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POP EYE

He's Getting To Abc's Of Songwriting

July 06, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

You probably haven't heard of Brock Walsh. He's helped write and produce hits for the Pointer Sisters ("Automatic") as well as songs for James Ingram and Melissa Manchester (and he's busy now writing a couple of tunes for the debut album by "Moonlighting's" Bruce Willis).

But if you're watching ABC-TV at about 9 tonight, during the closing ceremonies of Liberty Weekend, you'll hear Walsh's new song, "We Belong Together." In fact, more people will probably hear Walsh's airy ballad tonight than anything by Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel or any of the current chart toppers.

And if you watch TV this summer, you're going to keep hearing the song, or at least excerpts from it, so much that you may want to throw your old Wham! records at the TV set. Because "We Belong Together" is the new ABC-TV fall theme song--sans the usual clumsy tie-ins to whatever "wacky" comedies might populate the network's schedule of shows.

Performed by Aretha Franklin and Leon Russell, it is scheduled to play in its entirety (3 1/2 minutes) twice this weekend, accompanying film footage shot by director Robert Lieberman of ABC-TV stars with their friends and families. Excerpts from the song, ranging from 4 to 60 seconds, will also air throughout the summer.

"Listen, it's great to reach an enormous audience," Walsh said. "But it was also a real challenge to write. Lieberman brought me in, told me what he was going to do with his film and my job was to help support the visuals that you'd see on screen.

"The whole idea was to create a mood that conveyed a sense of anticipation and relief. We wanted to capture the notion of a reunion, of regaining something that you'd missed."

Walsh admitted that he's being paid handsomely for his labors ("It's the equivalent of the money you'd make from having a hit record"), but he said his favorite part of the whole project was rubbing elbows in the studio with Aretha Franklin. "Frankly, I just sat back in awe for a while," he said. "I've been a fan of hers since I was 8 years old, so there wasn't a whole lot of direction called for. My primary job was to make her comfortable and just make sure that her performance fit the rest of the song, so that we could leave room for harmonies or other tracks we'd be recording later on."

Walsh acknowledged there was "more work" involved with Russell, explaining diplomatically that "we had to find a middle ground between what he did instinctively and what I wanted from his performance."

Another demanding chore was editing the song down to 4-, 5-, 10- and 17-second sound bites for promotional airings between shows. "At that point, it's really more about selling than presenting the music," he said. "There's no way to rationalize the weight of five seconds. You're basically giving them a piece of music that says, 'Here we come . . . there we go!' "

But Walsh insisted there was no network interference in the project. "I know it sounds hard to believe, because you always assume that TV is full of political considerations and artistic compromises," he said. "But the network's attitude was--we hired the painters, so let them paint. It's much more aggravating writing songs for a movie sound track.

"The only time I met (ABC-TV chief) Brandon Stoddard was outside the network's affiliates meeting when they'd first heard the song. And he came up to me and said, 'My life is good.' And I said, 'My life is better!' So I guess everyone liked it."

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