Monday, January 21, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Songwriters Step Out

Anybody remember a movie called "The Idolmaker"?

The 1980 flick (directed by Ray's Taylor Hackford) featured Ray Sharkey as a rock impresario who helps two schlubs become big stars. At the end of the movie, when the two stars have long since abandoned him, he finally takes center stage as a performer.

What dos this have to do with today's post? Well, not much. Except for the fact that I'm reminded of that movie whenever I think of the following two artists: Martin Page and Holly Knight.

These were two professional songwriters who wrote some of the biggest hits of their era. They were mostly anonymous. And mostly remained so, even when they performed their own songs to varying degrees of success.

So let's run down some of the songs written by Knight, who seemed to be responsible for every hit churned out by a female singer for a while.

  • "Love is a Battlefield" and "Invincible" by Pat Benatar

  • "The Warrior" by Patty Smyth (Mrs. John McEnroe) and Scandal

  • "Never" by Heart

  • "Better Be Good To Me" by Tina Turner

  • "Rag Doll" by Aerosmith

As for Page, who initially made his mark as the leader of the synth-pop group Qfeel (Remember "Dancing in Heaven"? Yeah, that one), he wrote or co-wrote the following songs.

  • "We Built This City" by Starship

  • "King Of Wishful Thinking" by Go West

  • "These Dreams" by Heart

I'll try not to hold a few of those songs against them – particularly that excruciating Heart album and the lowest point in what was once San Francisco's greatest bands. Because I want to talk about songs they put out under their own names.

Well, not quite. Because in the case of Knight, her moment in the spotlight came as a member of the band Device, which put out an album called 22B3 on Chrysalis Records in 1986. It even featured a Top 40 single: "Hanging on a Heart Attack," which was more synth-oriented than most of Knight's other work of the decade. Knight does the backing vocals, but bandmate Paul Engemann handles the lead. It would be the only hit for the group, which disbanded soon afterwards. But Engemann would return to the top 40 several years later as a member of Animotion, which had a top 10 hit in 1989 with "Room to Move."

Download "Hanging on a Heart Attack" by Device

Page hit it even bigger with the title track to his 1994 album, In the House of Stone & Light. A huge smash on the A/C charts, this was definitely not your average Celine Dion tune. In interviews, Page has stated that everything from Gaelic chants to church choirs influenced him as he put the song together. You can hear it in some of the unusual chord changes, strong countermelody and the lead guitar part, contributed by Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band and a frequent Page collaborator.

Download "In the House of Stone and Light" by Martin Page

Which all goes to prove: Songwriters are people too.

No comments: