Hello, my name is Terry Kirkman, a new contributor to the Huff/Post50 column. Much to my surprise, Rita Wilson, this section's editor-at-large, has kindly extended me an invitation to write about my thoughts and experiences in the music world. Please be warned that I have never done this before, at least not for publication. It's been 27 years since I've been in the concert-singing business, but I still work on one art or another every day. My friends and family will tell you I'm loaded with stories and opinions about them all; I look forward to exchanging some of mine with yours in the coming months.
I was honored to meet Rita when she sang one of my 1960s songs on her wonderful new album, "AM/FM." She and her producer, Fred Mollin, graciously invited me to meet them in one of their recording sessions and hear what they'd done with my tune, "Cherish." To say I was moved would be an understatement. To my great surprise and pleasure, Rita sang it in a much slower, plaintive and purer manner than my vocal group, The Association, did in '65. Her approach was especially moving for me because it was so much closer to how I originally intended the song to be sung, more so than any version I've ever heard before. (Though I'm not complaining, mind you -- our version was a #1 hit and became BMI's 22nd all-time most airplayed song).
"So, then," you may ask, "why didn't your group do it that way?" Pure and simple: art + marketing + business = compromi$e.
In the 60s the general guideline for the maximum playtime of a song to ever get on Top 40 AM radio was around two minutes and 15 seconds. Two snappy verses and a short bridge -- maybe a little instrumental riff -- then a repeated verse or chorus before wrapping it up. But the way I intended "Cherish" to be sung ran a full minute or longer than that, somewhere around 3:40. The problem was that it had not only three hefty verses and a bridge -- it had a whole extra bridge... and a long one at that! "Oh I could say I need you, but then you'd realize that I want you just like a thousand other guys..." On top of that, I wanted it sung a full 50 percent slower than you've ever heard it.
What I heard in my head when writing the song was more like The Righteous Brothers' super hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (and with good reason -- the song is BMI's #1 most airplayed tune!). Slow, heavy, sad, poignant and heartbroken, with that heavy fat back pulsing beat -- ka bam chunga, bam chunga -- full of heart-wrenching soul. So very not like the German Youth March tempo we ended up employing to shorten the length.
The song was so long that not only did we speed up the tempo up -- we sped the actual recording up after we recorded it as well. And when that still wasn't quite fast enough, our producers then lied about the play time on the label by about 20 full seconds. God only knows what must have gone through the minds of all those tightly formatted Top 40 radio programmers trying to figure out where they'd gone wrong.
But wait! That's not all! Another strange aspect of the "Cherish" story -- one that has particularly baffled me -- was that it became such a huge favorite for weddings. Couples by the thousands called it "their song," in spite of the fact it is so very much about love lost, not victorious love. But who knows? Maybe it was that stirring youth march tempo that did them in.
While we're on the issue of strange audience perceptions: one of my favorite anecdotes comes from Dick and Don Addrisi, the talented brother writing team who created "Never My Love" (another #1 Association release and #2 on BMI's all-time airplay list). They swore that when they were walking down the aisle in their big, beautiful double wedding to their colossally famous tune (an actual in-love, marriage proposal, wedding song mind you: "How can you think love would end when I've asked you to spend your whole life...with me?") they saw one of their aunts smile in recognition, poke her husband in the side and whisper loudly, "Honey, listen! They're playing 'Cherish!'" To all of our amazement, folks often got the two tunes mixed up in their heads. (Fortunately, though, you can now hear both tunes on Rita's album and make up your own mind.)
But this time, when I heard Rita's smooth and steady, slower version of "Cherish," I was so moved that I actually teared up right there on the spot. It was like seeing your kid all dressed up as an adult for the first time, just as beautiful as you'd always dreamed they'd look.
Thanks, again, to both Rita and The Huffington Post for asking me to share my passion for the joys of all music. I am excited to do so. Much more soon. Until then lets all do good.