Q: What's it like being back at the forefront of fashion after 26 years away? Can you imagine why?
A: "Well I feel great about it, y'know? It's terrific to have these songs rediscovered again. How can you feel any other way than very pleased? I've never been good at picking out reasons why certain songs are hits. The only thing I can think of is that there is a longing for melody. And these are the simplest melodies in the world. Though it's always a little perplexing to me to call it `easy listening.' Some of these songs aren't so easy--'Promises, Promises' is hardly a simple song. `Anyone Who Had A Heart' has a change in bar-lines nearly every bar, but the thing about it is feels simple. You can't set out to do that, any more than you can set out to write a hit song."
Q: Do you think they sound dated?
A: "I was listening in the car to an R&B oldies station, and I heard a 20-year-old record--by accident, not that I would seek to hear that--and I thought `that sounds really old.' But then you listen to `What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye and it sounds so...not 25 years old, y'know? I can listen to some of my records and think `Wow! How do you account for that being so attractive now?"
Q: Could you imagine working with Oasis?
A: "I'd love to do that sometime. I like the aspect of working with different people now. so much of my writing was done with one person, Hal or Carol, but recently I wrote a song with Elvis Costello, which was pretty exhilarating experience, because we never actually sat in a room, we did it over the phone and with faxes. But Oasis--I'd love to do it."
Q: What about Blur?
A: "Spell it for me. Blur? No, I haven't heard them."
Q: How do you account for the heart-rending qualities of your records?
A: "You can't start out to write a song that will `resonate the heart'. As a composer the style that's attracted me means you won't see a lot of uptempo tunes. Many of the songs are ballads. I think they've the things I can touch, or want to touch. I've always tried to create in a song form which will translate into a record. Making it like a four-minute movie with highs and lows."
Q: Are you an emotional person, then?
A: "I think what you write is what you are. Look at Hal David, you could say, `Oh man, he looks like a regular guy. He could be a dentist.' Then he'll unleash these extraordinary lyrics. It's not peoples' eccentricities or how they dress; there's a deeper core that comes through their craft."
Q: Have you got a favorite song of yours? Or a least favorite?
A: `Y'know the one that sticks out the most, (chortles) maybe because she made the song better, was Aretha's record of `I Say A Little Prayer'. That was just great. And The Naked Eyes' record of `Always Something There To Remind Me'--I thought `My god, this is very far from where I was.' It took some time to get used to, but after I looked at it objectively I really got to like that record. There's a bunch of worse ones, but I'm not gonna run anybody down!"
Q: Would you agree the songs have embedded themselves into the popular consciousness?
A "I'm grateful they're familiar to people. But if that material was written now, would the songs have then been embedded in the consciousness from now until 20 years from now? Doubtful. I think it's harder to make songs stick and make standards now. `That's What Friends Are For' you hear at weddings and funerals. But songs disappear, then you hear on an oldies station five years down the line. Maybe it goes hand-in-hand with thinking, `Oh that restaurant's passe, that girlfriend's passe....' I'm grateful that I was writing all those songs then because it certainly promoted not just my songs, but Goffin and King's, Lieber and Stoller's; we all had the chance to become a permanent part of the repertoire."
Q: Do you ever regret the severance of your partnership with Hal David?
A: "(Wearily) No. We had a great run. But it's like a marriage...but we're friends. I spoke to Hal the other day, and we talked about possibly writing a song or two while looking for a project. It's nothing like, `I don't ever wanna talk to you again.' But like I said, now I like the idea of writing with lots of different people."
Q: Are you currently recording?
A: "No. I'm not making any records as a solo artist. You know, it's such a process now, recording. You do an album and you spend six months on it, and if there's a shift at the top of the record company, and someone different's running it who doesn't care at all about what was done before either puts the album or the single out and it doesn't work, they're basically finished with you. So I'm working on a musical project with BA Robertson. It's not so predicated on whether that first single happens or not. Just writing songs that are good and solid and attaching them to a theatrical idea."
Q: Do you still keep an eye on the charts?
A: "Yeah, but it's a little harder for me to take because the stations I like are R&B oriented. My favorite's now an oldies station, so you don't hear new stuff there. Some of the R&B stations are tough because of the amount of rap on them. I understand why rap exists, but I don't have to love it to understand it. I don't find a lot happening melodically in rap. I've heard some really interesting records though--one cut I heard by Tha Dogg Pound on MTV, I thought was terrific."
Q: Will you be playing in Britain with this renewed profile?
A: "Yeah, there's been considerable talk especially since the BBC special the other night. I think it's very possible. Last March Dionne and I did a tour through France and the Netherlands, but we didn't wind up in England. I was kind of disappointed, `cos before anybody recognized me in the States, I'd had success in England with an album called `Hit Maker'. I hope that'll happen."