Canadian superstar songwriter and producer, Dan Hill, returns with a new single recorded 20 years ago with Jully Black, another star in her own right.
The song, Something More, is an incredible piece of Canadian music history, preserved for fans to hear. Combining the youthful energy of Jully and the seasoned skills of Dan, makes for a powerful and meaningful track.
We caught up with Dan to chat about this powerful connection, as well as a plethora of Canadian music trivia that he’s been involved with.
You’re back with a new single with Jully Black. Tell me about the song.
Well Jully and I are, first and foremost, just really close friends. For the first 20 years of my career, it was all about me. I was the artist. I was the star. I was the celebrity. When I crossed the 40 threshold, it’s very, very hard to get new songs on the radio. I don’t care if you’re Bruce Springsteen, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell or Elton John, once you hit 40, radio will not play your new song.
I did what is typical of many people in my situation, I crossed from being an artist competing against the likes of Celine Dion and Britney Spears, to being a songwriter and producer, whereby I was writing songs and producing for Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton. In the capacity of me now being the songwriter, producer, labels were always sending me their artists, because they needed hit songs.
Jully is one example of an artist at the time, who was signed to Universal as an artist. Universal sent her to me because they were looking to help her write songs. She comes over to my place and we immediately hit it off. At this point, she was only 24. We had so many commonalities, even though we’re from different generations. With both of us being Black or biracial, and trying to find traction in the industry both in Canada around the world, I just immediately was drawn to her, and her to me.
We were just talking about all the stuff that was going on in the world back then. And just like now, there’s a lot of stuff going on that’s not the slight bit positive. I think we both really felt that we wanted to write a song that was inspirational and that had shimmering light. A bit of healing through positivity as a way to give people some hope and aspiration amongst all the ruin that we were being exposed to. That’s exactly why we wrote Something More. It happened very quickly. I just sat at my piano, Jully sitting next to me on the piano bench, and boom, the song was done in an hour. You can never really predict how relevant a song is going to be. And you certainly can’t predict how it’s going to be perceived 5, 10, 15, 40 years later.
This song is two decades old, why was it shelved in the first place?
I went through the same thing with George Benson. We wrote a song together that got shelved and eventually came out to become a hit single. Twenty years ago, Universal said Something More was a smash, but then, for reasons I’m not totally clear on, Jully or her label decided that they wanted to go a more hardcore street rap, hardcore Hip Hop route. The song got shelved.
A friend of mine wrote You Needed Me for Anne Murray – that song was around for 15 years. When my friend Mark Jordan came back with My Heart for Rod Stewart, that was around for 20 years.
I was doing a show at the El Mocambo to promote the release of my last album from 2021 and Jully was there. It was so great to see her. And then she said, “What about that song? We should do something.” Boom, the lights go off and here we are with Something More out 20 years later.
Is it still in its original form, or has it evolved? Or is there something added to it?
Well, that’s the great thing is, I produced this with Adam Messinger, who right now is probably the hottest producer/songwriter on the planet. He’s written and produced hits for Justin Bieber, Usher, Chris Brown. I was working with Adam, and we produced the song 20 years ago.
You don’t write a lot of personal songs, but there are some. Looking back, is there a song that you felt was maybe too personal?
Sometimes When We Touch. I thought it was too personal. I didn’t think anywhere in the world, anyone would be able to accept a man saying those kinds of words, especially not in 1977. Men were not supposed to be vulnerable, fragile, emotional, passionate.
I broke every rule in the book, according to how a man was supposed to behave. Barry Mann who wrote it with me – we both thought, “The only reason this song is not going to be a hit is because it’s too damn good. And it’s going to scare the bejesus out of people, because there’s never been a precedent of a man saying these kinds of words in a song before.” That was too personal.
On your last album, the single What About Black Lives was written. That’s a huge statement. It’s sad that we still need to write songs like that, but they need to be heard. Do you think having that message in a song helps?
Yes, I do. I used a trick that Marvin Gaye used and that I also used in Can’t We Try, it is a technical songwriter’s trick. If the title of your song and the first line of the chorus is a question, what that does is it doesn’t make it so pedagogical. It’s opening up and asking the question for all of us to ask, as opposed to telling people how they should feel. I’m biracial. I have my own story. We all have our stories, regardless of our race or our family background. I’ve had a lot of stories related to me growing up biracial in a totally White neighborhood.
When I wrote What about Black Lives, it was initially spurred on by what happened with George Floyd, but really, it was just a symbol of what it would have been going on for the last 400 years. It was an emotional song for me to write. I have a hard time talking about these issues, but it was a necessary song for me to write.
I have written about these kinds of issues in a lot of songs before, but none of those songs have been hits. The hits are always my love songs – that being said, this was the first song that I released as a single that got a significant media response. It did very, very well on urban Black radio in America.
You mentioned you’ve written a few songs like this. Race is an important issue for you. Are your feelings any different now than when you were younger?
The thing is, now I have this historical knowledge regarding racism that, understandably, people don’t have. For example, I have tremendous respect and admiration for both Drake and the Weeknd, but when they write about being snubbed at the Grammys, which they were because of their race, they seem to forget that this is always going on.
In my new book, I’m writing about how I was nominated for Best Male Vocalist of the Year Grammys in 1979 for Sometimes When We Touch. I lost to Barry Manilow for Copacabana (At the Copa). I tell everybody to download both those videos and tell me who’s the better singer. Plus, Manilow also cut and released Sometimes When We Touch.
It’s pretty clear that I’m a better singer than Manilow. And so, I felt it was just important historically to let people know, including Drake and the Weeknd, that this stuff has been going on since time immemorial.
Another song, On the Other Side of Here, musically sounds like textbook Dan Hill. The same way that I can tell when David Foster has something, or a Jim Steinman song comes up, how did you develop your musical style and sound?
I was a really weird kid. I was totally transported by music ever since I was one-year-old. I would sit and listen to my parents’ music. All of us, for the most part, are initially introduced to music either through our parents or through older siblings. Since I’m the oldest, it was my parents that influenced me.
My dad only liked Black jazz music, so I fell in love with Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. They had to pry me away from the speakers. I was so hooked on this music; I would just sit at the speakers and rock.
By three, I’d memorized every lyric. My idea of how life went was based on the lyrics that I heard. Then I started studying classical guitar when I was seven. For some reason, I was really good at it and started teaching classical guitar when I was 10 – then started writing songs when I was 11. A lot of what I wrote was an outgrowth of what I was first experienced to.
So, I was writing hyper emotional, passionate songs that played on that influence.
For many, Sometimes When We Touch is pretty much your definitive song. Some artists love and some artists detest their signature hits. What are your thoughts on the song now?
I have written songs that have been hits that are just as big or bigger than Sometimes When We Touch, but since I haven’t sung several of them myself, people are always going to think I’m Mr. Sometimes When We Touch. The reality is Can’t We Try was the number 1 adult contemporary song of the year on Billboard in 1987. I have had songs as big as Sometimes When We Touch, but it is what it is.
As of two weeks ago, you can download a clip of 70,000 German soccer fans singing Sometimes When We Touch at a game.
A day doesn’t go by where there aren’t at least 15 different covers of that song. Even David Letterman made a spoof on Sometimes. I can’t get away from that song. It’s just this crazy phenomenon. It is one of the most played songs of all time and one of the most covered songs of all time. Dolly Parton says it’s the best song ever written. What can I say?
You said earlier that you didn’t think anybody was going to be attracted to this song at all because it was so unique and different, and here we are all these years later and it’s the song that everybody just gravitates to.
I was young when I wrote it. This woman and I would start to touch, which I’d never done before with a woman, all the words went out the window. I was like I was a goner. I couldn’t even think. I was like in this crazy, spellbound haze, which is why I wrote, “Sometimes when we touch, the honesty is too much,” because the minute I touched her, everything went haywire. Every single word in that song is based on what happened.
And then when I wrote, “At times, I would like to break you and drive you to your knees,” when it was a hit, all these women’s libers in New York boycotted the song saying it was advocating violence towards women. But the minute Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette cut the song, suddenly, it wasn’t a violent line anymore, it was a metaphorical line.
I could sit here all day and talk about the songs or the people you’ve worked with. I’ve narrowed it down to just one experience that I’d love to hear about. That would be working with Celine Dion.
When Can’t We Try was a smash in the States in 1987, the woman who sang the duet with me on the record, Vonda Shepard, decided she didn’t want to perform with me. She had no idea when she sang the song that it was going to be the hit it was and Vonda wanted to be known as a writer of her own songs. She felt Can’t We Try was not helping her to find her finding her identity as a songwriter. So, Vonda turned it down.
Suddenly, everybody wanted us to perform: Johnny Carson, Solid Gold, American Bandstand, but they want the original duet singers. It was a problem for me. I couldn’t do Carson because they wanted Vonda and she wouldn’t do it. In order for me to do all these other shows and tour, I needed to find a singer fast to replace Vonda.
So, into my house walks Celine Dion in 1987. She’s 18 and she can’t speak English. At that time she’s only known in French Quebec. Well, after she sang the second half of the first verse, I knew that she was it. That’s how I meet Celine. We did travel around the world doing Can’t We Try together and we established a great friendship. And then bam, her first English single was my song Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You, which she sang with Billy Newton Davis.
I also wrote a song called Seduces Me and I gave it to my best friend Dave Patel, who manages Celine. I wasn’t holding my breath because Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac and everyone was trying to get on her 1996 album falling Into You. I got this call from Celine from England in the middle of the night saying, “I love this song and I want to record it on my new album.” She woke me up, I said, “Okay, if you’re going to record it on your album, I have to produce it.”
There I am at 3:00 in the morning trying to figure out the key to cut the record. I got my guitar and I’m putting my capo up and down the fret, trying to figure out the key. I told Celine that I’d cut the record for her and do everything myself, just keep my recording of Seduce Me and follow how I sing it. I’ll meet you at the Hit Factory. All I need is an hour of your time. If you don’t like how I produced the record, then I’ll pay for the production. If you do like it, then pay me.”
I meet her at the Hit Factory. She says, “I want to cut the vocal at 3:00 in the morning.” I go, “Celine, if you want to cut it while we’re standing on our heads in a zoo, I’ll do it.” There we were at 3:00 in the morning and she cut the vocal in an hour. All I can say is that she did a brilliant job and went on to sell 40 million copies.
I’m just very lucky guy. What can I tell you?