Soldier Of Love

Album: Donny Osmond (1988)
Charted: 29 2

Songfacts®:

  • Donny Osmond was one of the biggest stars of the '70s, with a string of hit songs and a popular variety show he hosted with his sister Marie. But in the late '80s, he was about as cool as your parents.

    Improbably, he made a huge comeback in the summer of 1989 when "Soldier Of Love" took off in America, climbing to #2.

    Osmond had a deal with the UK label Virgin Records, which released his self-titled album there in 1988, with "Soldier Of Love" the lead single. The single stalled at #29, and Virgin dropped him. He suffered further humiliation at the hands of the British press, which ridiculed him - on one talk show appearance the host told him his George Michael look (ripped jeans, leather jacket), wasn't working for him.

    His comeback seemed moribund, but Osmond still had a cadre of fans who stayed connected, and one from the UK sent a copy of "Soldier Of Love" on cassette to a fan in New Jersey, who sent it to the influential New York City radio station WPLJ without identifying the artist. Somehow, this unsolicited, unmarked tape found its way to Jessica Ettinger, who had just taken over as program director at the station. Her keen ear detected a hit, and by calling the number on the cassette she found out from the sender it was Donny Osmond.

    Ettinger, in a gush of promotional genius, put the song on the air as a "mystery artist" and had listeners call in to guess who it was. The phones lit up - many guessed George Michael or Boy George - and the song stayed in rotation. When it was revealed as a Donny Osmond song, American labels rushed to sign him. He went with Capitol, which quickly released the single and rushed it to radio stations around the country, many of which added songs in lockstep with WPLJ. Donny Osmond was back!
  • The song was written and produced by the team of Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers, who were trying to get Rogers' solo career going and also working with other artists. They placed minor hits with Gavin Christopher ("One Step Closer To You") and Karyn White ("Facts Of Love") but felt they were getting boxed in as R&B writers, even though they were white. They wanted a piece of the pop music pie, so when they got a call asking to work with Osmond, they took the job.

    "We grew up on The Beatles and the Bee Gees, so we knew how to make pop records, but we had not gotten a chance," Sturken said in a Songfacts interview. "So if we could make a hit record with Donny Osmond, who's the whitest guy on the planet, we would get entree into the world of pop records."

    The plan worked: When "Soldier Of Love" took off, they got offers to write for other pop stars. They also started their own band, Rythm Syndicate. In writing for others, they tried to replicate "Soldier Of Love" and failed repeatedly until they stopped trying to copy themselves. They found a winning formula by staying on top of trends and staying focused. With Rythm Syndicate, they went to #2 in 1991 with "P.A.S.S.I.O.N" They landed hits with Nia Peeples ("Street Of Dreams"), Jordan Hill ("For The Love Of You") and N' Sync (God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You) before discovering Rihanna and co-writing her hits "Pon De Replay" and "Shut Up And Drive."
  • This song was written for its co-writer, Evan Rogers, who recorded it for his solo album Faces Of Love. He knew the song had hit potential, but his label was pushing him as an R&B artist and he knew they would bury the song, so he and Carl Sturken gave it to Donny Osmond.

    Osmond used Rogers' vocal as a guide and sang over the same backing track. The plan was to erase Rogers, leaving just Osmond's vocal, but Donny didn't have quite the soulfullness they wanted at the end of key lines, so they enhanced his vocal by using parts of what Rogers sang. They never told Osmond.
  • "Soldier Of Love" isn't an original title - Arthur Alexander recorded a song of that name that was subsequently covered by The Beatles, and Sade had a hit with her "Soldier Of Love" in 2010. But Sturken and Rogers weren't going for originality when they wrote it. They made catchy songs about young love, cobbling chorus lines together based on titles of other songs. According to Sturken, about six of the lines are similar to titles of songs he found digging around in used record stores. Witness:

    Like a thief in the night
    I am willing to fight
    Like a shot in the dark
    It's a state of the heart
  • The video got airplay on MTV and VH1, which helped it along. It was the biggest hit of Osmond's comeback, but he did land some other songs on the chart, notably the follow-up, "Sacred Emotion," which went to #13.
  • Osmond reprised his role as a mystery artist in 2019 when he appeared on the competition show The Masked Singer in costume as a peacock. He came in second to T-Pain.
  • The Beastie Boys had Beastie Beef with Capitol Records when the label put their promotional might behind Osmond and gave little attention to their album Paul's Boutique. "Donny Osmond's new record is just a little more important than yours" is the message Ad-Rock got from the label, he recounts in Beastie Boys Book.

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