Benny Mardones, hit song, One Hit Wonder, songwriter, songwriting

Into the Night – Two Time One Hit Wonder

(I know, this video is a generic fan montage, so close your eyes and concentrate on the song)

Chart Success
“Into the Night” is a 1980 song by singer-songwriter Benny Mardones, re-released in 1989. It is unique for being the only recording to ever ascend and hit the top 20 on the Billboard Charts twice. This happened in 1980, and in 1989. Both chartings were the same recording, and in between fell completely off the charts.

Regional Hit
Being from Canada, I had never heard of that song when growing up in the 80s. It was mainly popular in the US. I recently heard it in one of those late night “buy all the hits” commercial and just couldn’t believe how good the song was (even from a 10 second clip). Mardones’ voice on this recording is very reminiscent of Journey’s Steve Perry, which was at the top of the chart around the same time. I have this theory that maybe this was a factor in its initial success. This was the era of the big male voices.

One Hit Wonder, But Still Tryin’
Right after the initial hit, Mardones was unable to capitalize on the first hit because of drug and depression problems. It’s a very sad story, but not uncommon in the music industry. Mardonnes is now an independent. In this interview, he mentions that he will never be on the same record label as Michael Bolton because they have similar voices. I dunno about that. If he had another great songs like this, I’m sure someone would make an exception…

Billy Steinberg, Celine Dion, hit song, I Drove All Night, Roy Orbison, song arrangement, songwriter, songwriting

I Drove All Night – Same Song, 3 Visions

A song becomes immortal when several performers can cover it and make it a hit. However, it is quite rare for this to happen 3 times in less than 20 years. This is exactly what happened with “I drove All Night”. The song was written by Billy Steinberg, songwriter of such hits as Pat Benatar’s “Fire and Ice”, Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”. Originally written for Roy Orbison, it became a global hit for Cyndi Lauper and Celine Dion.

What makes this song extra-special is that:

  • 1) It’s gender neutral – The lyrics could apply equally for a man or a woman. These are the most universal of all songs, and therefore the most precious.
  • 2) It requires an enormous range – The climb in the pre-chorus and the outro was specially-designed for Roy Orbison’s three octave range. Therefore, only a world-class vocal talent can approach this song and give it justice.

Now, let’s compare each version and spot the differences…

Original Roy Orbison’s version.

The arrangement is very guitar-oriented. Like Orbison’s other work, it was designed to be as a country-tinted pop song. My favorite of all three.

Cyndi Lauper’s version

Synthesizer-based arrangement. Lauper added her patented “She bop” styled vocals, complete with hiccups. It has it’s moment. She does the outro perfectly. Just lovely.

Celine Dion’s Version

That’s probably the version most people will remember. Personally, I would have gone for an orchestral arrangement for Celine instead of that dance trackas they don’t age very well. Then again Celine originally did it for a car commercial, so she was probably not thinking about longevity. Quite good anyway.

Music Ind, Music Industry, Promotion, Serj Tankian, System Of A Down, YouTube

Serj Tankian Interviews Serj Tankian

This is by far the best promotional pre-release video ever made. Serj Tankian is the lead singer for System Of A Down but also he is also a master at communication and satire. Man, if I blink twice, I’d swear he is the reincarnation of the late Frank Zappa.

In the video, Serj manages to bring forth some pretty deep subjects while being entertaining and goofy. A bit like a rock’n-roll John Stewart. Very effective.

I will always remember System oOf A Down as the band who released the biggest album of their lives (Toxicity) on the week of 9/11. It was really the perfect soundtrack for the end of the world. Just to be safe, I’ll be in Iceland when his new album drops in November.

hit song, Hook, Music Video, Rihanna, Terius "The Dream" Nash, Terius Nash

Umbrella – Anatomy Of A Global Hit

The Song
Umbrella is a worldwide hip-hop/pop crossover and first single released from Rihanna’s third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad. It was written by songwriter/producer Terius “The Dream” Nash who is also signed to Islan/Def-Jam as an artist.

Umbrella is really remarkable for three things:

  • 1) It was passed over by many well known artists before being recorded by Rihanna.— The song was originally offered to Britney Spears with the lyrics written especially for her, however she turned it down. The song was then offered to Mary J. Blige; she also turned it down. This makes me wonder how developed was the demo before being presented to them. Sometime people cannot ear anything until a demo is fully produced. Jay-Z has a good ear for great hooks, so it must have been easier for him to extrapolate.
  • 2) It was originally written with Apple’s Garageband— The beat from Umbrella is a loop taken from Apple’s Garageband. Now, we’ve all heard about indy bands using Garageband but generally, they will use anything that produce a sound as long as it’s free. It’s the first time GarageBand is mentioned in the context of a wildly popular pop song.
  • 3) The Production Was Kept Simple— Technically, this song is near perfect. The rap at the beginning is optional and is frequently removed by many radio DJs. The chorus and verses hooks are massive. For me, the bridge is not as strong as the verse and the chorus but it ends with a nice climb that perfectly prepare for a last round of choruses. This song would have been so easy to overproduce, I’m glad that they kept it simple and to the point.

The Video
The Umbrella video is from filmmaker Chris Applebaum. I must admit that this video has some pretty good visual ideas. The metallic makeup has been done before (James Bond, Spandau Ballet, etc.), but this whole “animated covergirl magazine page look with the water splashes” is quite effective.

This video has tons of post-processing and glossy compositing, which I love. Check out the other videos on his web site. The progression from 1994 to now is incredible. He went from trashy low-budget handy-cam stuff to this glossy hyper-processed glam look that he has now. Oh, and Rihanna looks incredible, as usual…

DIY, Hanson, Music Industry, songwriter, songwriting

Hanson Vs The Record Industry

Strong Enough To Break is a 12-part documentary relating the events surrounding the release of Hanson’s third album, “Underneath”. For those who don’t know, Hanson is a band of three young brothers from Oklahoma who had a huge global hit in 1997 entitled “MmmBop”. After some major label musical chair, they ended up on a Rap Label (Island/Def Jam) with Jeff Fenster (best known for Britney Spears and the Back Street Boys) as their A&R. They couldn’t satisfy Mr. Fenster, got dropped and ended up starting their own record company (3CG Records) to release and promote their record independently. That saga spanned over three years.

80 Songs, No Hit
I found this very instructive because it shed light on what it feels to be an artist under a big record label. You can feels the boys’ frustration as they are told by their A&R that the 80 songs they had written so far sucked and that they should try to write some songs with Glen Ballard (Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” co-writer and producer). Predictably, Ballard couldn’t do anything with three bruised egos and promptly gave up. They even went to Mile Copland’s (The Police, Sting, The Bangles) famed songwriter boot camp chateau in France to write with Carole King (“It’s too late”).

One Sided
Obviously the whole film is totally one-sided and the rest of the Hanson family is conveniently absent, so as to make us believe that the boys are taking all the decisions. I would also venture to guess that the Island/Def-Jam exec had a totally different view of the events. After all, they bankrolled Hanson’s recordings to the tune of several hundred thousands and ended up with not hit and a scatting documentary for their trouble. In fact, at one point, Hanson’s manager calls Fenster a “douchebag”. That gotta hurt. Read this TAXI interview with Jeff Fenster to see that he is not that bad after all.

Street Cred
This film also brought Hanson something they’ve never had before: street credibility. In the film, they come off as three intelligent, clean-cut, talented guys who don’t drink, don’t smoke and most importantly live to write songs and play music. They even did a tour of college campuses showing the film and giving talks about the record industry and making it as independents. We can all learn something from these guys. Go Hanson!

Fake, Mary Digby, YouTube

Mary Faked It


It happened again. Another record company has tried to market a new artist as an “internet sensation”, except this time, they could not get away with it. The Wall Street Journal broke this story about Mary Digby, a Disney-backed singer songwriter who went around telling everyone: “I NEVER in a million years thought that doing my little video of Umbrella in my living room would lead to this . tv shows, itunes, etc !!!”. Notice how even her web site looks like she did it herself with carefully blurred photos and that ever elusive “web 1.0” ghetto feel.

This latest incident led me to reflect a little bit about the current state of artist promotion.

Been There Done That
The thing is, record companies always promoted their artists by pretending that they did it on their own. They’ve long recognized that fans did not like to feel being manipulated. Not appearing like being “commercial” is actually part of the act, from Radiohead to Bob Dylan. Anyone remember the name of managers and record companies behind these acts? See? What we do remember are the stories of how their popularity grew “organically” from nothing until they became the superstars we all know.

Zappa Says Thanks
Then there’s Frank Zappa. He was so grateful for the support he received early in his career from the great Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic) that he named one of his son after him. Zappa also understood something else: that by starting his own label, he could do his own promotion and make more money even while selling fewer records. That’s the thing with record label promotion: if it has to look like you’re doing it yourself, why not go ahead and do it yourself – for real?