Desmond Child: Big Songs, Big Life

Photo (left to right): NYU's Ron Sadoff, SHOF Board Members Robbin Ahrold and SHOF Board Member/New York Education Committee Chair Karen Sherry, NYU's Phil Galdston, Desmond Child, SHOF Board Members Linda Critelli and John Titta and SHOF's April Anderson

Story by By April Anderson

NYU’s Production Lab was on fire last night when GRAMMY® winning and EMMY® nominated songwriter / producer and 2008 SHOF inductee Desmond Child guested in the latest invitation-only episode of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU. After a warm introduction by Director of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions Ron Sadoff, the event was then moderated by NYU Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence and Director of Songwriting Phil Galdston.

Primarily attended by the students of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, they were enthralled by the defining stories and experiences that were the background to over fifty years of Child’s writing an incredibly impressive roster of mega-hits.

These hits include eighty Billboard Top 40 hits like “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name,” “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” and “Waking Up In Vegas,” to name just a few. His collaborations span more than one generation of hitmakers, including Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, KISS, Motley Crew, Joan Jett, Cher, Michael Bolton, Cyndi Lauper, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Meat Loaf, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry and Sia. His songs have sold over 500 million records and downloads with billions of YouTube views and streaming plays.

Child began with his childhood, having been raised in the projects of Miami Beach by an artist/songwriter mother whom he said was “the Cuban Diane Warren.” He grew up at her feet, not realizing everyone did NOT write songs and began searching out people who were important influences on his art. At a young age, he was taken under the wing of veteran songwriter and SHOF inductee Bob Crewe and they collaborated for two years, cowriting 38 songs.  

His early group, Desmond Child & Rouge, had a measure of success in the 1970’s with “Our Love Is Insane,” but it was Paul Stanley of KISS who provided the first vehicle for Child to write expressly for others. As a fan of Desmond Child & Rouge, Paul asked him to collaborate, resulting in the huge KISS hit “I Was Made For Loving You.”  

Child related the story of his first collaboration with SHOF inductees Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora in the basement of Richie’s New Jersey house. Child had a title in his “back pocket” which turned into the anthemic “You Give Love A Bad Name.” He went on to say he styled his and SHOF inductee Jim Steinman’s 1986 hit song written for Bonnie Tyler “If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man)” with a similar chord progression.

Galdston commented that “one of the greatest challenges for a songwriter is to have perspective on their own work.” Child said one of the most important things he has learned is “you’re not your work, and how many notes and words are there? How original is your stuff anyway? If you can NOT say ‘that’s my idea,' and say 'it’s AN idea’ you’ll be better off.”

Child talked about the linear aspect of songwriting so the story makes sense, and how Bob Crewe taught him the importance of alliteration so your songs “stick” in people’s minds. He spoke of the song “Love On A Rooftop” written with SHOF inductee Diane Warren, first cut by Ronnie Spector and later a hit for Cher which opened the door for him as a producer.

The evening progressed with captivating stories behind the writing of many of the Desmond Child hits and that when he “saw the end of the rock era” he reinvented himself. His subsequent round of tremendous success with Ricky Martin beginning with “Livin' La Vida Loca,” cowritten with Draco Rosa, speaks directly to the benefits of being fluid in life as a songwriter.

Child then said he “got it in his head that he wanted to make recording history and create a song that was completely in the box, with no analog elements” meaning he’d recorded it on a computer with Pro Tools instead of tape. He said he made it into the Wall Street Journal as having recorded the first hit song to be created that way.

Galdston brought the session to a close by quoting Jon Bon Jovi on Child, saying “Desmond is the one who not only taught me the next level of songwriting, but so many of the true aspects of friendship; truth, honor and loyalty.”

Child then played and sang “Livin’ On A Prayer” at the piano with a big assist from the eager audience, saying he was thinking of his muse, Laura Nyro, when he wrote it.

Finally, Galdston pointed out that Child was an alumnus of NYU and presented him with a commemorative sweatshirt.

Kudos to all, with special thanks to SHOF Board Member/New York Education Committee Chair Karen Sherry and the committee members. SHOF Board/Committee members in attendance were Robbin Ahrold, Linda Critelli and John Titta.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions program at NYU is a major component of the SHOF educational outreach. Stay tuned to for news of the next Master Sessions coming soon!