The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
It’s Valentine’s Day weekend! And whether you painted the town red with your significant other, or lied down on your couch, brushed off the Doritos crumbs on your chest to make room for your cat, and watched the new season of Strike Back, you are no doubt familiar with the working class romantic hard rock sound of Bon Jovi.
You no doubt have an Aunt Linda, proud owner of a leather jacket with fringe, leopard print leggings, and a 1987 Ford Mustang GT convertible, who blasts New Jersey’s finest on her trips to Giant Eagle. Classics such as “Livin’ on a Prayer,” where Tommy and Gina’s love perseveres despite a struggle to pay the bills in a bleak urban landscape.
And as Tommy asked Gina to take his hand, he promised – nay, he swore! – they’d make it, the songwriter behind the band asked a nation in 2013 to believe his singer. Desmond Child asked the United Kingdom to believe in Bonnie Tyler at Eurovision 2013 with “Believe in Me.”
Born John Charles Barrett on October 28, 1953, in Gainesville, Florida, Child grew up in a musical household, with his mother being Cuban poet and songwriter Elena Casals. His father was John Frederick Barrett, an American petroleum engineer she met in Havana, Cuba. She moved with him to run a dairy farm in Gainesville, but they split in 1958 and she and their two sons moved to Miami, Florida.
Casals opened up her home to artists, poets and musicians fleeing the brutal totalitarian communist Fidel Castro regime that took power in her homeland, and despite training as a teacher, Casals herself became a poet and songwriter in her own right.
“When people came out of Cuba they would stay with us until they got their feet on the ground,” Child said. “There were always descargas at our house, my mother singing her own songs, people reciting poetry.”
Casals had a minor hit in the Americas by composing “Muchisimo” for exiled Cuban bolero singer Roberto Ledesma. She remained an influence in the Cuban-American music community in Miami, helping identify up-and-coming talent and contributing lyrics to her son’s projects.
Casals was and remained a large influence in her son’s musical development over the years, and during high school he formed his first band.
“When I was at school I met a girl called Debbie Wall, who was a singer and a songwriter,” Child told Music Business World in 2017. “I made friends with her and we would go to her house after school drink English tea, eat brown rice and write songs. We had this idea to form a duo called Night Child. I came up with the name Virgil Night for her and I became Desmond Child.”
Wall and Child moved to New York when they were 18, and Child was taken in by a Hungarian immigrant friend of the family named Joseph Marfy, who claimed that he was Child’s father. Marfy put Child through college, and helped provide connections for him in the music industry.
Night Child did not last, but Child formed another band that soon began to get noticed in the New York City disco scene in the 1970s.
“After Night Child had split up, I met a girl called Maria Vidal, who became my girlfriend – she was just so special.” said Child. “She came with me to New York and we started Desmond Child and Rouge, with two other girls.”
Desmond Child and Rouge were signed to Capitol Records, and had a hit with “Our Love is Insane,” which hit Number 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979 after being included on the soundtrack for the cult action Walter Hill movie The Warriors.
Vidal would later go on to have a hit of her own in 1984 with “Body Rock” from the film of the same name (starring Lorenzo Lamas), which hit Number 48 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Number 11 on the United Kingdom Singles Chart.
But it was soon after “Our Love is Insane” that Child got a songwriting gig that would forever change his life and cement his reputation as a go-to guy for rock acts looking for something extra to take them over the edge. Paul Stanley, the lead singer of legendary Detroit rock act Kiss, had been a fan of Desmond Child and Rouge when watching them in the clubs of New York City, and sought out Child to co-write a song for Kiss.
With Child’s disco sensibilities and Kiss’s rock, they combined with Ringo Starr’s primary songwriter and producer Vini Poncia to craft Kiss’s second highest charting single of all time (after “Beth“) in “I was made for lovin’ you,” which reached Number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Paul wanted to write a good disco song and I decided to help him with that,” said Child. “Paul started to write lyrics and chords then I played the song on the guitar and said ‘OK, we’ll do something to improve this and make it really a good song.”
Sadly Desmond Child and Rouge did not last after two critically acclaimed but, one single aside, commercially unsuccessful albums. But Child’s work with Kiss, which continued for several songs into the 1980s and 1990s, earned him plaudits in the rock scene, and he started to get a lot of work as a songwriter.
Bonnie Tyler first came calling for his services with producer Jim Steinman after her 1983 hit album “Faster than the speed of night,” with Child composing “If you were a woman (and I was a man),” which hit Number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100 but also Number 6 on the French singles chart.
If you just listened to that, you may find it sounds familiar, like there was a New Jersey band who had a big hit with a song that sounded a lot like that.
At around the time of Tyler’s release, an up and coming New Jersey rock act named Bon Jovi was opening shows for Kiss. Though they had a few hits of their own, including “Runaway” and “In and out of love,” the band’s charismatic and ridiculously handsome lead singer Jon Bon Jovi and talented guitarist Richie Sambora eagerly sought advice from Kiss’s Paul Stanley on how to take their band to the next level, and Stanley introduced them to Child.
“I wrote another song for Kiss called “Heaven’s on Fire,” and Bon Jovi, when they were Kiss’s opening act in Europe, loved it,” said Child. “Jon asked Paul for my number, he called and said, ‘Hey, let’s try writing a song.’ It just so happens that the first song, Jon, Richie [Sambora] and I wrote was “You Give Love A Bad Name,” which they decided to keep for themselves.”
Yes, the first collaboration with Bon Jovi was a heavily reworked version of Child’s earlier song for Bonnie Tyler, which after new lyrics and new guitar parts added, became “You give love a bad name.” The collaboration was a monster success. Bon Jovi had only cracked the Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 once before (“Runaway” hit Number 39 in 1984), but “You give love a bad name” shot to Number 1.
Child and Bon Jovi co-wrote several songs for Bon Jovi’s third album “Slippery When Wet.” While the first single “You give love a bad name” was a Number 1 hit, so was another Child written song with “Livin’ on a prayer,” the second single released and perhaps Bon Jovi’s most recognized song to this day. With almost 650 million views on YouTube, “Livin’ on a prayer” is the one that resonates the most, with the Bruce Springsteen-esque lyrics about young and broke lovers Tommy and Gina and Sambora’s talk box as well as his searing guitar solo. And don’t forget (for Eurovision fans) the impactful key change that emphasizes Tommy’s promise that despair will turn to a better future.
“It means so much to people,” said Child. “I got a letter from a guy who was suicidal, he pulled up at a bridge, but he’d left the radio on in the car and “Livin’ On A Prayer” came on and it was his favorite song, so he went back to listen to it and by the end of the song he’d changed his mind.”
“Slippery Than Wet” remains to this day a milestone in American rock, having sold more than 15 million copies there alone. A non-Child track in “Wanted Dead or Alive” also topped the charts, but the album took Bon Jovi from a well-regarded rock band into American icons.
Bon Jovi found themselves a comfortable niche alongside the working class rock of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, but had a vocalist and a guitarist who could sing and shred with the best of the up-and-coming hair metal bands. Their 1988 follow-up album “New Jersey” asked not just Bon Jovi to step up their game, but Child too, and he delivered with the Number 1 lead single “Bad Medicine,” which turned the sentimental hard rock up to 11.
Resting on the laurels of “Slippery When Wet” would have been a safe choice, but recognizing that Bon Jovi needed to be louder and needed to push Sambora’s guitar work to the forefront kept them at the top as the likes of Guns ‘N Roses, Poison, Skid Row and Motley Crue challenged them for dominance.
Yep, that is what you get when you fall in love. And the second single, also written with Child, in “Born to be my baby” hit Number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. But lessons were also learned for their “New Jersey” album, as Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora achieved their first Number 1 without Child in “I’ll be there for you.”
In the meantime, another top-shelf American rock act came calling for Child’s services. Joan Jett, graduate of Taft High School in Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles, California and a founding member of legendary all-female punk outfit The Runaways, sought Child to co-write songs for her 1988 album “Up Your Alley.”
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were already American rock royalty for their cover of The Arrows’ “I love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which hit Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982. She followed that up with a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ psychedelic rock classic “Crimson and Clover,” which hit Number 7.
But in the interim six years, Jett did not enjoy the same chart success, though she had branched out into movies with a starring role alongside Michael J. Fox in the 1987 drama Light of Day (which also featured a very young Trent Reznor in a cameo role as a local teen bandmember).
Child immediately launched her back to the top of the charts with her first Top 10 single in six years, “I Hate myself for loving you.”
However, despite all the professional success Child was having, his personal life was in disarray. While he was writing songs for Bon Jovi and Joan Jett, Child was in a cult called Akwenasa which was destroying his self-esteem. But it was fellow songwriters, including one familiar to Eurovision fans, on a trip to the Soviet Union who helped him get out.
“I went to Russia as part of a project called Music Speaks Louder Than Words, with an amazing group of writers like Cyndi Lauper, Michael Bolton, Diane Warren, Mike Stoller and Holly Knight,” said Child. “We wrote with Russian songwriters over there, who were the sweetest people ever, but there was this ominous feeling of being in the evil empire, where everyone was afraid, always looking over their shoulder. And I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is how I live in the commune all the time – just on a bigger scale.’ That experience broke the spell for me.”
Child collaborated with Diane Warren again with Cher’s “Just like Jesse James.” Child had written several songs for her 1982 album “I Paralyze,” and Warren wrote Cher’s smash hit “If I could turn back time,” but they joined forces for several songs, and not just for Cher. They also collaborated on Ratt’s 1990 comeback album “Detonator.”
But it wasn’t just a collaboration with Warren that helped him during this rough period in Child’s life. Upon leaving the cult, Child met his eventual husband Curtis Shaw, with whom he would raise two twin boys.
Child’s career writing rock hits for the likes of Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, and Michael Bolton continued, but Child did take creative detours for the likes of Canadian guitar god Steve Vai (David Lee Roth’s guitarist after he split from Van Halen). A highlight is “In my dreams with you,” which was the lead single from Vai’s groundbreaking though critically lambasted 1993 album “Sex & Religion.”
This album is also famous for Vai’s choice of lead singer Devin Townsend, an eccentric Vancouver, Canada based singer and guitarist who would end up becoming one of extreme metal’s most revered, influential and creative artists as lead singer and guitarist of Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Project. Townsend is a genre bending genius, and he got his start on a Child composition. Check out stellar performances like “Juular,” “Bend it like Bender,” (featuring occasionally Eurovision-linked Dutch singer Anneke Van Giersbergen) and “Love?” to get a sense of the metal beast unleashed.
But Miami is where Child’s heart remains, and he ended up collaborating with the person who started his career in music – his own mother. Child returned to his Cuban roots, and though he had provided advice to the manager of Menudo, a young Latin boy band from the 1980s and early 1990s, it was with Menudo’s most recognizable star that Child had success away from the rock.
But taking this pop detour with his mother as lyricist worked out well, as Child ended up working with the likes of LeAnn Rimes, Kelly Clarkson and Sakis Rouvas.
Child wrote several songs for and produced Sakis Rouvas’s 2002 album “Ola Kala,” with the lead single “Disco Girl” being a Number 1 hit in Greece. Rouvas would go on to represent Greece at Eurovision 2004 with “Shake It” and at Eurovision 2009 with “This is our night.”
In 2012, Child had dinner with Bonnie Tyler in Nashville, Tennessee, and he had several songs for her to consider for her upcoming album.
As Tyler told BBC Radio One in 2013, “When I got to Nashville, I was looking for songs around the publishers, and got in touch with Desmond and he said “come up for dinner tomorrow night and I’ll give you some songs.” He’d already recorded some of these demos, but I said “I really love these two songs.” And he said “But “Believe in Me” isn’t finished yet. I tell you what, come back up for dinner tomorrow night and I’ll finish writing it then,” which is what he did. I’ll never forget that night, we got there and Bob Ezrin was there, the producer of The Wall for Pink Floyd. After dinner [Child] wrote the second verse.”
Bonnie Tyler ended up being internally selected by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2013 in Malmo, Sweden. Though British legend Engelbert Humperdinck did not exactly light up Baku, Azerbaijan with “Love will set you free,” the BBC returned to another legendary British artist who had crushed America in the 1970s and 1980s. And this time, Tyler already had a song in mind in “Believe in Me.”
Sadly, the song itself was criticized despite Child’s pedigree of Number 1 hits across three decades. Johnny Logan himself told the BBC, “I think Bonnie’s great. I don’t think the song was strong enough. If you had the right song, if you had a “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie’s the right girl for it. But I never felt the song was strong enough. If you’re going to win Eurovision, to go through some of the incredible voting I’ve noticed over the last few years, you have to have something that’s going to stand out above everything else. Otherwise you’re just going to hope to pick up 10 or 11 votes.”
As such, Tyler finished in 19th place. Though for those who sneer, remember that 19th is the United Kingdom’s 4th best placing in the past decade.
But if you want to tie all this all into Valentine’s Day weekend, why not stream Moonlight and Valentino, a romantic comedy drama where Celia from Weeds hooks up with Jon Bon Jovi? Don’t be put off by an early appearance by Goop herself (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Or check out Jon Bon Jovi combating Edward Burns for Lauren Holly’s affection in No Looking Back. And yes, that is the legendary Connie Britton. Don’t be put off by an appearance by Goop’s mother Blythe Danner.
Did #YOU think Bonnie Tyler deserved better than 19th place at Eurovision 2013? Are #YOU thinking of or trying to be Jon Bon Jovi this Valentine’s Day weekend? Let us know in the comments, on social media, or in our forum.