Read an Excerpt
Recorded by Frank Sinatra
I became globalized early in my career. I traveled internationally a great deal as a kid and lived in several countries. I was sitting outside my house in the countryside in France one day and heard a Claude Francois record. As a musician, I hear lots of options in songs and that held true with this one.
It was the late '60s and, on my way home to the United States, I stopped in Paris. I was pretty well connected there so I found the publisher of the song and met with him and told him I thought the song was interesting. He asked what I wanted and I said, "The rights." We signed a simple two-page contract that I took back to the States with me. I transformed the record to a piano lead sheet and put it in my drawer to come back to later.
I had a close relationship with Frank Sinatra at the time because we worked together many times when the Rat Pack was at the Sands Hotel and I was the youngest performer in Las Vegas. We spent quite a bit of time together; he was like a mentor to me. Thus, one of my career goals was to write for him even though I knew he hated pop music. He liked Gershwin, Porter. That was his kind of music.
Don Costa was my A&R/producer and part of my life from age 16 on. I introduced Frank to Don, who subsequently became his record producer. I played the Fontainebleau in Miami and, on one occasion, Frank was doing a detective movie down there. We got together for dinner and he told me that he was tired of the government's Mafia accusations. They were bugging his phones so he had to change his number every other day. He'd go into rooms and there'd be holes in the walls from pulling out the phones and installing new ones. He said he was quitting the business, getting out of the public eye. I couldn't fathom him not being in our lives.
I knew that Don (Costa) was doing one more album with Frank so I pulled out the sheet of the French song and thought about what Frank would say if he were writing it. The song morphed itself. I began typing and it wrote itself in about five hours. I typed everything. I was in the habit of using a typewriter from my days working at a newspaper when I had aspirations to be a journalist. I kept the typewriter next to my piano whenever I wrote.
The first line is metaphorical, referring not only to age but to the fact that he was going to quit:
And now, the end is near And so I face the final curtain.I called Don and Frank at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas to let them know I'd written a song for him and that I wanted to do a piano demo and get it to him. Shortly after that, I was playing the Sahara and had it delivered to him. I got a call that Frank wanted to do it. They recorded it in Los Angeles at United Recording studio. Sinatra said, "Kid, I want you to hear something." He always called me kid; in fact, he made robes for the Rat Pack and me with our names on them -- mine said KID.
Costa got on the phone and put it to the speaker and played the recording. I knew then that this was the turning point in my career and my life. There was something in the mix that Sinatra wasn't happy with, so after the records were pressed, he had them throw out 50,000 records and press the corrected version. This record turned everything around for him, too.
My record company at the time, RCA Victor, was unhappy. They had wanted me to record it but in my mind, I was old enough to write it but not to record it. It was not proper casting and I knew I had to check my ego at the door. You need the right artist to make a song happen. Lots of people have recorded this song, but his is the important version for me.
Written and Recorded by Jim Croce
As told by Ingrid Croce
In 1963 Jim Croce was a clean-cut sophomore at Villanova University with a double major in psychology and modern languages. He knew over 2,000 songs that he played as a solo artist at college concerts, coffee houses and east coast society engagements.
In addition to performing, Jim worked at the college radio station, doing a three-hour folk and blues show. He interviewed great artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Son House. Hearing this music reminded Jim of the traditional jazz and blues his father played on their old phonograph, which was seldom without a stack of Turk Murphy, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, or Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti records.
That December I was just 16 and making the transformation from a cartwheeling cheerleader at Springfield High into a Joan Baez inspired folkie. Jim Croce was judging a folk contest I was in at Convention Hall in Philadelphia with my group "The Rumrunners" and he picked me! After the concert, Jim asked me to perform with him and we became a duo. Our relationship grew from our love of music and an undeniable attraction we had for each other from the start.
While at Villanova, Jim had joined the Army National Guard and had waited for over two years to be called to take his basic training. Just days before our wedding on August 26, 1966 Jim finally received his orders to report for duty. Though we were madly in love and couldn't wait to move in together, sadly, 5 days after our honeymoon, Jim got his head shaved, his boots polished and gave me a teary-eyed kiss goodbye at the Pennsylvania Station. He was on his way to Boot Camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Jim wrote me wonderful love letters every day. He also wrote about his strong distaste for authority and drew pictures of his Sergeants, posting them around the barracks with quotes that said things like, "Half the army reads comic books and the other half just look at the pictures." This type of "rebelliousness" led to the necessity of Jim having to repeat basic training twice. But, as always, Jim's discontent fueled his humor and he found his wit and musical talent could be used in his favor.
At every opportunity, Jim practiced his guitar and entertained his fellow soldiers. When his superiors heard Jim's music they excused his transgressions and asked Jim to perform for them at the Officers Club. It was at Fort Jackson that Jim really started to get a lot of new ideas for his songs.
As Jim used to explain at his shows, "I got the idea for writing 'Operator' by standing outside the PX, waiting to use one of the outdoor phones. There wasn't a phone booth. It was just stuck up on the side of the building and there were about 200 guys in each line waiting to make a phone call back home, to see if their 'Dear John' letters were true. And with their raincoats over their heads, covering the telephone and everything, it really seemed surreal that so many people were going through the same experience, going through the same kind of change, and to see it happen especially on something like a telephone, talking to a long distance operator just registered...
When I got out of the Army, I was working at a bar where there was a telephone directly behind where I was playing. I couldn't help be disturbed by it all the time, and I noticed that the same kinda thing was happening, people checkin' up on somebody or finding out what was goin' on, but always talkin' to the operator, and I decided I would write a song about it."
"Come to My Window"
I wrote most of this song in a hotel room, which is where I did a lot of my writing once I started touring a lot after my first album. The first three albums did fine. I was being played on radio and had a bit of a following. The hip hop beats were starting around 1990, the time of my third album, I experimented musically with them. So for the fourth album, I was thinking of getting back to my soul -- to the roots of rock and roll where I came from.
I was in a relationship at the time that was tumultuous. In my early twenties and thirties I made some poor choices and what you choose is what you get. I was struggling with fidelity, honesty and what it is that makes a relationship.
On the road, as a "rock star," there's superficial attention and adulation is thrown at you for a couple of hours -- then you're alone in your room and it's lonely. I understand why some people turn to drugs.
I started writing in my room (I remember it was nice but can't remember where it was -- Europe or America) after a show. I had a not so good phone call with my partner at the time, where out of loneliness, I sat on the phone, silent:
I would dial the numbersBecause of all of the attention I was getting, I felt I needed to do something for someone else. I would sacrifice so many things, put myself through so much pain for this relationship:
Just to listen to your breath
You don't know how much I'd giveThe chorus is a metaphor meaning you can't come through the front door. I was telling her that we can't meet and talk in an adult fashion; we have to meet on the side and talk. And I always like a reference to the moon. It conjures up a cold, sweet image.
Or how much I can take
Just to reach you.
Come to my windowThe last line means that I couldn't connect with her and I was longing to be home.
Crawl inside, wait by the light
Of the moon.
Come to my window
I'll be home soon.
My friends were telling me I wasn't in a good place. They were saying, "Why are you putting up with that?" but I didn't care what they thought:
I don't care what they thinkHowever, at the same time the album became a hit, I came out publicly. The gay community lifted me up and supported me. That bridge in the song was taken to an anthem level. It bypassed any meaning I ever put in the song and became part of a mass consciousness. It is still a huge moment when I perform it live.
I don't care what they say.
What do they know about this
I realized that I was willing to compromise my wants, wishes for someone else. The need was deeper than skin, it was in my blood. I needed to make a connection.
I need you in my bloodMuch therapy later, I realized that the hole I felt was for me to fill, but much of our lives we try to have others do that for us. Originally, I was referring to the pain love brings when I used the metaphor "the blackness in my chest." That's where I feel my pain, where the heart chakra is. However, ten years later, in 2004, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my current partner asked when I last listened to my records. I couldn't remember, so while I was undergoing chemotherapy, friends came over and we all listened to every album in the order in which they were released. We listened all the way through and it took about three days because we talked about the songs and each of our memories.
I am forsaking all the rest
Just to reach you
It hit me:
Nothing fills the blacknessI was sitting there with a huge scar on my chest where they literally removed the blackness from the cancer. I realized how powerful words are. As I craft songs, I have a responsibility. Words and music go beyond lyrics or thoughts -- they go straight to the soul. The cancer changed my life. It showed me the power of intention. We're all spiritual beings and there has to be a balance of the soul and the body. That is the journey I'm on now.
That has seeped into my chest
"Be with You"
Written with Paul Barry and Mark Taylor
I was in England finishing my first fully English speaking album, "Enrique," recording in a studio on the outskirts of London. I was almost done with the album; this was the last song I wrote for it. It was one of those times when everything was going so fast. Record companies were fighting to sign me, the record company I signed with wanted an album fast, there was lots of hype, it was very chaotic. I was in my hotel room really late on a Monday night (really early Tuesday morning). I always listen to other people's music and get inspiration from them. I was listening to Tom Petty that night. Often I'd wish that I'd written a song like the one I was listening to. I was thinking about someone I missed a lot and wished were there with me. This is autobiographical, as are most of my songs. If a story is real, the lyrics always come out a lot easier. I finished this song that night.
I never told the person I wrote it for that she was the subject. In fact, I've never told anyone I've written about them or that the song was inspired by them. That's probably why I write. It's a way to express myself whether I'm happy, angry, sad, however I mostly write when I am sad or lonely, as I was the night I wrote this song. It seems that the sadder you are, the better the song.
I started writing when I was 14 or 15, which is a very tough age for anyone. It helped a lot. The same has carried over in my adult life. My writing has saved me a lot of money with psychologists in therapy! The morning after I wrote "Be With You" I went to the studio and sang it for my producers -- Mark Taylor (who co-wrote the music) and Brian Rawling. It got a great reaction. It has turned out to be my favorite song on the record.
"Man in the Mirror"
Co-written with Glen Ballard
Two years before I walked into Glen Ballard's home studio, I was in a writing session with John Beasley. He got a phone call and I was rolling my eyes, waiting for him to return to our writing session. I heard him say, "The man? What man? Oh, the man in the mirror…" I thought it might be good for a song and wrote it down and continued to seethe that he was still on the phone.
When Quincy (Jones) was working on Michael Jackson's album Bad, he invited eight of us, songwriters, to his house. I was late and when I walked in, he stopped everything to point out my tardiness. Everyone was already seated and Quincy had begun to tell them that he needed one more song for the record. He was looking for an up tempo, kind of dance song like "Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty."
Glen and I were doing a lot of writing together and I went to his house and told him what Quincy was looking for and he laughed. I had a pencil, pad and my lyric book and he went to the keyboard and started playing chords. I was looking through my book and the phrase "Man in the Mirror" popped out at me. I started singing the beginning of the first verse and couldn't write fast enough. Writing the lyrics slowed me down, although I was writing like I was in a frenzied trance. By the end of that afternoon, we had a verse and a chorus. I knew this was an opportunity to say something important to the world because everyone would listen to Michael. I went home and finished the chorus and wrote another verse. That was Wednesday. On Thursday we knew we had it. On Friday we did a demo of the song. I couldn't wait until Monday to let Quincy hear it so I called him and begged him to let me drop it off at his house over the weekend. I finally convinced him and went over there. I knocked on the front door and when he opened it, I saw twelve "suits" sitting there who looked extremely exasperated as if to say, "You are so interrupting us!" I handed Quincy the cassette and left quickly.
He called me two hours later and said it was the best song he'd heard in 10 years. However, he went on to say that Michael had yet to record any songs he didn't write, but Quincy liked it so much that he said if Michael didn't record it, he would get someone else to use it.
A week or so later, he called to tell me that Michael really liked it (I hear whispering in the background) and that they will be recording it (I hear more whispering in the background) but that Michael said the bridge should be longer. I hear whispering in the background again and then he handed the phone to Michael. When he started talking, I was screaming in my head, "Oh my God! I'm speaking to Michael Jackson!!" but I kept a good cover and finished the conversation. I got what he was saying and I love him, but I didn't want Michael to be a writer on the song, so I wrote six bridges for him to pick from and he found one he liked. The planets were in the right alignment, that's all I have to say.
We were in the studio and they were recording the choir with Andre Crouch. By the third day they still hadn't finished. I was sitting on the other side of the room knitting or crocheting. Quincy had me go into the recording booth and Michael was there on one side in front of a mic stand and I was positioned facing him with my own mic. Again, my mind went to, "Oh my God -- I'm doing a duet with him!" When I looked at the sheet music I realized that the lyrics were for "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" and were already noted with Michael/Siedah; Michael/Siedah… Clearly this was not impromptu. As a result, I toured all over the world with him for the next year and a half.
I was also asked to sing in the choir for "Man in the Mirror". I also did all of the harmony with Michael. That's me above Michael singing the melody. I also sang harmony on the duet with Michael in that song. When it was finished, we listened to it over and over again and were surprised each time because we kept hearing new things each time. The album was released very soon after the recording was finished. "Man in the Mirror" was the fifth single from that record and was released too late in the year to be considered for a Grammy but it's certainly been my most successful song to date.