From Dude (Looks Like a Lady) to You Give Love a Bad Name, the great songwriter has racked up 500m sales. As he publishes a star-studded memoir, Child talks about being a gay man at the more macho end of rock
During Covid,” says Desmond Child dreamily, “the whole city of Chicago opened their windows at the same time and sang Livin’ on a Prayer.” The veteran songwriter breaks into a proud grin. “It gave them hope and community. Jon Bon Jovi always tells me, ‘We didn’t just write a song – we wrote something special.’” And their something special has now notched up a billion plays on Spotify.
Child also co-wrote Bad Medicine and You Give Love a Bad Name among many others with Bon Jovi. He penned Dude (Looks Like a Lady) with Aerosmith, Poison with Alice Cooper and even Livin’ la Vida Loca for Ricky Martin (which was then quoted in Sisqó’s hit Thong Song, earning Child another credit). The hitmaker to the stars has also worked with Meat Loaf, Cher, Barbra Streisand and Katy Perry. He has scored 80 Billboard hits over five decades and his songs have racked up 500m sales – five times more than Coldplay. But he is keen to point out that, of the 3,500 he’s written – a remarkable stat in itself – “half of them were rubbish. But I try to finish every song I write. You try to give it your best and so far people haven’t asked for their money back.”
I called Michael Jackson’s house and a voice said: ‘Mr Jackson is very ill.’ It was obviously him speaking
Child, a stylish, youthful 69-year-old who lives in Nashville with his husband Curtis, insists that there isn’t a magic formula for globe-conquering anthems. “Diane Warren writes songs like they’re confessionals about her own life,” he explains, referring to his closest peer, a good friend. “Then she’ll give them to Toni Braxton or Céline Dion. In my case, I’m fitting the songs on the person like a suit. I try to meet them before we go into a writing session, taking down everything they say. I ask the right questions, they tell me their story and sometimes they might start crying. But can you imagine anyone but Aerosmith singing Dude (Looks Like a Lady) or anyone but Joan Jett singing I Hate Myself for Loving You? It just goes with who they are.”
Formula or not, he does have trademarks – notably those titles. “I learned early on that art is the tension of opposites,” he explains, as Curtis brings us coffee and croissants in this fancy London hotel. “So You Give Love a Bad Name. I Hate Myself for Loving You. Dude (Looks Like a Lady). The title sucks you in and people think, ‘I wanna hear this.’” Another tip – picked up from Bob Crewe, the co-writer of Lady Marmalade who coached him in the 1970s – is that “rhymes need to be as clean as possible. So you can’t rhyme ‘name’ with ‘games’. It has to be ‘game’. Because when people are singing along in a stadium, they need to anticipate the next rhyme. If it’s clean, they’ll remember it – and by the second chorus they’re singing along.”