This was written by Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach, who were married at the time. They promised the song to Patti LaBelle, but LaBelle's producer Richard Perry was less than impressed, and agreed to let Sager and Bacharach produce it instead. They cut their own backing track, which Patti LaBelle recorded on her own (pun unintended) but it wasn't until Michael McDonald was persuaded to contribute that the song came together.
The storyline in this song is rather vague, but the couple had something special that is now gone. They are both on their own, looking back on what went wrong. In one of McDonald's verses, he says it's like a divorce, but they weren't even married.
The duo recorded their parts separately. Patti LaBelle filmed the video in New York and recorded her part in Philadelphia. Michael McDonald did both in LA. The video used a split screen effect to show them each on their own.
Patti LaBelle was formerly in the R&B vocal group Labelle who scored an American #1 in 1975 with "Lady Marmalade
." McDonald was part of the successful '70s west coast rock group The Doobie Brothers, whose biggest hit was the #1 smash "What A Fool Believes."
Labelle told NME in 1986: "The success of 'On My Own' came as a shock. I don't record for commercial value. With 'On My Own' I went into the Studio thinking, I'm gonna record something I love. Usually if I love it, it bubbles under. And I was surprised it made a hit."
1986 was a big year for Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach. They had another #1 hit earlier in the year with "That's What Friends Are For
Sager put off writing the lyrics because she didn't think Bacharach wrote a hit melody. "Finally, just to appease him, I did," she recalled in her memoir They're Playing Our Song. "He also had the title, 'On My Own,' and it was unusual for him to hear actual words to his melodies.
Every time he'd sing it for me, whatever he was playing on the keyboard made me think it was a Polynesian melody. I could imagine a group of female singers in native costumes, leis around their necks, swaying to Burt's tune. It didn't sound current, and it didn't sound like a hit. But as I started to write the lyric, I began to like it. For one thing, Burt's melody was, for once, spacious enough to give me room to say something."