Wednesday, 7 August 2013

That's What Friends are for: Stronger than the sum of its parts

Dionne and Friends who, from left are Gladys Knight,
Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder
“That’s What Friends Are For” holds a special place in my heart, not only because it is a touching song with a great message and raised millions for AIDS research, but because it brought together four such different voices.

Dionne Warwick had been a star for years, charting single after single. At that point, Warwick was the host of “Solid Gold”, and the cousin of this new singing sensation named Whitney Houston. In fact, Warwick found herself in the odd spot of announcing her own song as the number one song of the week. Although that did make it easy for her to sing it then.

The “friends” were Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight.

Gladys Knight was a singer most often associated with her band "The Pips" and was fresh off trying her hand at a sitcom, a "Cosby Show" knock off called “Charlie and Company” where she co-starred with Flip Wilson.

Stevie Wonder was fresh off probably his last big single "Part Time Lover", from the album "In Square Circle".

Elton John was in the midst of a resurgence with his album "Ice on Fire", which produced the hit singles "Nikita" and a duet with George Michael called "Wrap Her Up".

So all of them had been on the radio and on the charts when "That's What Friends are For" came out late in 1985. Elton John played piano and Stevie Wonder played the harmonica, highlighted by that touching solo to open and close the song.

The song would shoot all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January of 1986, and go on to raise more than $3 million for AIDS research. The song won the Grammy for best pop performance by a group with vocal, and song of the year for its writers Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach. "That's What Friends are For" would also be the last number one single for Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder.

All four were stars and chart toppers in their own right, but the whole was stronger than the sum of its parts. The sound they created was truly magical, giving even greater force to the message the song delivered.

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