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Five Songs With …. Five Artists

Every artist has a story to tell, and their stories are almost always special.

Over the course of a nearly 30-year career writing about music, I have interviewed thousands of singers and musicians. The easiest way to their heart is to talk about their songs. They love to talk about their songs.

Here are five artists I have interviewed in the past, talking about their babies: their songs.


“Bette Davis Eyes” (1981), written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon; Carnes’ version spent nine weeks at No. 1 and it won the 1982 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

“We knew when we cut it that we had a winner. Beyond a doubt, we all really, really knew it. We always had people who would come back to the studio every night during the months we were cutting the album (‘Mistaken Identity’) and say, ‘I want a fix of that record. When can you play ‘Bette Davis Eyes’? I need my fix.’ By the time it came out, so many people were convinced … then there was talk at the record company of something else being the first single. I don’t think I’ve ever fought so hard for anything. Fortunately, it all worked out.”


“Beyond the Blue Horizon” (1974), an overlooked gem that saw new life in movies in the 1980s and ’90s (including “Rain Man”). Why wasn’t it a hit the first time around?

“The week it was released, the (distributing) company was going into bankruptcy so they stopped everything. People were telling us it was the No. 1 requested song, but there was no product in the stores. But it’s OK, I never thought the thing would ever die.”


“Walk-Don’t Run” (1960). Guitarist Don Wilson said the surf-rock instrumental group borrowed the Chet Atkins song for their first recording. Nokie Edwards was added to the group to play lead guitar. They took the master to Bob Reisdorff at Dolton Records, which had success with The Fleetwoods (“Mr. Blue,” “Come Softly to Me”). He turned it down. Undaunted, The Ventures gave the record to Seattle DJ Pat O’Day, who used it as the lead-in for the hourly news.

“People were calling in and asking about it,” Wilson said. “Bob Reisdorff called in, too. He said, ‘What is that? Who is that?’ He didn’t remember hearing it at all. He said, ‘How do I get a hold of them? It’s a natural hit.’ ”

Reisdorff contacted the group and then tried to sell the song to Liberty Records, hoping for wider distribution.

“He told Liberty, ‘I’ll stand behind it. If it loses money, I’ll pay for it.’ It was released and went on to become a No. 2 record.”


“Simply Irresistible” (1988). To avoid resting on his laurels and sticking to a hit-making formula, he said in a 1988 P&P interview that he relied on the musicians he worked with.

“Their names aren’t famous, but their track records are. The drummer is from New Orleans. He was with The Meters. The bass player was with Marvin Gaye for five years, and so was the keyboard player. The guitarist is a session player, who’s on everyone’s records.

“I get my inspiration from them. It’s such a rush working with them. I don’t run out of enthusiasm because most of the musicians I know are better than I am … so I’m trying to live up to music’s fabulous plane.”


“Love Rollercoaster” (1976). Let’s set the record straight about the blood-curdling scream on their No. 1 hit: Was the shriek from a woman rumored to have been murdered in the recording studio next to the Dayton-based soul group?

“That’s wrong,” singer-guitarist Sugar Bonner said, with a laugh, in 1988. “It was a filthy, vicious lie … a rumor put out by some disc jockey who couldn’t think of anything else to say at the time, so he said it and it caught on and everybody said it afterwards.”

Then, who was screaming bloody murder?

“Truthfully, it was my keyboard player, Billy Beck. He had the ability to do the Minnie Riperton in-breathing singing, where he’d suck in the air and hit a note instead of blowing air out.

“You know, we’ve been accused of a lot of things that didn’t take place. For instance, once we played at the Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip in California. That was when we had the ‘Fire’ album out and the song was a bit hit.

“While we were in the Hyatt House, it caught on fire — and there was no way in the world we could tell those people we didn’t set their place on fire. They accused us of trying to burn the joint down for publicity.”


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