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Songwriter Diane Warren Talks Penning LeAnn Rimes' Historic Hot 100 Hit 'How Do I Live'

Diane Warren
Kwaku Alston

Diane Warren photographed in 2018.

The songwriter and publishing powerhouse looks back at the 1997 single which is still the longest running song by a female artist in the history of the chart ranking.

For nearly four decades, songwriter Diane Warren has perfected the art of the power ballad. The hits she has written -- for Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand and others -- earned her an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001, the coveted International Award at the U.K.’s Ivor Novello Awards in 2008, as well as Songwriter of the Year honors from ASCAP (six times) and the Billboard Music Awards (four times), respectively. 

Today, Warren’s discography boasts a whopping nine No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” (11 weeks) and Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” (six), as well as 32 top 10s, from DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” (1985) to Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” (1989). She’s also netted 15 total Grammy nominations, including one win -- for Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” -- in 1997.

Realsongs, the publishing house which she founded in 1987, has become the most successful female-owned music publisher in the world, and was even named Billboard’s Singles Publisher of the Year in 1990. Since inking a deal with UMG in 2011, the company is now administered by Universal Music Publishing Group outside of North America, while Warren continues to self-administer her copyrights in the U.S. She has also served as a global A&R consultant for the major label over the past decade, and continues to steer fresh hits for today’s rising talent including Lizzo, Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke, Ella Mai and more. 

Warren’s countless cinematic cuts have appeared in over 100 films to date, netting her 10 Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, including Starship’s Mannequin track “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (1988), Aerosmith’s Armageddon anthem, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (1998), Lady Gaga’s The Hunting Ground anthem “Til It Happens To You” (2016) and Jennifer Hudson’s defiant RBG track “I’ll Fight” (2019). “I was crying just jumping up and down like ‘yeah double digits!” she says. “I’m Susan Lucci now I love it.” 

But it was Warren’s 1997 smash “How Do I Live” -- initially intended for the Con Air soundtrack and recorded separately by both country singer Trisha Yearwood and a then-14-year-old LeAnn Rimes -- that has made the biggest impact on the charts. Despite peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, Rimes’ version is still the longest-running song by a female artist on the chart, with 69 weeks. 

“Diane really hit the co-dependency nerve of our society with ‘How Do I Live’ -- it’s played at weddings, funerals and just about every pivotal life-altering moment,” says Rimes. “There’s magic to great songwriters, their heartfelt lyrics and the right voice that soulfully delivers that message and we seem to have been the perfect storm. I loved it from the very moment Diane played it for me.”

Below, Warren looks back on the making of the historic hit.

 


 

After LeAnn won the best new artist Grammy [in 1996], I ran into her at a restaurant. She was the young hot artist at the time. She was just a great singer, even at that age. I told her I wrote this song for Con Air -- though I didn’t mention that there were 200 songs in contention -- and literally the next day she demoed it. After Trisha’s version ended up in the film, [LeAnn’s label] Curb Records wasn’t going to put it out, so I called [founder] Mike Curb and said, “You have to put it out. It’s a hit record for her.”

Even though LeAnn came from the country world, I figured she had a better shot at crossing over into pop, and my prediction was right. She’s one of the most underrated (and best) singers in music. Trisha had a massive career and a Grammy-winning country hit because of it, but LeAnn’s version exploded. It was everywhere. 

Trisha and LeAnn recorded them in the same key, too, so there were all these cool mash-ups. They split up territories around the world: Trisha’s was a big hit in Australia and peaked at No. 2 on Hot Country Songs in the U.S., while LeAnn had the pop hit here. Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” kept it from reaching the top, so the biggest song ever by a female artist in Billboard never went to No. 1. Numbers aren’t everything, though. I love writing the emotional ones, what can I say? I’m a song sadist: I like to rip your heart out and make you cry.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Aug. 24 issue of Billboard.

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