Howard Stern has long proclaimed himself to be the “King of All Media,” but after reaching the top in radio, TV, the big screen and the New York Times bestseller list, the SiriusXM satellite radio icon has one last medium he’s eager to vanquish: the Billboard Hot 100 chart. After weeks of hype, Stern invited Oscar- and Grammy-nominated producer Mark Ronson into the studio on Tuesday morning (Jan. 29) to reveal the details of the surefire hit single the pair have been working on.
The unnamed track, written by longtime Stern show staffer Fred Norris, is slated to be recorded on Tuesday afternoon after Stern said Ronson put in “50 hours” of work on the song. “I’m yelling at Fred, because Fred’s a good songwriter and I said, ‘Fred, write me a hit song, get to work on something,” Stern said about the origins of his follow-up to the 1997 Private Parts soundtrack rager “The Great American Nightmare,” recorded with Rob Zombie, which continues to act as the lead-in track to his three-days-a-week satellite show.
“So he went home and took me seriously, wrote the song, sent it to me and I said, ‘This sounds reasonable to me this song,’ and I’m no singer and it sounds reasonable,” Stern said, explaining that his goal was to record vocals similar to B-52s singer Fred Schneider’s excited yelps on “Love Shack.” “I could yell out some shit and have a hit song. I don’t want to do much. We’ll get a bunch of girls that can really sing.” Hell, he said, such non-singers as Bruce Willis, Patrick Swayze, Eddie Murphy, Soupy Sales, Don Johnson, Steve Martin, Rick Dees and, yes, Cooper have hit songs, why shouldn’t he?
So he set out to find a “young hot producer” who knows what the kids like, which led to Ronson immediately saying yes to the gig. “You weren’t supposed to say yes, now I’m all nervous,” Stern said as Ronson enthused about his lifelong Stern fandom, heaping praise on Norris’ demo for the sure-fire “hit song…I think that we can make something pretty great…Fred gave me gold, I just shaped it a little.” Trying to assuage Stern’s nervousness, Ronson said that every perfomer he’s worked with — from Bruno Mars to Ghostface Killah — have a “superpower special talent,” with Stern’s being his “golden voice” that millions of people listen to every day.
“I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t usually do,” Ronson said. “Take that voice, the platinum thing anyway, and just make it the star of the show.” Because Stern said he wanted some female back-up singers, Ronson recruited his pals in HAIM to record backing vocals, who said yes immediately, then tapped the horn section of The Roots to flesh out the track. And, despite his long streak of hitmaking, Ronson admitted that he was getting a bit nervous about the Stern session, since the past week has included a string of Stern superfans — including Jimmy Kimmel and the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines — asking him how the “Howard song” was going, with the latter warning him “don’t fuck this up.”
Ronson promised Stern that their song would be “bigger” than Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s hit “Shallow.” “You have a gift, all I have to do is put that gift in a shiny bow and put it on a nice beat and we can have a hit,” Ronson said. A fan of goofy ad-libs, like B52’s singer Cindy Wilson’s “tin roof, rusted” in “Love Shack,” Stern promised that the whole song with Ronson would be silly, off-the-cuff moments just like that.
Ronson also dove deeper into “Shallow,” and the long process of crafting that song with Gaga and director/actor Cooper. “I remember when he first started shooting A Star is Born, I was invited to his home and he said, ‘I want to show you something,'” Stern said of Cooper. “He showed me some clips of him singing in the early stages of filming the movie. He says, ‘I wanna know what you think,’ because you know I was a judge of America’s Got Talent and people want to know my thoughts. So I said to him you know — and I wasn’t blowing smoke up his ass — I’m pretty legit. I said to him, ‘I gotta tell ya, I think you’re pulling this off. That’s you singing?’ He goes, ‘yeah.’ I said ‘I think people will believe that you can sing. I mean it sounds really good.'”
Ronson explained that when he hit the studio early on with Gaga, Cooper was eager to explore his vocal abilities, so he recorded a cover of a Green Day song and a Radiohead song “in a lovely falsetto. I have these tapes… if I ever get hard up for money I have the lost Bradley Cooper demos,” Ronson joked. The producer also revealed that the title of his Academy Award-nominated hit with Cooper/Gaga was inspired by the film’s [spoiler alert] original tragic ending: a drowning.
“The original idea I heard was you thought Bradley Cooper’s guy he plays was going to drown at the end of the movie, so he’s going to be in what? Shallow water? Was the idea of someone drowning?” Stern asked of the sad fate that befell the male protagonists in the first two versions of Star. “She came with that idea, ‘I’m off the deep end,’ I remember she sat down at the piano…she hammered around maybe two chords and then hit something and did, ‘I’m off the deep end,’ and the kind of hairs went up…this is on to something,” Ronson said, noting that it was Cooper’s idea to make the song a duet after the original version was slated to be Gaga singing solo over the end credits after Cooper’s character’s fate is sealed.
“That felt like it was the end of the movie, but then when I saw the movie the first little bit and I saw that scene in the parking lot I thought, ‘whoa, they’ve taken this song of ours and turned it into something special,'” Ronson said. The pair did not reveal when the Stern single would be released.