Artist: Cyndi Lauper
Writer: Jules Shear
Album: She's So Unusual
Surely one of the most modest of reclusive singer/songwriters, Jules Shear may be more well known among singers and musicians than to the general populace, more treasured by the cognoscenti than the casual fan. Ever since he appeared on the scene in the cult favorite band the Funky Kings in 1976 (he assured me no reunion is in the works) before moving on to the cult favorite band Jules & the Polar Bears, before moving into an on-again off-again recording career totaling upwards up 20 albums, all studded with stellar songs, Shear has hardly been an ardent self promoter. He prefers to let his songs do the talking.
Before she covered "So Easy to Begin," on her 1977 album Making a Good Thing Better, Shear had no particular connection to Olivia Newton-John. "I knew who she was, but I didn't know her from anybody," he said. "For some reason her producer knew the Funky Kings and she recorded a couple of songs from that record and this was one of them." Art Garfunkel also covered the song.
Iain Matthews went further in 1988, devoting an entire album to the songs of Jules Shear: Walking a Changing Line. "I didn't know Iain Matthews either. When he said he wanted to do a record of my songs and he told me what songs he wanted to do, I thought it was sort of weird. But then I thought, well, that's fine; if he wants to do it, that's fine. I tried to write him a few new songs. He didn't like those as much. And then I wrote him a song that I said he should do a capella or something. It was called 'On Squirrel Hill,' and he liked that one, so he recorded it."
Perhaps Shear's second most famous song is "If She Knew What She Wants," which the Bangles brought into the Top 40. Yet neither the Bangles nor Cyndi Lauper have become what you'd call regular clients of his work. In fact, the casual, almost dismissive approach to his career may be one of the answers to the unasked question of why he's not regarded on a par with Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen, and Jimmy Webb, just to name three other discerning writers who've gotten the full album treatment from singers (Nilsson sang Newman, Collins interpreted Cohen, Campbell covered Webb). Shear just doesn't bother keeping up. All he does it write.
"I haven't spoken to Cyndi Lauper in a long time," he said. "I just haven't spoken to her. I don't know why. I should speak to her, but I just haven't. I'm sure socializing helps. I'm sure it helps a lot and I don't do that; that's true."
Given the opportunity to flog his latest project, Shear Shazar, a duets album with his wife, Pal Shazar, he pondered a while. "We put it out ourselves because my wife wanted to do it that way," he said. "I just went, Okay, fine. It's her thing, too, and that's the way she wanted to do it. It sounds good."
When I got back I made a demo of it, among other songs for the album I was working on with Todd Rundgren [this was Shear's first solo album, Watch Dog, which was produced by Rundgren and contained the original version of "All Through The Night"]. He had an idea that it should have the feel that it had on the record, which I really didn't think was necessarily the best feel, but I thought, well, it's fine. Whatever he wants to do is fine. So I just did it the way Todd wanted to do it.
Shear hosted the first season of MTV Unplugged. This was when multiple acts performed on each episode.
So we wrote songs together for a few days. I met her at my manager's apartment in New York, way down on West Broadway. I think we met three times. We had another song on the first album that we wrote together called "I'll Kiss You" and one song called "Steady" that I used on my own album. Working with her was fine. I don't really have a problem writing with other people. I've written with complete strangers and we've gotten songs out of it. I can't say it was the most enjoyable thing I've ever done. The most enjoyable things are things I write by myself. But it was okay, as far as remember. It was fine. Let me see. Yeah. It was good. I don't remember too much about the songwriting. I really try, when I'm writing songs, not to think about what it is. I'm just writing it. So I didn't pay a lot of attention to it. I'm just thinking, maybe she'll record one of my things.
Because she originally loved the song, I always felt "All Through the Night" was going to make the album. I did all the harmony parts in the studio when she recorded it. That's all me on the record except for Cyndi. All the background vocal parts are mine. I was asked by Rick Chertoff to come over to the studio one day. I said, Sure. The Bangles were doing a show at a place called The Pier. I was going to see them the same day I recorded the background vocals for "All Through the Night." That's the way I remember it. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's the way I remember it. She changed the song a lot. I mean, it sounds completely different. It's still the same song, but the arrangement's different. The first time I heard it was when I went to sing it. It sounded good to me. I figured, if that's the way she wants to do it, that's the way she wants to do it. I never had any problem if anybody wants to do any of my songs any way in particular. That's up to them. That's not for me to decide. So I would never say, "Oh, that's the wrong way to do it," or something like that. That would never happen. It just sounded fine to me. And when I put the background vocals on, it sounded even better.
I didn't have any idea what would happen with the album. I was as surprised as anybody that it was a hit. But as soon as it came out it seemed like it was really doing well. "All Through the Night" was the fourth single. I wasn't thinking about whether it would be a single or not. I was making a record myself called The Eternal Return, and I was in London making that record when I got a phone call. The song had been released as a single. I said, "It's released? That's really great." They said, "Yeah, it's #49." I said, "Number 49? It wasn't even on the chart last week." They said, "Yeah, it's at #49 this week." And then we made it all the way to #5. I wouldn't say it changed my life. But I was definitely interested in what number it was doing each week. Just as long as it kept going up, that was great.
I would say it really had no effect on what I was doing. However, shortly after that was when the Bangles recorded "If She Knew What She Wants." When they did that, people started calling up to see if I had other songs and stuff. Fortunately, they called up my manager, and he would send over some songs. I don't know. All of a sudden I was hot. But I was working on my own album and I don't remember it affecting anything. I was just trying to get it done. I was more interested in what my record would sound like. I couldn't control what happened with her record. So I just controlled what I could control. We did put "Steady" on my album. She didn't want to do that song, so I thought, jeez, maybe I'll do that song. So I recorded it. And that was a single. That was probably a single because her name was on it, I bet. I don't really remember, but I bet that had something to do with it.
When I was in the Funky Kings I'm sure I learned a lot of stuff back then, because I lived in Los Angeles, and we were on a real label, Arista. We were one of the first bands signed to Arista. We opened for Hall & Oates on a tour. Being in a touring band never really appealed to me and I'm sure that affected my career. But that's the way it goes. I was more interested in writing songs than anything else. I don't try that hard to get involved in the business. I don't keep as far away as I can or anything. But I'm not real big about all the aspects of the business. It's all so crazy. People think they know something, but I don't know anybody who really knows. I'm a songwriter, so I just write songs. I may have slowed down some, but I'm still writing songs. All I ever really did was write songs. That's what I wanted to do. So that's what I'm doing. That's all there is to it.
Having a hit didn't really change my writing thing at all. I was always pretty disciplined at it. It's a simple thing to write songs and not get involved in the other aspects of it. It doesn't necessarily make you any money, but as long as one of them pops through every once in a while, everything's fine. It's definitely good that Cyndi recorded "All Through the Night." It's great that it was a big hit and all that. But I didn't really have much to do with it, except writing the song. I made some money off it. I definitely made money off of it. I bought a house. I'm still making money to this day from it. A certain amount goes into my account every six months. It's not exactly the same, but it doesn't fluctuate that much. Recently she did a version of "All Through the Night" with Shaggy. It sounded fine to me.
March 14, 2013.
More on the Shear Shazar project is at palshazar.com.
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