Interview with songwriter and composer Paul Gordon

(This interview was originally published August 2, 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 Paul Gordon. He is probably best known for what he has done since the '80s, but he is also the songwriter behind a couple '80s hit songs. Not to be confused with the other musician of the same name, this Paul Gordon co-wrote both “Friends and Lovers” and “The Next Time I Fall” which were both incredibly successful. Since then he has turned his attention more towards stage musicals for the theater including the Tony-nominated Jane Eyre. Find out a little about him, those '80s hit singles and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Paul Gordon

Q: When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Please tell us a little about your earlier career. Then when and how did that end up moving into writing songs for other artists to perform?

PaulLike most songwriters, I started out with ideas of being an artist myself. I was in a folk band for years called Redwood that had a great local following but never managed to get a record deal. Then I performed around Los Angeles as a solo artist and played everywhere from Madam Wongs to the Blah Blah Cafe and eventually Genghis Cohen. I transitioned into being mostly a writer for other artists when I got my first publishing deal at Screen Gems with writing partner Jay Gruska. I spent a few years there – then moved over to Warner Brothers – followed by Chappell Music – then the two companies merged while I was there – I left and signed with Geffen Music – which eventually turned into Universal. Somewhere along the way I actually went back to Screen Gems. It’s all a blur now but it was a lot of fun.

Q: You co-wrote “Friends and Lovers” which went on to become a big hit after first being featured on Days of Our Lives. How did you hook up with Jay Gruska to write that song? Was it written specifically for Days of Our Lives or with anyone specific performing it in mind?

PaulJay and I started writing together in college at LACC [Los Angeles City College]. We would meet in the practice room, play each other songs and see who had more “chord changes per bar”. Jay and I have been writing together ever since. “Friends and Lovers” was a song we wrote while we were both signed to Screen Gems. A few years later a friend of ours was producing Days of Our Lives, she asked for a batch of songs for the show and “Friends and Lovers” was one of them. We never wrote it as a duet but we were very happy with how it all turned out.

It is reported that the performance of “Friends and Lovers” by Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson on Days of Our Lives in September of 1985 generated the largest mail response of any song in NBC daytime history. Later, the song became the theme music for Shane and Kimberly, one of the show’s popular supercouples in the mid-80s. When ultimately released as a single in the summer of 1986, it would quickly climb the charts reaching #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart by September. The single would remain in the Top 40 for 14 weeks. A country version titled “Both to Each Other” by Eddie Rabbitt and Juice Newton reached #1 on the Country chart in the same year. Loring played the role of “Liz Chandler” on the show until 1986 and, prior to his duet with Loring, Carl Anderson was best known for his portrayal of “Judas” in both the film and stage versions of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. He passed away in 2004 due to leukemia complications. Here is a video of “Friends and Lovers” performed by Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson

Q: Please take us back to when you co-wrote “Friends and Lovers”. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written?

PaulThis was simply one of a dozen songs that Jay and I were writing at the time. There was no particular back story to the song. We liked it a lot after we finished it, but if memory serves, it sat in “the vault” for about seven years before it was picked up for Days of Our Lives. I believe it originally had a different bridge.

Q: Did you have any feeling that “Friends and Lovers” was going to be something special when you wrote it?

PaulI didn’t feel the song was particularly better than any of the other dozen songs that Jay and I were writing at the time. You just never know what’s going to be the song that moves people in a special way. And of course, a lot of it is luck. There are a million songs that could be “hits” but it takes just the right series of circumstances for everything to line up. We got lucky.

In my interview with Gloria Loring she said that when she first heard the demo, “I stopped the tape after the first chorus and told [her associate producer] that it was undoubtedly a hit song.” Find out more from her perspective in that interview.

Q: Are there any other interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating this hit song? What changed for you personally, if anything, after your song went on to such success?

PaulEverything changed once I had my first hit record. It was truly a great feeling, being able to turn on the radio and find your song playing on at least one pop radio station all of the time. I remember the song getting tons of mail from being on the show. That was a great boost for the record being released and doing as well as it did. It was all a wonderful surprise.

Q: What were your thoughts of the country version recorded by Eddie Rabbitt and Juice Newton? It must’ve been nice to have your song have so much success from two different recordings at the same time.

PaulI think it was the first time in pop history that there was a hit song by two different artists of the same song at the same time on two different charts (Country and Pop). The thing that was amazing about the country version of the song is that it had nothing to do with Days of Our Lives or the other record. Again, this song was just sitting around for seven years and the country version happened on its own. It was a remarkable time.

Q: What are your sentiments regarding “Friends and Lovers” now 28 years later?

PaulGratitude. You can write a million songs, screenplays, musicals, books, whatever. You can never predict what is going to connect with the public. I’m grateful for the success of that record and grateful that I had it with my long term writing partner, Jay Gruska.

Q: Next you co-wrote “The Next Time I Fall” with Bobby Caldwell. How did you end up teaming with Caldwell to write this song? What can you tell us about Caldwell and your experience working with him?

PaulI was a huge fan of Bobby Caldwell as an artist. My publisher at the time, Ronny Vance, set me up to write with him. I was thrilled that the people I looked up to wanted to be in a room with me and write songs.

Bobby Caldwell has had a long career in the industry, but he is probably still best known for his 1978 hit single “What You Won’t Do for Love”.

Q: Again, please take us back to when you co-wrote “The Next Time I Fall”. What can you tell us about how that song was conceived and written?

PaulI went over to Bobby’s house and he had just moved into a new apartment. All he had was a chair, a keyboard and a drum machine. We got right to it and that was the first song we wrote together. It was a trip writing with Bobby. He’s so laser focused and always knows exactly what he wants to do. I believe the first several hours we were together he just programed a high hat pattern on his drum machine while I sat there watching. Eventually we got around to writing the song.

The Next Time I Fall” was recorded and released as a duet by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant in 1986. It was the second single released from Solitude/Solitaire, Cetera’s first solo album after leaving Chicago. Grant had been primarily performing Christian music and this was her first really big success on the pop charts. The single reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December of 1986 while also spending two weeks on top of the Adult Contemporary chart the previous month. It is another one of my favorite duets of the decade. Here is the video for “The Next Time I Fall” by Peter Cetera & Amy Grant

Q: Was it written specifically as a duet? Was it written specifically with Peter Cetera and Amy Grant in mind to perform it?

PaulNo, we did not write it as a duet but we knew Chicago was looking for material and so was Peter, who had just gone solo. As I recall, both Chicago and Peter wanted the song and we had to decide between the two. I think we made a good choice.

Q: Did you feel this was going to be a hit when you wrote it? What were your feelings when you heard the final version that Cetera and Grant released?

PaulI pretty much felt that every song I wrote was a hit. But when I heard the record for the first time, I was very pleased. I love Peter’s voice, he’s so unique, no one sounds like him. And Amy did such a beautiful job with her vocal and Michael Omartian found just the right balance in the production. I had my fingers crossed.

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of '80s music?

PaulTo be honest, I’m not a big fan of '80s music. (I hope I’m not penalized for saying that on an '80s blog). I think there were some amazing artists in that decade and some great songs being written. Certainly Elvis Costello had a good decade. What people generally consider to be the “sound” of the '80s is not my idea of the music that was inspiring to me then. But I was a fan of Billy Joel, Dire Straits, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Kate Bush, Pretenders, Squeeze, Tom Waits and others… Hey, maybe I DO like '80s music… (And of course I loved Toto, I knew some of the guys and loved their records).

Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the '80s including your incredible success on Broadway. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

PaulHaving my musical, Jane Eyre, open on Broadway [in 2000] has been the biggest thrill of my life. Having the show nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score (I lost to Mel Brooks) was also thrilling. I was also just recently in London for the opening of another one of my shows, Daddy Long Legs. That was another fantastic moment.

Q: What else is Paul Gordon up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?

PaulI’m pretty entrenched in the musical theater world right now and loving it. There is an enormous freedom writing for theater and Broadway that I didn’t have when I was strictly writing pop music. I’m currently working on and developing about 8-10 shows. I’ve been very prolific over the years. Some of the highlights are Daddy Long Legs (written with John Caird, the original co-director and creator of Les Miserables) which has had 15 productions all over the world in the last few years. I’m doing my first “pop” musical – Analog and Vinyl. That will be at the NAMT [National Alliance for Musical Theatre] festival this year in New York. John and I are premiering our most recent collaboration, Little Miss Scrooge, at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura this Christmas. It’s a “Dickens Mash-up” and it’s has a very fun pop score as well.

My writing partnership with Jay Gruska continues. We recently wrote a musical together based on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest called Being Earnest set in the '60s and we infused it with an upbeat '60s score. That show recently had its world premiere at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto in April. I had a lot of success with another musical of mine, Emma, based on the Jane Austen novel. That has had several productions including the Old Globe in San Diego in 2011 and is hopefully coming to Broadway next year. So it’s been a fun ride. I have absolutely no regrets. I love what I’m doing and I pinch myself every day that I get to be here.

I am so honored that Paul was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. You can find out more about all of his shows and keep up with him on his official websiteI want to take this occasion to again thank Paul Gordon for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through writing “Friends and Lovers” and “The Next Time I Fall” and, even more, for taking a walk down memory lane with us here for a little while as well.

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