Don't Mean Nothing

Album: Richard Marx (1987)
Charted: 78 3
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  • Perhaps the ultimate Hollywood insider's song, this is about the frustration of dealing with the phoniness and crass commercialism of the entertainment industry while trying to pursue one's artistic calling. It's what you might expect from a musician who had been around a while and built up some bitterness, but this was Richard Marx' first single. He explained in our 2012 interview: "I got a lot of people saying, 'Dude, you're 22. How can you be so cynical?' I think cynicism and gratitude can co-exist. And I was very grateful. I moved to L.A. when I was 18, and I definitely spent a lot of time sitting around doing nothing, trying to get something going and nothing was happening. I got rejected by every label multiple times, and I got a lot of doors slammed in my face and more than my share of rejection and all that stuff.

    But when things did turn around for me, I was still really young. But it didn't mean that I hadn't already been exposed to the jive and the empty promises, and the thing that really makes up the music business in Hollywood and the film business, as well. But my chosen field was music. Guys at record companies telling me, 'You're signed, don't worry about it,' and then they won't call you back, and all kinds of stuff that you count on. Right down to people that sent me notes stamped 'Hobby' on my demo tape.

    So by the time I wrote 'Don't Mean Nothing,' I was pissed off. I definitely had a little chip on my shoulder at that point. While at the same time being aware that at least I was making a living in some way, shape, or form. I was doing music. I didn't have to work at McDonald's or the car wash." (Here's our full interview with Richard Marx.)
  • The second verse describes and actor getting the runaround from a Hollywood producer. Marx says he made the verses different because "I didn't want it to be all about my situation."
  • Marx wrote the riff, but Joe Walsh played guitar on this track. So how did the Eagles axeman end up recording with an unknown artist? Marx told us: "He only came in the studio because he heard a demo of the song and really loved the song. So I didn't know him. It was all for the right reasons. It was all just music. He heard the song, went, 'Yeah, I really like the song, and I don't care that it's his first record.' He was so gracious, and he spent the whole afternoon in there with me. We cut a couple of different solos, but I think that was the first one he played, and it was like, duh, there's nothing wrong with this at all. And then he played some other little fills and parts in the song. It was a full-on afternoon session where we really collaborated together. Usually I sing the guitar solos almost note for note to the guitar player, whoever I'm having play on a particular record. But in that case, you don't tell Joe Walsh what note to play."
  • The lyric, "The producer says, 'Let me change a line or two'" resonates with musicians who know that if they let someone tweak their song, they might have to give that person a songwriting credit, no matter how small the contribution. Marx had that happen to him, but he also had plenty of business savvy in the industry: his father was a composer of commercial jingles and music for TV shows and films.
  • Hair metal and dance music were big in 1987, so this was an especially unlikely hit. Marx cites these two reasons for its success:

    1) "Somehow I managed to make the chorus, yes, about me, but pretty universal so that anybody in any field could understand. Anybody that's ever had frustration in the work place could relate to it."

    2) Joe Walsh playing guitar.

    Marx had plenty of rock cred when this song came out, since an endorsement from Joe Walsh carried a lot of weight. As he became wildly popular in the next few years, he was embraced in the Adult Contemporary format and stopped showing up on rock playlists. Songs like "Right Here Waiting" and "Hold On To The Nights" remain popular on AC radio.
  • Marx' future wife Cynthia Rhodes starred in the video. Rhodes played Penny Johnson in the movie Dirty Dancing, was the lead singer in the late-'80s version of Animotion, and played "Rosanna" in the Toto video. The couple were married from 1989-2014.

Comments: 4

  • Christine from Central New YorkKeith from Connersville: the lyric is "it's never what, but WHO it you know". In other words, it's not what you know but WHO you know that will get you somewhere.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 11th, 1987, Richard Marx performed "Don't Mean Nothing" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV network Saturday-afternoon program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #33 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; seven weeks later it would peak at #3 {for 1 week} and it spent 21 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on June 28th, 1987 it reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart...
    Between 1987 and 1998 he had eighteen records on the Hot Top 100 chart; nine made the Top 10 with three* reaching #1, "Hold On to the Nights" for 1 week in 1988, "Satisfied" for 1 week in 1989, and "Right Here Waiting" for 3 weeks in 1989...
    Richard Noel Marx will celebrate his 54th birthday in two months on September 16th, 2017...
    * He just missed having a fourth #1 record when "Endless Summer Nights" peaked at #2 {for 2 weeks} in 1988, the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Man In The Mirror" by Michael Jackson...
  • Keith from Connersville Indiana I'm pretty sure that the lyric is and you never worked not it's a never what... What does that even mean.
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaI love the Joe Walsh guitar solo on this..
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