Chart success arbiter Billboard named Peter Lord the Pop Songwriter of the Year for 1991. You probably don't recognize his name, since the three Top 10 smashes that Lord wrote that year were not for him, but for a certain Paula Abdul...
Roll back a couple of years. Having overheard Abdul was seeking material for her second album, the little-known but talented songwriter/producer immediately set about submitting his stuff. Impressed by what she heard, Abdul soon invited Lord to write the bulk of what would become Spellbound.
Abdul found a new hit sound with Lord, elevating her from flash-in-the-pan pop singer to cultural mainstay. The album was a chart triumph, spawning two #1s - "Rush Rush" and "The Promise of a New Day" – and three Top 20 hits - "Blowing Kisses in the Wind" (#6), "Vibeology" (#16) and "Will You Marry Me?" (#19).
Lord would later go on to use his talents to help the likes of Aftershock, Ali and Goodfellaz to crack the Hot 100, while he himself experienced international success with his own R&B cult collective, The Family Stand.
We interviewed Lord – one of the greatest pop songwriters of the '90s – about those years with Paula, why he never wanted to be a star, and his (sometimes hilarious) approach to songwriting.
Peter Lord: My production partner, V. Jeffrey Smith, and I were working on a group called Aftershock for Virgin Records. They were signed to the same label as Paula and we heard she was looking for new material, so we went to work to submit. Gemma Corfield was the lead A&R person for both projects. She was instrumental in making it all happen.
Songfacts: Can you tell me the story behind "Rush, Rush," Spellbound's lead single? It was the first-ever ballad that Paula released as a single.
Lord: "Rush, Rush" actually began as a dare or a joke with my Family Stand bandmate, Sandra St. Victor. Babyface was one of the top songwriters/producers at that time, and I told her I could write one of his type of hit ballads in my sleep (no disrespect). I ran to the piano and playfully played the first chords that would begin "Rush, Rush" and sang, "You're the whisper of a summer breeze... You're the kiss that puts my soul at ease..." I then looked at her and said, "Wait a minute, that's not bad!"
Lord: Paula had an idea for the title and feel for the song and we built it from there.
Songfacts: "Will You Marry Me?" was released around the time Paula got married to Emilio Estevez. Did you write this song with that in mind?
Lord: Again, Paula had a title and feel for the song and we built the foundation from there.
Songfacts: Stevie Wonder played harmonica on "Will You Marry Me?" How did that come about, and what was your interaction with Stevie?
Lord: One of us said, "Wouldn't it be great to get Stevie to play on the track?" And Paula said, "I can get him." Stevie was of course incredible. He is truly my primary inspiration for even becoming a songwriter or musician, and he knew our Family Stand hit "Ghetto Heaven," so we were amped. It was one of the highlights of my music career to work with my hero.
Songfacts: Two other songs that you wrote for Spellbound charted on the Hot 100: "Blowing Kisses in the Wind" (#4) and "Vibeology" (#16). Why do you think Spellbound had so much chart success? What was the magic formula?
Lord: Never any formula other than writing great, well-structured songs. "Blowing Kisses In The Wind" is actually one of my favorite songs I've ever written. It really should be covered again, I think. The right country artist could give it a wonderful vibe. Are you listening Allison Cross, Taylor Swift?
Songfacts: In 1995, you wrote "Crazy Cool" for Paula's third album, Head over Heels. How was it working with her again after all those years?
Lord: Very good. She was even more confident in the studio, stronger vocally and we also had a wonderful working relationship.
Songfacts: We spoke with the songwriter Oliver Leiber, who worked with Paula on her first album. He praised her work ethic and told us she lacked confidence in the studio and needed a lot of support. How did you find Paula to work with?
Lord: Yes. What he said was very true, at first. But I found she gained much more confidence and actually vocal strength as time went on. And most importantly she was always definitely a hard worker.
Songfacts: In 1991, Aftershock scored a hit with your song, "Going Through the Motions." It seems 1991 was quite the year for you! Can you tell me the story behind this song?
Lord: I had an idea and wrote it. It was built around a melodic piano riff.
Songfacts: In 1997, Goodfellaz cracked the Hot 100 with your song "Sugar Honey Ice Tea." Can you tell me more about this collaboration?
Songfacts: I have always wondered how it must feel to watch someone else get the fame and success for a song that you wrote. Does it bother you, or do you enjoy writing for other people?
Lord: No. I enjoy writing for others. My personal goals are very clear: I'm not interested in being a star, I'm here to be and create universes... More on that later :).
Songfacts: How did you get into music in the first place, Peter? Did you have a musical upbringing?
Lord: I knew I wanted to be a writer first, then artists like Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Sly & The Family Stone, Led Zeppelin and Donny Hathaway made me want to be a musician. I went to Howard University and became a music composition major. Later, I was inspired by Quincy Jones and Arif Mardin to become a record producer.
Songfacts: In 1990, your band The Family Stand had a Top 10 hit in the UK with "Ghetto Heaven." Why do you think that song connected with a UK audience, and why didn't the group have any US hits?
There was another great song on that album called "In Summer I Fall" that went Top 20 on the urban charts. Our next album, Moon In Scorpio - that many have called a "rock masterpiece" and was in the Top 10 albums of the New York Times in 1992, the same year as Nirvana's Nevermind - is, I believe, mine and our group The Family Stand's greatest artistic achievement... so far :)
Some of our highlights after that were working on Des'ree's I Ain't Moving album, Corey Glover's (from Living Colour) solo album Hymms, and Daryl Hall's (Hall & Oates) solo album Soul Alone.
And a Songfacts NEW fact: I made a stupid mistake of writing and producing a hit track "He Is" for Heather Headly under a different name, Joshua Nile. So if you go looking for him... he's me!
Songfacts: Finally, what are you up to these days, Peter?
Lord: Twelve years ago I knew I wanted to tell bigger stories, so I began studying screenwriting. Three years ago, I decided it would become my full-time occupation. So out of the showbiz frying pan and into the fire. Creating universes. I'm a screenwriter and filmmaker living in Los Angeles now. But music is very much a part of some of the projects I'm currently developing.
September 25, 2012. Get more from Peter and The Family Stand at thefamilystand.net
Here's our interview with Daryl Hall
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