Into the Ear of Madness: Week 19 — I Have a Style, But It’s Very Subtle

Written by Into the Ear of Madness, Music

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Over the next year Terje Fjelde has agreed to listen to nothing but David Foster on his iPod. He’s loaded the thing with over 1,200 songs produced, arranged, composed, and/or played by the man. A deal with the devil? He keeps wondering.

I have a style, but it’s very subtle.”
David Foster, March 1985

“What About Me,” by Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes & James Ingram, from Kenny Rogers’s “What About Me,” 1984

It may be a little-known fact that David Foster is one of the dominant forces in the history of the modern duet pop ballad, but throughout the last 25 years he has peppered the charts with duets in all flavors, in addition to trios, quadruples, quintripets and whatnots. Oh, yes. It started in the early ’80s, when he played a couple of duet sessions, like, “Baby, Come to Me” and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with Patti Austin and James Ingram and “Love All the Hurt Away” with Aretha Franklin and George Benson.

In 1983, after he produced the Bob Seger tune “We’ve Got Tonight” for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, all hell broke loose in terms of power duets. “We’ve Got Tonight” was a monster hit and ever since that, Foster has written and produced up to several duets every single year: John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John, David Foster/Newton-John, Paul Anka/Peter Cetera, Julio Iglesias/Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls/Tata Vega… and let’s not forget Chicago’s Grammy-winning “Hard Habit to Break,” which is a duet between Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin.

There’s no point carrying on, really — I could continue for days.

Then there’s “What About Me,” Foster and Rogers’ follow-up single to the insanely successful “We’ve Got Tonight.” They topped it in all possible ways. Written by Foster, Rogers and Richard Marx, there’s pretty much a modulation for every verse, chorus and bridge. There are strings, horns, splashing cymbals and toms and a plethora of keyboards. There are not two, but three lead vocalists, all of them had enjoyed substantial chart success in the preceding years and all of them, amusingly, are wondering “what about me?”

So what about “What About Me?”

Well, aside from making me feel like I’m slowly ascending a staircase, it has all the trademarks of a successful David Foster production in the mid-’80s. A power ballad with a great hook, lots of melodrama, Moog bass, Fender Rhodes, piano and the French horn section moving along, inventing small melody lines of its own on top of the strings.

You have a style, David Foster, but it’s not very subtle.

And say what you will about Kenny Rogers in the 1980s, but his voice is a perfect match for this kind of thing. He sounds great here. Ingram and Carnes were in fact only third choices for their parts. According to Wikipedia, Lionel Richie and Barbra Streisand were originally scheduled to perform. When they backed out they called up Jeffrey Osborne and Olivia Newton-John, but in the end neither of them were able to make it to the studio, either.

“What About Me?” climbed the charts, but I can’t help feeling that the implicated parties were a tad disappointed when it peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Considering the star-power and the sheer size of the whole thing, I think they were hoping for more. Of course, both Rogers, Carnes and Ingram were already past their commercial peak at this point, but how was anyone supposed to know at the time? On paper, this was just about as hot as it could get in 1983, at least in the adult contemporary landscape.

To wrap up this post, just for reference, here is a tiny selection of more recent duet pop ballads written and/or produced by David Foster, most of them for various soundtracks. Impressive, huh? They’re all on my iPod, but I’m feeling compassionate today, so no download links:

  • “For Always” – Lara Fabian, Josh Groban, A.I. (2001)
  • “Come What May” – Nicole Kidman, Ewan MacGregor, Moulin Rouge (2001)
  • “Could I Have This Kiss Forever” – Whitney Houston, Enrique Iglesias, Greatest Hits (2000)
  • “All the Way” – Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra, Romance (2000)
  • “The Day I Fall In Love” – Dolly Parton, James Ingram, Beethoven’s 2nd (2000)
  • “What A Wonderful World” – Kenny G, Louis Armstrong, Classics in the Key of G (1999) (got to love that title)
  • “Music of My Heart” – Gloria Estefan, *Nsync, Music of My Heart (1999)
  • “If You Ever Leave Me” – Barbra Streisand, Vince Gill, A Love Like Ours (1999)
  • “The Prayer” – Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Quest for Camelot (1998)
  • “Tell Him” – Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Let’s Talk About Love (1997)
  • “Whenever There Is Love” – Donna Summer, Bruce Roberts, Daylight (1996)
  • “I Finally Found Someone” – Barbra Streisand, Bryan Adams, The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)
  • “When You Love Someone” – James Ingram, Anita Baker, Forget Paris (1995)
  • “Unforgettable” – Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, from Unforgettable: With Love (1991)

Beat that, suckas!