“When I look back, I see a guy – with a mullet – who was so self-conscious physically. I had no performing experience when I made my first record.”
At a recent visit to Billboard’s New York studios, Richard Marx remembered his first TV appearance, on NBC’s “Tonight Show” (hosted at the time by Johnny Carson).
“Everything was so serious,” said Marx. “We’re not curing cancer, you know?
“That said, I sang in tune.”
Twenty-five years ago today, Chicago native Marx made his Billboard chart debut, as his first single, “Don’t Mean Nothing,” entered the Mainstream Rock chart dated May 23, 1987, at No. 30. Six weeks later, it hit No. 1. In August 1987, the song climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The arrival of the track set off a dominant run for Marx on multiple Billboard surveys. Marx sent each of the four singles from his self-titled debut album to the Hot 100’s top five. Second single “Should’ve Known Better” also reached No. 3, followed by the No. 2-peaking “Endless Summer Nights” and Marx’s first No. 1, 1988’s “Hold On to the Nights.”
In spring 1989, Marx released his second set, “Repeat Offender,” which that September became his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album’s first two singles topped the Hot 100: “Satisfied” and “Right Here Waiting.” When third single “Angelia” rose to No. 4, Marx set a record that still stands: the most consecutive career-opening top five entries (seven) by a new male artist in the Hot 100’s now-53-year history.
After two albums filled with melodic pop/rock ballads and uptempo tracks, Marx mixed in R&B on his third effort, 1991’s “Rush Street.” The first single, “Keep Coming Back,” ruled the Adult Contemporary chart for four weeks and became his first entry on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
Key to the song’s success? Backing vocals from Luther Vandross, with whom Marx became close friends.
“He offered to sing on the record I was making,” Marx remembered of Vandross. “I said (to him) at (a) dinner, ‘Dude, that’s like if I was having dinner with Michael Jordan and I said, ‘You know, me and my buddies play pick-up basketball in the park on Sundays’ … and Michael Jordan said, ‘You need somebody for your team?’ That’s the equivalent.”
The album also included the 1992 Hot 100 top 10 (No. 9) “Hazard,” Marx’s murder-mystery story song. Whether despite or because of its uncommon top 40 lyrical content (the listener never learns the fate of the tale’s female lead, Mary), the song remains one of his most-requested and one that he plays in every concert.
Between 1988 and 1994, Marx notched 11 consecutive AC top 10s, including the 11-week No. 1 “Now and Forever” (a No. 7 Hot 100 hit) from his 1994 album “Paid Vacation.”
By the 2000s, Marx was building his profile as a writer for other acts, with ‘N Sync sending his ballad “This I Promise You” to No. 1 (for 13 weeks) on AC and No. 5 on the Hot 100.
He also continued not only his friendship with Vandross but also their creative partnership. The pair penned Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.” The ballad, which ruled the Adult R&B chart for five weeks, earned Marx and Vandross the coveted Song of the Year Grammy Award in 2004. (Just last month, Jessica Sanchez, who squares off against Phillip Phillips in tonight’s “American Idol” 11th season finale, performed the song on the competition.) Vandross passed away in 2005.
Marx has continued to impact Billboard charts into the 2010s. When Keith Urban reached No. 1 on Country Songs with the twosome’s co-write “Long Hot Summer” last fall, Marx celebrated having written No. 1s on Billboard rankings in the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s.
Not that Marx has plans to abandon recording his own music. Last year, he released two albums, a two-CD/DVD set featuring his biggest hits rerecorded in studio and acoustic versions, as well as new top 20 AC hit “When You Loved Me,” and a Christmas EP, the latter of which yielded the No. 15 AC entry “Christmas Spirit.” Marx plans to add seven seasonal songs to the latter effort and release his first full-length holiday album this year.
Before then, fans can enjoy new song “Wouldn’t Let Me Love You,” for which he released a video on Monday (May 21).
As he marvels at his first 25 years of conquering Billboard charts, it’s not the TV appearances, No. 1 hits or industry awards that Marx remembers most fondly.
“In 1994, I played the venue that I grew up going to the most, the Poplar Creek Music Theater, outside of Chicago,” Marx recalled. “That time, I played with a symphony. I had done a few shows that tour with symphonies and my dad, who was an amazing arranger and conductor, came out with me on those shows and conducted the orchestra and did all the arrangements.
“There was something special about that particular night,” Marx said. His father, Dick Marx, Sr., had arranged the orchestration on his son’s No. 13 Hot 100 hit “Children of the Night” in 1990.
The elder Marx passed away in 1997.
“I remember being in the dressing room, going from the dressing room into the wings and then out onto the stage. It was just me and my dad alone in the dressing room right before. We just had such a great, ‘Can you believe this?’ moment.
“It trumps the Grammy. It trumps everything else.”