'90s - Richard Marx (2011)
'Someone Special - The Richard Marx Story'
For over 30 years, one way or another Richard Marx has consistently made his mark on the music industry. His debut single 'Don't Mean Nothing' and self-titled debut album may well have kicked-started his career as a solo artist back in 1987, but his 14th and latest chart topper, 'Long Hot Summer' (performed by Keith Urban) has given Marx the distinction of having a song he wrote (or co-wrote) top the charts in four different decades!
Having worked in the music business for so many years, ever since singing commercial jingles written by his father when he was five years old, Richard studio albums, singles, and Greatest Hits collections have sold millions worldwide.
Indeed, his hit singles were routinely found at the top of the charts and continue to be mainstays on pop and adult contemporary radio. But beyond his tremendous success as a singer/songwriter, Richard has earned a reputation as a sought-after producer, working behind the scenes with some of the biggest names in the music business.
Now out on the road performing different stylings of all his hit singles and more, his first-ever solo acoustic tour made its way to the Sound Board (located inside the Motor City Casino) here in Detroit, MI ... and backstage is where Richard and I settled down for our annual chat-chit.
Usually taking it from the top (re: early stats), today we’re gonna take it from the bottom! Let’s talk about the right here right now latest Richard Marx achievement - four decades of writing credit for #1 songs. Which has now been achieved with Keith Urban‘s ‘Long Hot Summer’ single. Congratulations! “Yeah, that’s the newest stat. I couldn’t be more proud. I’m only a little pissed off though that I had to share it with Michael Jackson,” he sarcastically adds.
But at least you’ve got another decade to come, at the very least, to try and beat him! “But, am I gonna write another number one song when I’m 59?”
Yes, you will! “Thank you. I do feel like I have just now started to learn how to write songs. I really do. I don’t think I knew what I was doing for the past three decades,” he actually manages to say with a straight face.
But what does that say about all your solo #1 hits then through the years?! “Luck! It kind of is. Keith [Urban] and I were talking about this a couple of nights ago. We’re savoring this particular number one more than we have before. They are really f**kin’ hard to get! There are so many things that have to transpire. There are so many worlds that have to collide to make that happen.”
Is there one major reason why it’s harder to get a number one hit today then it was 20 years ago? “Because the whole business is smaller now. The kind of things that would propel a song to number one used to just be so part of the natural machine. The way the radio worked, the way it was fan-driven and request-driven. But now there’s so much apathy. It starts with programmers and labels and trickles down. But I don’t know that many people who are as passionate about the listening of music as me. The collecting of music. But I‘m guilty of it too sometimes.”
Has the digital age ruined it for lovers of real music? “My theory is there’s a correlation. I recently said this on a TV show and it hit me as I was talking about it, as it was all spur of the moment. And after I wondered if I was just full of shit? But no, I think I really believe this. I believe there is a correlation between the actual physical size of music and the publics sense of its importance.”
“So, when I was a kid music was this big [he holds his hands apart to simulate the size of a vinyl album] and it came with stuff. It came with stuff to read and a sense of anticipation. Unwrapping it. The smell of it. My kids generation music got that big [his hands now simulate the much smaller size of a CD] and it sounded better, in some cases. And now you can’t even see it!”
“You can’t touch it, you can’t smell it, you can’t feel it. So, to me there’s got to be a correlation that when something gets that small I think it sends out a perception that it is becoming more of an insignificance. “
"Probably one of the most frightening statistics I’ve heard in a long time is that in an independent study this company went and they sampled 40,000 illegally downloaded, copyrighted files. They then published the results of it. Basically saying here’s what people are stealing. Do you know what the percentage of music was? 2%!! Number one was Porn - who doesn’t love porn,” he slyly smiles. “Midget/Transvestite porn, my favorite” he cheerfully adds. “That was followed closely by Apps, Movies was third, Video Games was fourth and there were lots of other things before we get to Music. And so when I read that it broke my heart as it means that people don’t even bother to steal it! They‘re not buying records and they’re not stealing records. They just don‘t care. There‘s so much competition for everyone’s attention. Frankly, a lot of the time I spend just sitting around listening to music I spend online. Looking at YouTube videos, playing games, watching movies. Even I don‘t listen to too much music these days.”
I don’t seeing it getting any better either! “No, I don’t see the toothpaste going back in, sadly!”
With regard your four decades of writing credit for #1 songs, admittedly, your #1 singles back in the ‘80s and ‘90s were your own sung-songs; with the #1 hits in the 2000’s written hits for you with regard ’N Sync, Josh Groban, Luther Vandross and Keith Urban again. Is there ever a part of you that wishes you’d kept those for yourself to have hits with? “No, I don’t think any of those songs would have been hits sung by me. I think my turn has passed. If I didn’t feel like I’d had a really great turn at bat, there would probably be a tinge of bitterness in that answer. In the nine or ten years, I don’t know how many hit singles, millions of albums, but all my checklists from when I was 17 and 18, everything was checked off!”
“I played places that I wanted to play, getting a number one album, getting a number one single. And then ten years in we put out a record that didn’t connect nearly as well, Flesh and Bone. So we went from Paid Vacation that had sold 2 or 3 million worldwide to put out an album that we still had a number one single from on the AC chart, but only sold 350,000 units. But now, people would go ‘Oh my God, that’s huge,’ but back then, no.”
And you knew at that moment the sales numbers came in that the end was Nye? “Yep. I knew before then. I kinda saw the writing on the wall. I knew I was still really proud of the record, so I knew we were still going to go for it and rock the shit out of it. But it always felt like I knew I was in trouble. And I shared that with pretty much every white male singer/songwriter at the time. If Bryan Adams, Billy Joel and all those guys were having multiple hits still then I would have really felt worse. But I saw like a collective door shutting on all of us. So, I didn’t sit around and lick my wounds for too long. I accepted it. I knew it would come some time.”
And so I never embraced being a celebrity. I never did any of that stuff you’re meant to do. I’m boring. It’s enabled me to have the most normal life of anybody who’s had the amount of success that I have. I had a TSA Agent yesterday at the airport, African-American woman aged about 35, and she was just eyeing me the whole time. And when I got through she told me she knew I was a famous actor! I told her she was wrong and so she said, ’Well, I know you’re somebody!’ So I told her, ‘But we’re all somebody’.”
Did you tell her in the end? “Noooooo, he exclaims, “she never asked!”
So even back in the day you never embraced the media limelight? “I was, and still am, a publicist’s nightmare! Especially when infamecy is the currency, I just don’t have any of that stuff. I certainly haven’t been a perfect person, but I live a very quiet life outside of Chicago. I really do. One of the things I’ve noticed, even in some of the people that I really like, they don’t ever go out in public on their own. They go with people because they know that will bring more attention to them. Entourage. That’s why people look. And the fear that nobody will recognize you is huge to them.”
“I recently had dinner with a singer/songwriter, who I like very much, in L.A. We kinda came up around the same time. He called up and suggested dinner. I wanted to go to this little Italian place that nobody knows about and he wanted to go to Mr. Chow’s. And the last time we went out to dinner he paid. So I was like, okay I guess we’ll go where you want to go. And Mr. Chow’s is one of the key paparazzi hang outs! He was with a girl and I was with my wife. Inside there were celebrities all over the place. So, we had this really great dinner, and when the meal was over, I got the check. And as I’d already been introduced to the Matredie when I sat down, I asked him if there was another way out of there? Other than the front door”
“I swear to God he looked at me as if I was from Mars! He said ‘Yeah, there’s a side door that will just take you into the parking lot.’ My friend and his date went out the front door and I said, ‘See ya, goodbye.’ The whole thing is so embarrassing. But it cost me in terms of celebrity currency, yes. Would I have had a longer run, a longer turn? I don’t know, probably. Publicists would try to get me to go to film premieres and I’d be like ‘I don’t have anything to do with this f**king film!’ It’s just not me. It’s not who I want to be.”
But these days you don’t shy away from exposing yourself on the internet, so to speak! “The only thing I will say about that, Russell is, and I’m interested in your theory about this too, the whole internet thing, I get a lot of compliments from people; especially young people that say ’There’s nobody from your era that is still doing what you do. There’s really nobody from your time that embraces that stuff as well as you do. I’ve constantly done video blogs, I try to be creative, and I’m now finally tweeting. But not shit like, ‘Had a ham sandwich!’ I try to make it interesting and funny. And I like doing that stuff, I honestly do. But I also truly believe there’s no mystery about anybody any more. There are times when I think ‘Am I doing this too much?”
No, of course not. I know people in bands back from the late ‘70s and thru the ‘80s that are still putting out music now, doing the YouTube postings, tweeting their hearts out about their new projects. They’re releasing their own albums from mixing desks in their bathrooms now! “Yeah, that’s the one thing about the music business being in the shitter is that there are no rules. I’m about to spend the next 18 months putting out more music than I ever have.”
You should put out a box-set! I looked for a box-set of your music today and couldn‘t find one anywhere! “Sorry,” he spit takes, “one just for you … Russell’s Box-Set!”
Yes, that’s it exactly. Thank you. At last. I’m gonna hold you to that!
Being that this is your 3rd #1 hit on the country chart as a co-writer, has it crossed your mind to write, sing and then release a Richard Marx country album next, perhaps? "It has crossed my mind, only to be jettisoned off it. The only way to have success at country radio is to embrace it fully and completely, and I have no interest in that, nor in playing the sleazy games that go with it. I do like the idea of doing a more organic, Americana type record, so .... that's probable."
Your recent concert at the Motor City Casino was a combination of a solo acoustic performance together with a 20 string orchestra. So, why has it taken this long to get strings behind you? "I actually did some shows with symphony in 1994, and enjoyed it. But I think for a long time the idea represented 'old' to me, and that was anathema at the time. Now ... I AM old!!! So I'm loving not only singing and playing with strings, but writing many of the arrangements myself, too."
Taking you back, your music career at the age of 5, singing commercial jingles for your father. To this day which of those sung commercials was your most proudest moment to watch/listen to on TV, and which was the one you had to always turn off? "I liked all of them at the time. But I didn't feel pride in singing them. I felt, and still feel, immense pride in my father for writing and producing them. That's a very special kind of talent that he had in spades."
Then aged 17, it was Lionel Richie that enticed you to move to L.A. where he was recording his debut solo album - which you then contributed backing vocals to. At that age, and having a mega star like Richie beckon you to L.A. was there any trepidation in you buying your ticket? "I had the full support of my parents to go out to LA and give things a try, and having Lionel in my corner certainly helped. It gave me a place to go every day and learn about making records. And it paid me a little bit of money so I didn't completely starve."
You then went on to do backing vocals for Madonna, Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, George Benson, Barbara Streisand, Luther Vandross and more. In reflection, if you had to choose one stand out moment from those days, which one would it be and why? "I'd go with Lionel on that. It wasn't just that it was my first real sessions, but this was a guy I REALLY admired ... whose voice and writing I thought was amazing. And still do. But in 1982 I was such a huge fan of his, and there I was singing on his records. Surreal!!!"
And, as mentioned, four years after moving to L.A. and with your demo tape having been rejected by every label in Hollywood, suddenly Bruce Lundvall of EMI/Manhattan Records reached out ... and your self-titled debut album was born. Before he stepped in though, had you considered returning back home with your tail between your legs? "No. That was never an option. I bided my time doing lots of sessions and writing songs for other artists, and frankly, right before I did get a deal with Bruce, I convinced myself that I'd be okay to just be a writer and arranger and producer. I just wanted to be in the music biz."
Looking back at your albums, what comes to mind about their writing and recording when I mention these titles:
Richard Marx - "Scared shitless, but pretending to be confident."
Repeat Offender - "I can hear the sound of having sold 3 million albums. Stronger record. More consistent."
Rush Street - "All I wanted was to NOT do 'Repeat Offender 2' so I tried hard to make a harder, more biting record that featured Tommy Lee and Terry Bozio. Looking back, despite selling millions of copies, I think I went too far and alienated some of my audience. Too all over the map."
Paid Vacation - "Most fun album to make. Did it all in a home studio in LA. Worked from 10am to 5pm and was home for dinner every night. Really great time in my life."
My Own Best Enemy - "Much of this album represents some of my favorite stuff I've ever done. I think 'Ready To Fly' might be my best song so far."
Did you know you only face the camera on your album covers three times: Rush Street, Duo, and Stories To Tell. The first being a split shot, the second a shot of you and Matt, the third the ONLY full face image ... thoughts?! "Never thought about it. I've always been very self conscious so photo shoots and album covers were worse than root canal. Still are."
Looking at all your album/single covers, your successful chart charge through the decades brought with them changing hair styles. So, were you ever in charge of your hair style for album and single covers or was that down to a fleet of label stylists? "If ONLY I had listened to stylists back in 1989!! I was convinced that I would look even more ridiculous with shorter hair, so it took years before I surrendered. But I still maintain that my mullet, technically, only lasted 2 and a half years .... which was 2 and a half years too much!"
‘Don’t Mean Nothing’ - What, in life means nothing to you at this stage of your career?! - "Tabloids and political promises"
‘Satisfied’ - What one thing completely satisfies you more than anything else these days?! - "Time with my sons."
'Right Here Waiting’ - What one thing pisses you off the most to have to wait for?! - "Slow drivers to get the f**k out of my way!"
'Hazard’ - After all these years, let's set the record straight ...
in your mind, now or then, did your character from the song actually kill the girl (he left down by the river) ... or was he
honestly innocent?! - "He loved her ... he adored her ... he would kill anyone who tried to hurt her ... he was innocent."
‘Now and Forever’ - What one thing will you always remember, now and forever?! - "Summer of 1994 ... playing a show in Chicago at the place I grew up going to shows ... with a symphony ... and my father conducting them behind me all night ... and the smiles he and I exchanged."
Christmas is just 2 months away, so what does Richard Marx usually do for the Christmas holidays and NYE? "I love Xmas and get totally into the holiday spirit. NYE is for people who drink way more than I do."
Will you ever release a Christmas CD, perhaps? "My first Xmas record ... an EP of 5 songs ... comes out in a month. It's called, imaginatively enough, The Christmas EP."
Finally, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball,
ExclusiveMagazine.com (and myself)
love penguins … do you?! "Nope. Sorry. They're dirty and they smell awful. Just like the paparazi!!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
Richard Marx on Twitter
Now Read The Brand New RICHARD MARX Live Concert Review From His Motor City Casino Stop in Detroit!