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This started out as a bank commercial. Songwriters Paul Williams and Roger Nichols were commissioned by an advertising agency to write it in 1968 for Crocker Bank, which was trying to attract young people and newlyweds to their institution. (thanks, Brian - Funchal Madeira, Portugal)
Paul Williams told us: "'It had all the romantic beginnings of a bank commercial' is the way I describe it. There was actually a wonderful writer named Tony Asher who wrote for this ad agency, and he'd had a skiing accident and he broke his arm, so he couldn't write or play the piano or whatever. So he suggested Roger Nichols and I as replacements to write this ad. The ad agency called us and said, "Look, we're going to show a young couple getting married, driving off into the sunset, and it's going to say, 'You've got a long way to go, we'd like to help you get there to the Crocker Bank.'" And I went, Okay, what rhymes with Crocker? Crocker what? And they said very specifically, "No we don't want a jingle." What they asked for is what we would today call a music video. It was going to show a young couple getting married, driving off into the sunset. After the ceremony, the first kiss and all. So Roger and I wrote the song that would play over that.
We wrote the first two verses of 'We've Only Just Begun.' We wrote a second version of the commercial that was a verse, and what became the bridge. We added a third verse just in case anybody would ever want to record it. And then I assumed that it would never, ever get cut again. Richard (Carpenter), I guess, heard me singing it on the TV commercial, and called and asked if there was a complete song. And we went, 'Well, funny you should ask.' And if there hadn't been a complete song, we would have lied and said, 'Well, of course there is,' and then sat down and written it. You know, songwriting in those days was like that, too. I remember finishing songs in the back seat of a publisher's car on the way to play it for a producer. I retained my rights as a writer, and the publisher retained his rights as well."
Williams went on to write several more hits for the Carpenters, as well as songs for Barbra Streisand, Carole King and Three Dog Night. He also worked on many films as both a songwriter and an actor, composing the classics "Evergreen
" from A Star Is Born
and "Rainbow Connection
" for The Muppet Movie
. He attributes his songwriting success to authenticity, explaining: "When 'We've Only Just Begun' was a #1 record, I think the #1 album in the country was "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
." So it was as far away from what was happening in the music scene as you can get. And yet it was a hit. I think it was a hit because of, obviously, Karen [Carpenter]'s amazing vocal, but I think that any time we write authentically and honestly about what's going on in the center of our chest, because people are so much alike, there's a big a chance that it's going on in the center of your chest, too." (Check out our interview with Paul Williams
This song is very popular at weddings, as the lyrics describe a couple starting a new life together and living in harmony: "Talking it over, just the two of us, working together day by day." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
A talented lyricist, Philip helped revive Neil Sedaka's career with the words to "Laughter In The Rain" and "Bad Blood."
The renown Texas songwriter has been at it for 40 years, with tales to tell about The Flatlanders and The Clash - that's Joe's Tex-Mex on "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Greg talks about writing songs of "universal truth" for King Crimson and ELP, and tells us about his most memorable stage moment (it involves fireworks).