How Diane Warren Wrote Hits for Cher, Beyoncé, Aerosmith, More - Rolling Stone
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Diane Warren: Wild Stories Behind Hits for Beyoncé, Cher, Aerosmith and More

From “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” to “Why Did You Do That?,” hit-making songwriter Diane Warren tells all

Diane Warren poses for a portrait at the 92nd Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Loews Hotel on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Diane Warren poses for a portrait at the 92nd Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Loews Hotel on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

One day circa 1964, a young Diane Warren looked at the songwriting credits on The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof” and decided upon her life’s mission. “It said (Goffin/King),” she says. “I remember wanting to be in the parentheses.” Warren ended up writing dozens of hits, beginning with DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” in 1985, with nine songs hitting number one, from Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart” to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing.”

In a recent interview with our Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, Warren – who has a guest-singer-packed solo album, Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions Vol. 1,  due this year – looked back at the stories behind some of her biggest songs. (To hear the audio version of the full interview, press play below, or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.)

“(You Make Me) Rock Hard,” Kiss (1988)

“I thought it was a really good title for a Kiss song!  It was kind of funny. And then, you know, Paul loved it. And we ended up writing the song. I can’t believe I came up with that title.

“Blame It on the Rain,” Milli Vanilli (1989)

“I knew that was a hit song. And it’s kind of a funny little story. When I was writing it. I was really bored writing the verse, and my hand slipped, and it goes up a half step  in the middle of the verse in a really weird place. But it really works. There was a group at the time called the Jets who were supposed to record it, and they’d kept it on hold for a year.  And then they didn’t do it. I was really kind of pissed off because I had sat on the song. And I went to see Clive Davis in New York, and before I even played the song he played, he goes, I have this new group, Milli Vanilli. And he played ‘Girl You Know It’s True,’ which has almost the same rhythm as ‘Blame It on the Rain,’ which is kind of weird. And Clive loved the song and whoever recorded it recorded it. But whoever sang it it, I love it. I love that song. And I had no idea they weren’t singing until they were playing live [and their backing track started skipping]!”

“Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton (1996)

“I came up with that title. And I started playing the chorus with those chords.It’s a weird title. It created a word. I remember, Clive Davis, when I played that song, he goes, ‘you can’t rhyme rain and pain’ [because it’s a cliché ].He wanted me to change it. And I go, ‘No, no, it works.’ I thought it’d be a good song for Toni Braxton, and Clive loved it for her. And she didn’t really like it. It happens! Maybe she hates it more now, having to sing it for 20 years.”

“If I Could Turn Back Time,” Cher (1989)

“I thought was was a great song for her and she hated it. And so I went to the studio when she was recording another song of mine. And literally when she was in the lounge, I got on my hands and knees and held her leg down until she said she’d try it out. She goes, “I hate that fucking song. I hate it.” I go, ‘Well, I’m not letting your leg go!” I go, ‘Look, I’ll pay for the tracks  If it doesn’t work, then it’s all my cost. I know the song’s right for you.’ She said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll try it.’ And that’s probably my most iconic song! I remember they couldn’t play that video ’til after midnight because it was so risqué. It was like, ‘What? Really?'”

“Because You Loved Me,” Celine Dion (1996)

“I wrote it for the movie Up Close and Personal. But I tapped into thanking my dad for believing in me because he always really believed in my music, and was always supportive. [The plot of that movie] would be like a #metoo thing now. I mean, could they make that movie now?”

“How Do I Live,” LeAnn Rimes/Trisha Yearwood (1997)

“I remember getting in a lot of trouble because there were two versions of it. I wrote the song for the movie Con Air. Well, what happened was, so I wrote it. And I wrote for the movie, and I played it for [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer. And he liked it. But there were I think, 200 other songs in the [running] at that time for that movie. And I happened to run into LeAnn Rimes, who had just won the Grammy for Best New Artist, at a restaurant and I told her, I wrote this song, do you want to demo it?”

“So she went back and recorded it, did a video, and spent all this money. I played it for Jerry. And he was excited about LeAnn, but he wanted some changes made. And her dad, who was a co-producer on the song, was like, ‘I’m not changing nothing for them Hollywood people.’ And then Jerry asked if it was okay to put Tricia [Yearwood] on. And I said, Yeah, but I can’t pull it from LeAnn. even if Trisha does it for the movie. And then Jerry was like, ‘No, you have to pull it from LeAnn.’ I couldn’t do that. Jerry was like, ‘I’m never gonna work with you again.” Then LeAnn was mad at me and Jerry was mad at me. Until it became, you know, the biggest hit. So then they all start liking me again.  That’s what hits do. They make people like you!”

“I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” Aerosmith (1998)

“Again, it was a title I had and I was shown the end of the movie [Armageddon]. I met with Jerry Bruckheimer. Remember, he said he wasn’t gonna work with me ever again, a year before? He changed his mind. So I went back and wrote the song. And never in a million years thought Aerosmith would do it. I kind of thought a female vocalist would end up doing it, but it’s so much more powerful with Steven Tyler – him being that vulnerable in the song really worked. I remember the first time hearing it and just being literally knocked off my chair with how great that was. That should have won Record of the Year. That was a great record.”

“I Was Here,” Beyoncé (2011)

“That’s one of the best experiences ever. I wrote it on my guitar, ’cause a friend of mine was three hours late. I had my acoustic guitar there. I started with the line, ‘I want to leave my footprints on the sands of time,’ and the song kind of just started writing itself. And I thought, this could be a really great song for Beyoncé. And it could also be a song for Leona Lewis or Susan Boyle, both Simon Cowell’s artists. So  I did a little acoustic guitar version of it. and I sent it to Simon.”

“And then I called Jay Z. And he called me back and I played it  on the guitar.  I said, ‘I thought  this could be great for Beyoncé. It’s different for her.’ And he loved it. He said, stay by your phone. She’s gonna land. You know, as soon as she lands, she’s calling you.. She goes, ‘Okay, this is Monday, my album is supposed to come out Friday. She said I’m going in Wednesday. I’m recording that song. I’m stopping my album.'”

So I went in the studio with her and I was blown away by that vocal. And then she goes, ‘Well, I’m gonna let’s take a dinner break now. And I’m going to go back and do it again. I’m like, What do you mean do it again? It’s perfect.” She goes, ‘Now I’m going to get it better.’ And that’s a difference, by the way, between a great artist and a not-great artist. I mean, that’s why she’s gonna be around forever.”

“I couldn’t even sleep all night, ’cause I was so excited about about how that song was coming out. I wake up in the morning, and remember, I’d given it to Simon Cowell. I wake up to an email from his head of A&R going, ‘the song, it’s nice, but it just doesn’t go all the way for us, but feel free to send more stuff.’ And so I wrote back, ‘Funnily enough, I was in the studio last night with probably the biggest artist on the planet. And it went all the way for her.” With a smiley face. So that was a fun email to write.

“Why Did You Do That’ Lady Gaga (2018)

” ‘Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?’That was my line! I go, is it OK, if we say that? And then I didn’t see the song in the movie until the premiere. And then that’s the one that Bradley Cooper is basically  saying she’s a terrible artist for saying a line like that. I’m like, ‘Oh, cool! My line!’ “

“Times Like This,” Darius Rucker (2020)

“It was a month or two into the pandemic. I just started writing that chorus andI loved it. It felt so anthemic and hopeful. In my head, I kept hearing Darius Rucker’s voice because with him, it’s like listening to a friend. So when you were going through all this turmoil, and this pandemic, and everything being shut down, here’s a voice. There’s a line in the song. ‘saw a man with a sign saying I need money for beer.’ And a few years ago, I was in Nashville and I did see someone holding a sign saying ‘I’m not gonna lie, I need a beer.’ And I thought, mental note to myself, that’s gonna find its way into a song.'”

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