Interview with "No Easy Way Out" music artist Robert Tepper

(This interview was originally published April 6, 2013 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

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.

This time that awesomeness is Robert Tepper. He is an American singer probably best known for his song "No Easy Way Out" from the Rocky IV soundtrack (which I have always had fond affection for). He also co-wrote the hit single "Into The Night" with Benny Mardones. Find out a little about him, those hit songs from the '80s and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Robert Tepper...


Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Tell us a little about your early years as a staff writer and maybe some of the songs you helped create back then.

Robert: I loved music from a very young age. My sister and I would sing folksongs to my parents and I always just loved doing it. I just received the right amount of breaks in music to keep me coming back.

First cut of a song I wrote happened with a company called Cam America that was located in New York City. I wrote a song with my partner Madeline Sunshine called "This Is Love" [1978] which was recorded by Paul Anka. It made it to #35 (I think) on the Billboard chart. What was great about those days was that, if you had songs ready, you could go into the studio and record them. So it's there that I started to get some studio experience, not to mention getting to work with some very good New York City musicians.

Q: Please tell us a little about when and how you met Benny Mardones. How did it work out that you two started writing songs together? What can you tell us about Mardones and your working relationship with him back then?

Robert: Benny Mardones, who I still work with today, and I got together when I was taking some vocal lessons from a teacher in New York City. This mad man came in with a fur coat on with Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records and that is how we met. He had just gotten signed to Polydor Records and we wrote about four or five songs. I think three made the record and one was a big hit for us, "Into The Night".

I was very green in the rock world, in a way Benny was a mentor both in a positive and a negative way of what to do and not do in the music business. I brought a different sensibility to Benny, I'd say more musically than anything else. You know different types of changes. But it was a crazy time back then. A little lucky to be alive.

Q: I love "Into The Night", but many might cringe thinking the song is about professing forbidden love for a minor. I read where Benny Mardones explained it this way: "There was a girl in my building in Spanish Harlem whose father ran out on her and her family. I felt so bad for her that I hired her to walk my dog. She came into my apartment early one morning and Bobby Tepper and I had been up all night writing songs. She was all dressed up and was one of the most beautiful sixteen-year-old girls you've ever seen. When she left with the dog Bobby said, 'Oh my word' and I replied, 'She's just 16 years old, leave her alone.' And thus a classic was born." Is that how you remember it, too? What can you share with us about how this song was conceived and written? How long did it take to write?

Robert: How long the writing sessions lasted in those days was dictated by how much fuel we had going at the time. And you can supplement any '80s rock inspiration for fuel. All I remember is that, yes, it was true she lived in Benny's building and we had been up for a while trying to make something soulful from those chord changes. And you know Benny had this great rasp of a voice. It is sex, drugs and rock n roll. That song definitely fits in. What about Gary Puckett and "Young Girl" or Charlie Chaplin and his fetish or The Police and "Don't Stand So Close To Me"? The lyric falls very much into that category. 

It was originally called "She's Just 16 years Old" until someone at the record company wisely suggested a title change to "Into The Night". The single was originally released in June of 1980. It spent about 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart peaking at #11 in September. The single was re-released in 1989 spending another 17 weeks on the chart peaking this time at #20 in July. This made it just one of ten songs to ever accomplish the rare feat of reaching the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 on two separate occasions. I have always personally enjoyed this two-time one-hit wonder. Here is the music video for "Into The Night" by Benny Mardones...



Q: Did you have any feeling when you first wrote or recorded it that the single was going to be something special or have the success that it did?

Robert: What was cool was we would just call up our A&R man, Stu Fine, and play him new stuff. All I remember is we couldn't wait until he got into work that day. We were totally crazy to play it for him. Then we added Sandy Gennaro, a great rock drummer, and Kinny Landrum's great piano line. And Barry Mraz as a producer. It was just different than anything else on that album. I was sitting behind the board with Barry as Benny was doing the vocal and I remember when he hit that note at the end. "I'd pick you uuuuuuppppppp and take you into the night". It was pure magic. F***ing great stuff!

Q: Were you surprised when it made a return to the charts 9 years later in 1989? What do you feel has made the song so enduring and such a radio favorite for so many years? What are your feelings about "Into The Night" now about 33 years after it was first released?

Robert: I love the song! What is truly great about the sound of it is how music transcended any race or color. That was an R&B tune on a rock record. And when I grew up, that is how radio played things. Now it doesn't matter so much if it is rap or R&B or rock. Just great songs and that's why that record broke through. That vocal moved people and still does. So much so that last year Usher did a version on his [2010] album. It's called "Making Love (Into The Night)", check it out. The s*** still works.

Q: You had your own hit with "No Easy Way Out". Please take us back to when that single was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that particular song was conceived and written? What inspired the lyrics? Any interesting facts or stories about writing or recording it

Robert: "No Easy Way Out" was written about my first divorce. It is an end of a relationship song. And yes it was the end. As far as the recording of it, Guy Marshall suggested we start with an intro and break in from there. It's interesting in the fact the song has a double intro and gets away with it. The recording was special for many reasons. Great contributors on that song. Dann Huff, the very famous country producer/session guitarist, played guitar on it. Guy Marshall took an awesome solo. Pat Benatar's drummer, Myron Grombacher. Great mix by Joe Chiccarelli. And of course a good vocal day for me. I remember feeling good about the vocal afterwards.

Q: This song appeared in the film and on the soundtrack for Rocky IV which was released in late 1985. How did Sylvester Stallone come across your song and how did he end up choosing it to be in the movie? Did you actually meet Stallone or get to work with him all during that process (or later when you had another song in his 1986 film Cobra)?

Robert: The relationship started when Scotti Bros had the music supervision on "Rocky IV." So Stallone came up to the record company and just fell in love with "No Easy Way Out". I know I was told to say it was written specifically for the movie but it was one of those things that just worked so well after the fact. Stallone wanted to hear me on more stuff, so I tried some song that he had but it just wasn't working. So we hung out a little and I saw him in New York City a couple of times. Hung out with [his brother] Frank also. I was very fortunate to be part of that Rocky franchise.

Rocky IV was released in theaters late-November of 1985 and went on to become the third highest grossing movie of that year as well as one of the highest grossing sports movies of all time. Like most Rocky films, Rocky IV featured its share of montages and one of them was set perfectly to "No Easy Way Out".

This memorable scene takes place after Rocky decides that he will fight Drago in Russia, but finds out that his wife Adrian doesn't support his decision. Rocky gets into his Lamborghini and the song starts as he turns the key. The montage seems to represent all of the thoughts swirling around his head as he drives around to blow off some steam. The song's lyrics seems like it was written perfectly just for this scene. The single reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1986 and the video, which includes footage from the film, received a lot of airplay on MTV. Here is the music video for "No Easy Way Out" by Robert Tepper...



I have always loved all of the Rocky montages, but this song and the lyrics always seemed to resonate with me a little extra:


We're not indestructible,
Baby better get that straight
I think it's unbelievable
How you give into the hands of fate

Some things are worth fighting for some
Feelings never die
I'm not askin' for another chance
I just want to know why

There's no easy way out there's no shortcut home
There's no easy way out givin' in can't be wrong

I don't want to pacify you
I don't want to drag you down
But I'm feelin' like a prisoner
Like a stranger in a no named town

I see all the angry faces
Afraid that could be you and me
Talkin' about what might have been
I'm thinkin' about what I used to be

There's no easy way out there's no shortcut home
There's no easy way out givin' in can't be wrong

Baby, baby we can shed this skin
We can know how we feel inside
Instead of goin' down and endless road
Not knowin' if we're dead or alive

Some things are worth fightin' for
Some feelings never die
I'm not askin' for another chance
I just want to know why

There's no easy way out there's no shortcut home
There's no easy way out givin' in can't be wrong no
There's no easy way out there's no shortcut home
There's no easy no easy no easy way out

Q: Did you expect that your song being in that movie was going to help make it the hit that it became?


Robert: At the time, I was a little concerned about my career. I mean here I have a big song in a major motion picture. And I'm selling albums for Stallone, but my own record is still not released and won't be until the energy is out of the soundtrack. So I remember being a little pissed at the time. But in the big picture, it all worked out great. He's put me on a few compilation albums and I still think the song moves people in a very positive way.


Q: What changed for you after the success of "No Easy Way Out"? I remember reading that you were working in a restaurant waiting on tables when the song became a hit. Is that true?

Robert: What changed? I'm not sure. I don't think I ever really felt like I was in full swing. Scotti Bros didn't put me on tour. The next record was a disaster. So yeah, I was in the music scene but never really felt like I was out there enough. And yes I was a waiter at a restaurant on 43rd Street in New York City. So all things considered, not bad for kid from Bayonne, New Jersey!

Q: What are your feelings about "No Easy Way Out" now over 28 years later?

Robert: It is kind of funny because I have a Twitter account (@theroberttepper) and I've been promoting my new CD "New Life Story" and, maybe for the first time, have been in touch with people that absolutely love that song. It shocked me at first. I had no idea it was so inspirational to so many people. Makes me grateful.

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)?

Robert: What was cool about the '80s was all the different types of music that emerged from that time. It touched a lot of people and it still touches a tremendous amount of folks.

In 2012, Tepper released a new album titled New Life Story. It seems to be a departure from his '80s sound featuring more of an acoustic feel described as "singer/songwriter with an electric tinge". It is available both on iTunes and at Amazon. I recommend you give it a listen. You can also find Tepper's older music available there as well.

I am pleased that Robert was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with him on Twitter and at his official Robert Tepper World website. I want to take this occasion to again thank Robert Tepper for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through "Into The Night" and "No Easy Way Out" and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.

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