By Brian Scott Lipton
There are some songwriters most of us can name pretty easily – Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jimmy Webb, Marvin Hamlisch – but most of the men and women behind both popular and Broadway music are truly the “unsung heroes” of our lives. Take Holly Knight, for example. She’s a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and has penned hits for everyone from Kiss to Cheap Trick to Dusty Springfield, but you probably don’t know anything about her—never mind her name.
That’s doubly sad since you probably heard her music this past year on Broadway! Three of her songs, including “The Best” and “Better Be Good to Me,” are featured in the biomusical Tina (in which she is also an investor), while her megahit “Love is a Battlefield” is included in the megahit Moulin Rouge. TheaterPizzazz recently spoke to Knight about these songs, her thoughts on both Broadway and the music industry, and her future projects.
TP: Is it true you actually recorded “Better Be Good to Me” first?
HK: Absolutely. I was part of a band in California called Spider in the 1980s and we released it in 1981. My inspiration for writing it was actually the music of Lou Reed. If you listen to our version, and it is out there, it’s not that different than Tina’s. Hers is a little more upbeat. Eventually, I wrote about a half dozen songs that Tina eventually recorded.
TP: Did you and Tina stay close over the years?
HK: No. We spent some together early on, but I didn’t really see her again until the Broadway opening night of Tina. But I have to say, I contacted her recently about contributing a quote or two to the memoir I’m working on, and she sent me the most beautiful letter mentioning all the songs I wrote for her and how she loves them. Naturally, I framed it.
TP: How did you get “Love is a Battlefield” to Pat Benatar?
HK: While I was with Spider, I went to Mike Chapman, who was a successful producer for Blondie and The Knack and well-known songwriter, to discuss my career, and we co-wrote “Better Be Good to Me.” Not long after that, I told him I wanted to leave the band and concentrate on songwriting, and he signed me to a new publishing deal and said that we could write songs together for other people’s albums. Just a few days later, I happened to be with him when he got a call from Pat, and he said to her, “we’re going to write something fabulous for you.” And so we did. That was truly a game-changing moment in my career!
TP: Do you think songwriters get enough credit, either in the pop world or on Broadway?
HK: Absolutely not. In the beginning, I was happy to have the job and a credit on the record. Now, some of the biggest artists in the world have basically deluded themselves to believing they are one of the writers of their own hit songs. They don’t ever go out of their way to say who wrote it. I am not blaming anyone here, but I imagine a lot of the public really thinks Tina and Ike Turner wrote “Proud Mary,” which, of course they didn’t; that was actually a cover of a John Fogerty song. And sadly, Broadway, which I love, is a terrible offender. Our credits usually get shoved in the back of the program. I honestly think the catalogue musical – a term I prefer to jukebox musical—should have its own category at all the awards shows, and all the songwriters who contributed to that show should be included.
TP: You’re focusing on things other than pop songwriting now, right?
HK: Yes, I’ve discovered I enjoyed producing; I did some tracks recently with Tony winner Lena Hall and that was a great experience. And I have been trying to put a musical together; it’s sort of a quasi-autobiographical piece that is both cathartic for me in helping me to unravel my past, and hopefully provides something inspirational for other people. Needless to say, it’s been a hard sell! However, I still love to write pop songs; I’d really love to write something with Adele. She’s amazing and we have a lot in common.
TP: Finally, how are you handling this pandemic?
HK: One of the great things about this time is I have no excuse to do anything but write music or work on my memoirs. Staying home is not such a bad thing to me.