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Back to the 80s: Interview with songwriter Billy Steinberg - Kickin' it Old School
03.10.12 (6:41 pm)   [edit]
As I feel the need to say each time, I am so pleased that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Billy Steinberg

This time that awesomeness is Billy Steinberg. Again, you might not recognize his name, but you should certainly recognize some of his incredible work. Steinberg is half of the songwriting duo along with Tom Kelly who wrote an impressive five #1 singles for five different artists during the 80s. These include some of the biggest hits for Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Heart, Whitney Houston and The Bangles. Their songs have also been recorded by REO Speedwagon, Tina Turner, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Rod Stewart and The Pretenders among others. You will find out which of those hits they helped author and how those songs came to be as we get on to some selections from my interview with Billy Steinberg...

Q: Did you always want to be a songwriter or did you originally want to be the rock star yourself? When and how did you start your career as a songwriting lyricist?

Billy: In the mid-1960s, I was the lead singer in two high school rock bands. We covered songs by the Animals, the Kinks, the Byrds and the Rolling Stones. I started writing songs when I was a freshman at Bard College in upstate New York. My grandmother had given me a Gibson acoustic guitar. I used it to put poems that I had been writing to music. My earliest songs were folk songs, influenced by Bob Dylan, Donovan and Paul Simon. It never occurred to me to write songs for other singers.  Billy SteinbergI wanted to record my own songs.

After college, I went to work in my father's table grape vineyard in the Coachella Valley in Southern California. On the side, I continued to write songs. In the late 1970s, I formed a rock band called Billy Thermal. Thermal was the name of the small town where our vineyard operations were based. Billy Thermal was a New Wave band. I was attracted to the sounds of bands like Blondie, The Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Billy Thermal began performing at clubs in Los Angeles, like Madame Wong's, Bla Bla Cafe, Cafe 88 and the Troubador. We were signed by Richard Perry to his label, Planet Records. That record was never released but three of the songs were cut by other artists. Linda Ronstadt had a Top 10 hit with "How Do I Make You." Pat Benatar cut "I'm Gonna Follow You" and "Precious Time." I wrote these songs by myself, words and music. Around this time, I started to realize that, perhaps, I was a better writer than I was a singer/performer. I also saw that songwriting could be lucrative.

Q: Please discuss any of your personal musical influences and who molded and inspired the amazing songwriter you have become.

Billy: Since I was a child, I have absolutely loved songs. In 1958, at the age of eight, I began collecting records. My earliest favorites included "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Bird Dog" by the Everly Brothers, "Yakety Yak" by the Coasters and "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson. I listened to my records over and over. The words and melodies were soothing and transporting. I was hooked. There are many artists who have delighted and inspired me. Some of my favorites include Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. I love the blues. I have listened extensively to Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. Songwriting teams like Leiber & Stoller, Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, and Barry & Greenwich have been influences.

Q: In the 80s, you formed quite the partnership with Tom Kelly. Steinberg & KellyWhen and how did the two of you meet each other? Was it just a natural partnership? What can you tell us about Tom Kelly and what he brought to the songwriting process? Is it true that you usually came up with the lyrics first and then wrote the music to the lyrics?

Billy: In 1981, I met Tom Kelly at a party at the residence of producer Keith Olsen. We agreed to try writing together. Since I had written most of my songs alone, I didn't have preconceived notions about whether I was better as a lyricist or as a music and melody writer. Almost immediately, I could see that Tom was the superior musician. He also excelled at writing melodies. Tom was influenced by great melody writers like Brian Wilson, Lennon & McCartney, Smokey Robinson, and Holland, Dozier & Holland. In my songs, I had always written the lyrics ahead of the music. Luckily, Tom was able to adapt to this technique. I would always arrive at our songwriting sessions with prepared lyric ideas.

Q: The two of you had a huge hit with 1984's "Like a Virgin" recorded by Madonna. Please take us back to when the song was written. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? What inspired it? How long did it take to write? Did you write it specifically for Madonna to sing? How similar was Madonna's version to your original demo recording? Any interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating this iconic hit?

Billy: Tom had a high, Like A Virginpowerful singing voice. He was a sought after session singer. Most of our early songs were written in the rock style, like "Alone", which later became a hit for Heart. In 1983, I wrote a lyric that was based on some trials in my personal life. The title was provocative: "Like A Virgin". The first verse reads:

I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
I didn't know how lost I was
Until I found you
I was beat, incomplete
I'd been had, I was sad and blue
But you made me feel
Yeah, you made me feel shiny and new

Knowing Like A Virginwhat I had been through and reading these words, Tom's instinct was to approach it as a ballad. But because of the title, the sincere ballad approach didn't work. We tried on several occasions to write a song to my "Like A Virgin" lyric. One day, out of frustration, Tom started playing a Motown-inspired bass line while singing the lyrics in falsetto. Immediately, I got excited and said, "That's it!" After finding the direction, we finished writing the song quickly.

We made a very simple, but effective demo of "Like A Virgin" with Tom singing falsetto. I added some background vocals. We wrote the song before anyone had ever heard of Madonna. We tried pitching the song to several A&R guys but no one responded favorably. The general comment was that the song was catchy, but that the title was bizarre and would not fit any artist.

Then, Tom and I had a meeting with Warner Brothers A&R man, Michael Ostin. He loved our demo of "Like A Virgin" and thought it would suit Madonna perfectly. Several days later, he told us that she loved the song and would be recording it. Her management asked for a piece of the publishing, but we refused, feeling confident that she wouldn't drop the song under any circumstances. We were right. Madonna recorded "Like A Virgin" in New York with producer Nile Rodgers. They followed our demo exactly and Madonna imitated every nuance of Tom's vocal and even incorporated some of my background vocal ideas on her record. When Madonna recorded it, even as our demo faded out, on the fade you could hear Tom saying, "When your heart beats, and you hold me, and you love me..." MadonnaHer record ends with the exact same little ad-libs that our demo did, so Madonna must have listened to it very, very carefully and liked what we'd done. It rarely happens that someone studies your demo so carefully that they even use all those little details. I guess we were sort of flattered in some ways how carefully she followed our demo. "Like A Virgin" was our first #1 song. Tom and I would go on to have five #1 hits in 5 years.

"Like A Virgin" was released in November of 1984 as the first single from her sophomore album of the same name. It was a huge success becoming Madonna's first #1 (of twelve) on the Billboard Hot 100 when it reached the top spot right before Christmas and stayed there for six weeks. It is considered one of the best pop songs of the decade and, along with "Material Girl", helped make Madonna a superstar and drive the album to become one of the best-selling of all time eventually selling over 21 million copies worldwide. Her live performance in a wedding dress on the MTV Video Music Awards show helped secure her status as a pop culture icon. Here is the music video for "Like A Virgin" by Madonna...


Madonna - Like A Virgin by Warner-Music

Q: Did you have any feeling that this song was going to be something special when you wrote it? What were your feelings when you heard the final recording of your song by Madonna back then? That song certainly launched Madonna's career into the stratosphere, what did it do for yours?

Billy: I knew when we wrote "Like A Virgin" that it was a special song. Musically, it was infectious, influenced by the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself". But lyrically, it was from a different planet. The missing ingredient was to find the right artist to sing it. Madonna was perfect. With a name like Madonna, "Like A Virgin", hello?! The song launched her career and ours as hit songwriters.


True ColorsQ: In 1986, Cyndi Lauper had a huge hit with "True Colors". What is the back story about how that song originated? What inspired it? Was it long or difficult to write? Did you write it specifically for Lauper to sing? How similar was her version to your original demo recording? Any other details you can let us in on from creating this beautiful song?

Billy: The lyrics for "True Colors" were originally written about my Mom and the original first verse lyric was completely different from the one that is in the Cyndi Lauper hit.

Original first verse:
You've got a long list
With so many choices
A ventriloquist
With so many voices
And your friends in high places
Say where the pieces fit
You've got too many faces
In your makeup kit

It was much more personal than the lyric that ended up in the Cyndi Lauper song.Steinberg with Cyndi Lauper
Final first verse:
You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged
Oh, I realize
It's hard to find courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside of you
Makes you feel so small

Tom and I got together and we wrote "True Colors" using my original verse and the chorus lyric that is still the chorus. But Tom said me that he felt the chorus was very universal and that the verse was not; that the verse was specifically about a certain person. So he suggested that I re-write the verse to make it universally appealing like the chorus, which I did. So it took a long time to write "True Colors" because of this situation with the lyric re-write.Steinberg & Kelly It was written at a time when I wasn't particularly adept at doing re-writes, so it took a lot of coaxing by Tom and a lot of unpleasant sort of work by me to re-write the verses. I shouldn't say unpleasant, it was just hard for me to do because I wasn't used to having to re-write a song.

Tom and I, once the song was finished being written, made a demo of it. We used "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Let It Be" as sort of models for the demo we made. We went with the big, mainstream gospel-influenced ballad approach. We sent it around to different artists and we were lucky because Cyndi Lauper was the one who recorded it. And I say we were lucky because if other more middle-of-the-road artists would have done the song, they might've followed our demo which wasn't necessarily a great road map. I think it was an effective demo, but I think Cyndi's record was a lot more special. So I have to give her a lot of credit because, whereas Madonna copied our demo on "Like A Virgin", Cyndi did not copy our demo for "True Colors". She really invented her own very exquisitely beautiful version.

The song is certainly built around that inspiring chorus:
But I see your true colors shining through
I see your true colors, that's why I love you
Don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
Your true colors are as beautiful as a rainbow

"True Colors" was released in July of 1986 as the first single from Cyndi Lauper's second album of the same name. It would go on to be her second (and final) #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it held the top spot for two weeks starting on October 25, 1986. It became the theme song for Kodak's film processing commercial campaign which gave it additional exposure. Phil Collins later recorded a nice cover version of his own in 1998. Here is the music video for "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper...


Q: What were your feelings when you heard the final recording of your song by Lauper back then?

Billy: When I first heard Cyndi's version I was taken aback because it was so different from our demo and usually a demo is more sparse than a record ends up being. But in this case it was the opposite. Our demo was rather lavish with background vocals, strings and a big piano sound. Cyndi's record was a lot more stripped down. So it really made a big impression on me and I liked it right away. It was a great creative effort by Cyndi.

Q: In 1987, Heart recorded a version of your i-Ten song "Alone". How did it come to be that Heart covered this song? How was it changed, if at all, from your original i-Ten version? Please take us back to when you wrote the song. AloneWhat is the back story about how it was conceived and written? Any interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating this hit?

Billy: As you know, Tom and I recorded that song on a record we did for Epic called i-Ten, and that record didn't have any success. Tom and I continued to write and we had big hits with "Like A Virgin" and "True Colors". We heard that they were looking for a "power ballad" for Heart. Tom said to me, "What about 'Alone'?" Immediately, I didn't have a good feeling about it because I didn't like the version we did on the i-Ten record. It sounded to me very generic and there was something I just didn't quite like about it. Tom kept pushing me to think about it and he asked me why I didn't like it. I came to the conclusion that, in particular, I didn't like the first line of the chorus. On the i-Ten version, it said, "I always fared well on my own" and it just seemed awkward to me. So Tom suggested we just re-write the first line and we did. We re-wrote the first line and lyrically it doesn't change that much. Now it just says, "Til now, I always got by on my own". So it basically means the same thing, but Tom injected a little bit of an R&B phrasing on that line and it just changed the whole song for me in a very positive way. Steinberg with Ann & Nancy WilsonSo then, we made a new demo of "Alone" inserting the re-written chorus and the new demo was great. We submitted it to Ron Nevison who was producing Heart. He really liked it. He produced it for Heart staying very true to our demo. In fact, they invited Tom and me to the studio and Tom sang background vocals on the Heart record.

One interesting thing about the song, even though it was released several years after "Like A Virgin", it was actually written before "Like A Virgin". I would say it was one of the first ten or fifteen songs that Tom and I ever wrote together. I think the fact that a couple of years passed before we re-wrote the chorus kind of helped us to improve it. By the time we re-wrote it, we were injecting more R&B flavor into our compositions. Like I said earlier, I think that livened up the chorus on "Alone" and helped finish it making it a great song.

Heart's version of "Alone" was released as the first single from their ninth studio album, Bad Animals, in May of 1987 even though it had been written over five years earlier by Steinberg and Kelly. It grew to be Heart's biggest hit becoming their second (and last) #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending three weeks in the top spot that July. It also ranked #2 on the Billboard Year-End Top Pop Singles of 1987. Ann Wilson's vocal is perfectly spectacular on this heartbreaking power ballad. Here is the music video for "Alone" by Heart...


Q: Also in 1987, "So Emotional" was a big hit for Whitney Houston. Please take us back to when you wrote the song. Again, any interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating this one? What inspired it? So EmotionalDid you write it specifically for Houston to perform?

Billy: "So Emotional" is one of the few songs that Tom and I ever successfully custom wrote for a project. Clive Davis was in touch with us and asked if we could try to come up with an up-tempo hit for Whitney. At the time, Tom and I were really big fans of Prince. He was coming out with hit after hit at that time and we really liked what he was doing. When we wrote "So Emotional" we were sort of feeding off some of the Prince energy. If you were to hear our demo of the song, you'd hear that it doesn't really resemble the Michael Narada Walden produced track that Whitney Houston recorded. Our demo was much more sparse like "Kiss" or "Little Red Corvette" and Tom sang the demo falsetto. The chorus is a great pop chorus and Whitney sang the hell out of it.

"So Emotional" was the third single from Whitney Houston's second album Whitney, and was released on November 12, 1987. It became her sixth of seven consecutive #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 when it reached the top spot in January of 1988. It had already reached the top of the Billboard Dance Chart two weeks earlier and would end up ranked sixth on the Billboard year-end chart for 1988. The single, along with the other three number one hits on it, helped the album achieve sales of over 20 million copies worldwide. Here is the video for "So Emotional" by Whitney Houston...


Q: Any comments on Whitney Houston as an artist in light of her recent tragic passing?

Billy: I think Whitney Houston has been taken for granted in a way as an artist. I think now that she has tragically passed away at too young of an age, people are starting to really appreciate what a great singer she was even more. I think on the list of great female R&B singers, you have to put her right up there with Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. It is a short list of the best of the best and she is definitely up there.

Q: To finish up the decade on a high note, "Eternal Flame" was recorded by The Bangles and became your fifth #1 single. Eternal FlameHow did you come to work with The Bangles on this song? What inspired the lyrics?

Billy: Tom and I really wanted to work with The Bangles and I think it is because we loved the 60s. We both sang in rock bands during the 60s and The Bangles were emulating the jangly 60s bands like The Byrds and The Beatles that we liked. We knew that if we got together with The Bangles we could channel some of that 60s stuff that we were both so familiar with. We were introduced to Susanna Hoffs and we got together to write. The first song we wrote with her was never recorded by The Bangles, it was actually recorded on a solo album by Belinda Carlisle. The next time we got together with Susanna to write, we wrote three songs and one of them was "Eternal Flame". Tom and I, both big Beatles fans, had written a song with Cyndi Lauper called "Unconditional Love". Steinberg, Kelly & Susanna HoffsAnd "Unconditional Love" kind of channeled the two beautiful ballads on the Revolver album by The Beatles, "For No One" and "Here, There and Everywhere". We played it for Susanna and she just loved it. She really wanted to try to write something like "Unconditional Love". So Tom and I had that in our heads, that Susanna wanted a melodic, 60s-sounding ballad. We sat down with Susanna and just chatting before our songwriting session. Susanna told us that she had just been in Memphis, Tennessee visiting Graceland with The Bangles and that, at Graceland, there was an eternal flame burning for Elvis. Then I said, "Eternal Flame, that's a great title." I immediately had the image in my head of an eternal flame that was in the synagogue where I grew up as a child in Palm Springs. There was a little red light in the synagogue that they called the eternal flame because it would never burn out and it piqued by imagination as a child. So somehow when Susanna used the words "eternal flame", it was a rich title for me. I immediately took out a note pad and a pen and started to write the lyrics for "Eternal Flame". Then I stuck them in front of Tom, he started to sing the melody on an acoustic guitar and the song was written very quickly.

"Eternal Flame" was released in January of 1989 from The Bangles' third studio album, Everything. The album also included "In Your Room", another hit single written by Steinberg, Kelly and Hoffs. "Eternal Flame" would go to be the band's best-selling single and reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on April 1, 1989. This made The Bangles only the third all-girl group to score multiple #1 singles in the U.S. This would also impressively give Steinberg and Kelly their fifth #1 single in five years! Here is the music video for "Eternal Flame" by The Bangles...


Q: How similar was The Bangles' version to the original demo recording? Steinberg & KellyWhat are your feelings regarding the final recording by The Bangles?

Billy: "Eternal Flame" was produced by Davitt Sigerson. Davitt didn't make that many pop records. He went on to become a record executive and then to leave the music industry altogether. He did a marvelous job producing "Eternal Flame". We intentionally did a very spare demo because The Bangles didn't have a keyboard player in the band and we didn't want to present a demo that featured keyboards because we maybe they wouldn't do. So we did a very rough demo that used a strumming guitar in it. But the one thing we did was rather elaborate background vocals as a road map for The Bangles. Tom was so qualified to do these background vocals because he had been such a huge Beach Boys and Beatles fan and Tom had made a living as a background vocalist. He knew how to do them perfectly. Our demo instrumentally was very simple, but vocally we mapped it out quite well. We loved Susanna's lead vocal and all The Bangles' harmonies. We were thrilled, as I said, by the production as it turned out.

Q: It wasn't in the 90s, but how did you come to work with Chrissie Hynde and end up creating the beautifully haunting Pretenders hit "I'll Stand By You"?

Billy: At one point in the early 90s, Steinberg, Kelly & Chrissie Hyndea gentleman by the name of Jason Dauman approached me and asked me if he were to arrange a collaboration for Tom and me whether we would give him a percentage of the publishing. I was kind of in a rush when he proposed it, so I said yeah okay. He asked who we would like to work with. So I mentioned three people I thought he would never be able to arrange collaborations with: Prince, Bob Dylan or Chrissie Hynde. And I figured I would never hear from him again. But I got a call from him a couple weeks later and he said, "Billy, this is Jason Dauman and I wanted to tell you that you will be hearing from Chrissie Hynde." I thought it was just a preposterous call and that it would never happen. Then I got a phone call and there was a woman on the other end of the line speaking rather tersely and in a relatively low female voice, "Billy, this is Chrissie, Chrissie Hynde." I was kind of flabbergasted because I was a huge Pretenders fan. I thought that The Pretenders' first album was just stunning. Songs like "The Wait", "Tattooed Love Boys", "Brass In Pocket", "Kid" and "Stop Your Sobbing" I just thought were magnificent. I loved her voice, the way it harkened back to great singers like Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw. I loved Chrissie. I was so thrilled to get a phone call from her.

So Chrissie told me she would be coming to Los Angeles and she was looking forward to writing something with Tom and me. She made it clear that she wanted a hit song. I don't think she had been on the radio for a couple of years and she wanted to get The Pretenders back on the radio with a hit. I was so excited about it as was Tom. As far as I was concerned, some of her records like "Back On the Chain Gang" and "Don't Get Me Wrong" were great masterpieces. I think Tom and I felt very challenged to come up with something as good as her great hits.

So we got together with Chrissie I'll Stand By Youand the first song we worked on was called "Love Colors Everything". I believe she might have ended up titling it "Love Colours". I think the second one was "Night in My Veins" which became somewhat of a hit for The Pretenders, but then we did "I'll Stand By You". It started out as a lyric idea I had in a notebook. I showed it to Chrissie, she liked it and she got out her big Sharpie pen crossing out words she didn't like and re-writing those. Then we sat with Tom and spent a long time coming up with the music for "I'll Stand By You". Tom took the lead on the piano, but it took us quite a long time to find that song. It was Tom's brilliant idea to modulate the song at the end of the first chorus. There was some old song he knew that did it just the same way we did which influenced us, but I can't remember what that song was. That modulation is a brilliant device in that song. I was worried that it was a bit generic for Chrissie. I knew it was a great song, but I was worried that it didn't have that tough edge you find in most Pretenders songs. I don't know if Chrissie immediately embraced "I'll Stand By You". I think she had the same feeling that it was a good song, but whether it was a Pretenders song, that was the big question. It turned out to be a great Pretenders song.

"I'll Stand By You" was released in July of 1994 from The Pretenders' sixth studio album, Last of the Independents. The single only peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, surprisingly, the Pretenders have not had another hit song in the U.S. since then. It is a powerful and emotional song that I have always really liked personally. Carrie Underwood recorded a beautiful version of the song for Idol Gives Back in 2007 with proceeds going to charity. Here is the video for "I'll Stand By You" by The Pretenders...


Q: What can you tell us about Hynde and your experiences working with her?

Billy: Chrissie is my very favorite person I've ever worked with. Steinberg, Kelly & HyndeShe is the most confident as a writer and she's actually the most secure as an artist which is kind of nice when you're a songwriter because a lot of artists don't want to share the spotlight at all with songwriters. For example, you'd never hear Madonna introducing "Like A Virgin" by saying, "Here is a great song written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly." But Chrissie has always been very gracious about sharing the spotlight. A year ago when Tom and I were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Chrissie came from London, introduced us at the induction ceremony and she sang "I'll Stand By You". It was just one more demonstration of what a gracious human being she is.

It was always fun to be with Chrissie because Tom, Chrissie and I are all about the same age. We loved The Kinks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and we'd have great fun just thinking of old songs and jamming on them.

Q: "Like a Virgin" has to be your most famous song. Of all the songs you've written, is there one that is your personal favorite? If so, which ones and why?

Billy: If I had to pick one Steinberg & Kellysong that I have ever written that is my favorite, I would probably have to pick "True Colors". It may have the largest footprint of all the songs. Certainly, "Like A Virgin" is iconic and famous, but "True Colors" is more of a standard. Coincidentally, of all the songs I've written, it made the most money, but I hope that's not the reason it's my favorite.

A couple other personal favorites. I like our song "I Touch Myself" that the Divinyls did [1991]. It's a great lyric. I like the way it starts, "I love myself, I want you to love me". I think that's a really good start for a song. "Falling Into You" is a song that I wrote with Rick Nowels and Marie-Claire D'Ubaldo. I think it's a beautiful ballad that's a little overlooked. It was recorded by Celine Dion [1996] and I think it's a very special song.

Tom and I both loved the work of Roy Orbison and our song "I Drove All Night" was written almost as a tribute to Roy. [Orbison himself recorded it in 1987 and then it was later recorded and released by Cyndi Lauper in 1989.] That's another of my personal favorites of songs that we've written.

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of 80s music? What lasting impact do you feel music from the 80s has made (if any)?

Billy: What can I say about the 1980s as a decade of music? Steinberg & KellyIt was a great decade for me. I had my first hit in 1980 with "How Do I Make You?" by Linda Ronstadt. Then in 1981, I met Tom Kelly. In 1983, we wrote "Like A Virgin". In 1984, 85, 86, 87, 88, we had five number one songs in a five year period. On top of that, we had other hits like "I Drove All Night" and "In Your Room". The 80s, that was when my career took off. I think there was some great music made in the 80s. Some of the seeds for music of the 80s really came about in the late 70s when punk rock and new wave combined and revitalized rock n roll. Groups like Blondie, The Cars, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Pretenders, a lot of great energy that harkened back to the 50s and 60s rock. It revitalized music. Not to mention, in the 80s you had some great artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna all becoming prominent. So I think it was a pretty good decade and it was certainly the decade that put me on the map. Now, when I get together with young artists, they often say, "I love the 80s" so it seems that what the 60s were to me is what the 80s mean to them. I don't know if that makes any sense, but that seems to be the way it is.

Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since the 80s.

Billy: When Tom and I started to slow down as a songwriting team, I started to write with Rick Nowels. Rick and I wrote some pretty good songs together. I think the best stuff that we wrote had a third writer, Marie-Claire D'Ubaldo who is actually from Argentina. We wrote a few great songs as a team including "Falling Into You" for Celine Dion, "One & One", which is a beautiful song that I don't think was particularly well recorded, and then "The Consequences of Falling" a nice song done by K.d. lang. In the last decade, I've been working with a guy named Josh Alexander. Josh is from Marin County. He and I wrote the song "Too Little Too Late" for Jojo and "Don't Hold Your Breath" for Nicole Scherzinger and some very good projects in the works.

Q: What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?Billy Steinberg

Billy: Proudest professional accomplishments... I have always loved songs so much. Some of my favorite records of all time "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan or the more obscure "Pretty Ballerina" by The Left Banke or "I've Been Loving You Too Long" by Otis Redding, "Cathy's Clown" by The Everly Brothers, "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison, the list goes on and on. There are so many songs that have moved me in my life. Just to have been able to write songs that have affected people's lives and that remind people of things in their life when they hear them. That's very satisfying for me to have contributed to popular song and to know that people love the songs that I have written. That means a lot to me. When I'm in my car listening to an oldie's channel or satellite radio and a song comes on that I loved as a child, something like "Come Softly to Me" by The Fleetwoods or a great Beatles song that I haven't heard in a while or "Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones, those songs are just so meaningful to me, so evocative of the time, they move me so much. That's what I love about songwriting, that in a two to three minute period of time, a song can begin and end and have such impact. It's the combination of the words, the melody and the groove that join together and make something indescribable.

Q: What else is Billy Steinberg up to nowadays?

Billy: Josh Alexander and I are working with a young artist that we have "discovered". Her name is Erika, we are writing some songs with her and we are going to try to get her a recording contract. So that's what I am up to at the moment. I will be very happy if we succeed.

I am absolutely honored that Billy was so generous to answer my questions allowing me to share them with you here. You can find out more and keep up with him at his website, www.billysteinberg.com/. To have one hit song is pretty special, but to have written five #1 hit songs for five different artists is nothing short of spectacular. The fact that all five of those songs were from my favorite decade makes it that much more remarkable. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Billy Steinberg for these incredible contributions to 80s pop culture and, even more, for taking a stroll down memory lane with us here for a little while as well.

That'll do it for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.


Quote of the day: "I see your true colors shining through. I see your true colors, that's why I love you. Don't be afraid to let them show, your true colors. Your true colors are as beautiful as a rainbow." - Billy Steinberg from "True Colors"



 


posted by: surrogate (reply)
post date: 03.10.12 (5:46 pm)

Wonderfully done. Thorough, comprehensive, and fun.

Typical! Really enjoyed it. Cool he's still at it.



posted by: Chocofan (reply)
post date: 03.12.12 (1:49 pm)

Love the openness and honesty of this - that's Billy.



posted by: Bruce Hulse (reply)
post date: 03.15.12 (5:48 pm)

Wow! What a great interview!!



posted by: TeeKay (reply)
post date: 04.25.13 (3:21 pm)

I enjoyed this so much! Thank you for the great interview!



posted by: TeeKay (reply)
post date: 04.25.13 (3:28 pm)

Sorry, but one question: Do you have any idea which song Kelly/Steinberg wrote together with Susanna Hoffs, that has been later on recorded by Belinda Carlisle? The title of the song is not mentioned.



posted by: OldSchool (reply)
post date: 04.25.13 (4:29 pm)

Reply to: TeeKay
I believe that song is titled "I Need a Disguise" which was on Belinda's first solo album.


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