“That’s What Friends Are For”

“That’s What Friends Are For”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Carole Bayer Sager
“That’s What Friends Are For”

Written by Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach
Recorded by Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John

“That’s What Friends Are For” was originally written in 1982 for Night Shift, the movie that has since become a cult classic, starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton. The film was directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Glaser. I was married to Burt Bacharach at the time and we co-wrote the song. Warner Chappell got Rod Stewart to sing it and I really liked the way it turned out. Warner Bros., however, thought it was too middle of the road to be a hit and the movie didn’t do enough to trigger the song to move up the charts. “Arthur’s Theme,” for instance, which we also wrote, paralleled the movie’s success. As the movie became more popular, so did the song and the charts and sales reflected that. Since Night Shift wasn’t a big hit, neither was our song at the time.

Four years later, we were in the studio recording Dionne Warwick and Burt came to me and said, “You know, Dionne wants to sing a duet with Stevie Wonder and she’d like to record ‘That’s What Friends Are For.’ ” We had never made any effort to have anyone else record it. I frankly thought that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to surpass the job that Rod did. We figured we would try it and see what happened.

The success of this record shows how important faith is. Although I wouldn’t have thought to have it re-recorded, it is because I believed in Dionne and Burt that this record got made.

First we put Dionne on the track. Burt and I co-produced it — he did most of the music and I did the mixing. Stevie was coming into the studio and I knew that my good friend Elizabeth Taylor liked him and thought he was a tremendous talent, so I invited her to come and meet him. The song sounded great to me when he was recording, and it was really Elizabeth being there that inspired me to suggest that we give the money from that record to amFAR. I so admire all of the work she’s done with that charity and many others. Besides, I’ve lost so many friends and associates to AIDS and related diseases. Peter Allen’s death, in particular, touched me very deeply and made me want to help even more.

Gladys (Knight) is a friend of all of ours so she came on board for the project. We wanted Elton John but we didn’t know if we could get him. Luther Vandross recorded the Elton part first. He was a great talent but, to be honest, we knew we needed a wow! We needed a heavy hitter to bring home the last chorus. Elton has all that power and we were able to get him, and replaced Luther’s vocal. When Elton finished the recording and we were listening to it, he said, “If this isn’t a hit, I’m going to leave the music business.”

Everyone involved immediately agreed to donate their income from this project and it has made me so happy to give the money to amFAR. The cause, in fact, has become bigger than the song, which made it particularly fulfilling to be awarded the Grammy for Song of the Year.

“That’s What Friends Are For”

And I, never thought I’d feel this way

And as far as I’m concerned

I’m glad I got the chance to say

That I do believe I love you.

And if, I should ever go away

Well then close your eyes and try

To feel the way we do today

And then if you can remember

Keep smiling, keep shining

Knowing you can always count on me, for sure

That’s what friends are for.

For/In good times and/in bad times

I’ll be on your side forever more,

That’s what friends are for.

Well you came and opened me

And now there’s so much more I see

And so, by the way, I thank you.

And then, for the times when we’re apart,

Well then close your eyes and know

These words are coming from my hearts

And then if you can remember

Keep smiling, keep shining

Knowing you can always count on me, for sure

That’s what friends are for.

For/In good times and/in bad times

I’ll be on your side forever more,

That’s what friends are for.

Written by Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach. © 1985 Carole Bayer Sager Music/New Hidden Valley Music Company Photo credit Fred Brown, AFP

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