That’s What Friends Are For
Dionne & Friends (Elton John, Gladys Knight, & Stevie Wonder)
Writer(s): Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager (see lyrics here)
First Charted: November 9, 1985
Peak: 14 US, 13 CB, 12 RR, 12 AC, 13 RB, 16 UK, 11 CN, 11 AU, 4 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.1 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 80.74 video, 92.71 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, two of history’s most celebrated songwriters, combined their talents for the music for 1982’s Night Shift. The five songs they wrote for the movie were recorded by Bacharch, Al Jarreau, the Pointer Sisters, Quaterflash, and Rod Stewart. Despite the impressive talent roster, the soundtrack failed to produce a top 40 hit.
Sager had hopes for “That’s What Friends Are For,” the song recorded by Stewart. As she said, “It felt like Rod could put a little edge on the song that might make it very attractive.” FB However, she adds, “the record company didn’t want to consider it as a single for Rod because they thought it was too soft. The song quietly disappeared into oblivion.” FB
In 1983, television producer Aaron Spelling tapped Sager and Bacharach to write the theme song for Finder of Lost Loves. At Spelling’s suggestion, Bacharach reached out to Dionne Warwick to record the song. They hadn’t spoken in ten years, but Warwick had been the go-to artist to record compositions for Bacharach and then-songwriting-partner Hal David, recording 33 chart hits from 1962 to 1971 which were penned by the duo. FB
The reunion led to Bacharach and Sager producing material for Warwick in 1985. She and Stevie Wonder had just worked together on The Woman in Red soundtrack and Sager suggested the pair record “That’s What Friends Are For.” On the day of recording, Neil Simon and Elizabeth Taylor visited the studio. Sager knew what an AIDS activist Taylor was and proposed the proceeds from the song be donated to AIDS research. Warwick suggested they add Gladys Knight as a singer and Clive Davis, President of Arista Records (the company which released the single), suggested adding Elton John as well. FB In addition to singing, John and Wonder lent their respective piano and harmonica-playing skills to the song. WK
The result was a massive hit, topping the Billboard pop, adult contemporary, and R&B charts and being named the magazine’s Song of the Year. It also won the Grammy for Song of the Year. It raised $3 million for American Foundation for AIDS Research WK at a time when the disease carried a stigma for anyone even willing to discuss it. SF
First posted 12/15/2019; last updated 10/28/2022.