony Music, "Sweet Talkin' Guy": "I was working in A&R for Laurie Records, the label Dion was on, when I wrote 'Sweet Talkin' Guy.' It was very heavily influenced by one of The Supremes' songs. I was writing it for The Chiffons, so lyrically it would have to be something that they were interested in. They loved it and did a great live take on it. As soon as it came out, WMCA [in New York] played it and the reaction was immediate. It was really exciting to me. You could hear it everywhere you went. [It] gave me good insight into the way the artists must feel when they had a big hit. But compared to the other writers of the period, who were so much better than me, I knew I wasn't destined [for that career]. I realized I wasn't a great songwriter - but could recognize a hit. Without the song, there is nothing."

Donovan, "Sunshine Superman": "[This] is a love song for my muse, Linda Lawrence, but at the same time I was blending classics and Latin, folk music and poetry in one song. We were in Abbey Road [Studios], and writing three songs every day. I would play songs, and [producer] Mickie Most would say, 'That's the single.' [Creative companion] Gypsy Dave and I went off to Greece with about three quid in my pocket. The phone rang, and Ashley Kozak, my manager, said, 'Get yourself back to Athens, you've got a first-class ticket to London. 'Superman's' released and it's No. 1 all over the world.' "

Graham Gouldman, "I'm Not in Love": "We didn't know how successful 'I'm Not in Love' would be, but we knew it was great. We'd turn the lights out in the studio and listen to it. It was [10cc co-writer] Eric Stewart's title; that set the template for the melancholic style. Kevin [Godley] came up with a slower rhythm for it, and Lol [Creme] had the idea for the 'big boys don't cry' bit. There was something there right from the beginning, and Eric's vocal is fantastic, it's just perfect."

Jim Weatherly, "Midnight Train to Georgia": "Lee Majors was a friend and he'd just started dating Farrah Fawcett. I called one day and she answered the phone. She mentioned she was packing to take a midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. It rung like a bell to me. After I got off the phone, I wrote 'Midnight Train to Georgia' in about 30 minutes. I never expected an R&B record. But [Gladys Knight's] producers got it [and I] was totally blown away that Gladys and the Pips could put it into that kind of harmony."

Ray Davies, The Kinks, "You Really Got Me": "I was about 15 and trying to write some songs. The first was 'Tired of Waiting for You,' and then I wrote a more aggressive version, which became 'You Really Got Me.' It was a basic riff, with a melody popping over the top and a crucial key change. The sound of the guitar was almost as loud as the sound of the vocals, which was unknown for records, and still is, really. The riff was all-important, and the chanting was almost primal, so in retrospect, it was the start of hard rock."

Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons, "Radioactive": "When I wrote 'Radioactive,' I had no idea it would resonate like it has. I was writing in the studio with Alex [Da Kid, producer]. We came up with this heavy beat and instrumental that just felt like an awakening. The song is about becoming self-empowered and saying, 'I'm happy with the choices I'm making.' It's about sweating off all the dust and grime of self-doubt and judgment, and embracing who you are."

Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff, "Me and Mrs. Jones": "We used to go to a bar downstairs from our office. An elderly gentleman, a judge, used to come in every day. Not long after him, a young girl would come in. We watched them quite a few times and the idea for ["Me and Mrs. Jones"] came," says Gamble. "I knew the judge and I knew that young girl wasn't his wife," adds Huff. "Songwriters have antennas that go up. That's the way Gamble wrote the story. He demonstrated this riff to me, 'Got a thing going on.' I sat down and started playing. Then Gamble started freestyling the lyrics. The spontaneity really got us going." Gamble recalls: "The song's basic structure was done in a couple of hours. Billy [Paul]'s unusual voice fit the song perfectly."

Mark James, "Hooked on a Feeling": I wrote this song for B.J. [Thomas]. I am thinking, how do you take a mellow artist and make him exciting? One night, around 3 a.m., 'Hooked on a Feeling' came to me. My idea was trying to say when you have a love for someone, you're as hooked as if on drugs or booze. I did have a love for somebody; this is very personal to me. It came all at once - the music and the lyrics, like a gift. I just tried to write down what I heard in my head as fast as I could. All the pieces fit perfectly. B.J. loved the song."

 

As told to Cathy Applefeld Olson, Ed Christman, Gail Mitchell and Paul Sexton.

For more ­comments, go to Billboard.com/songwriters.


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