Friday Feature: “Night Shift”
Fate works in mysterious ways. Dionne Warwick was home one evening, half-asleep while the 1982 film Night Shift played on her television set. “I didn’t really pay attention to the names that were going up on the credits,” Warwick recounted, “but I knew that was Burt Bacharach’s melody. There was no way in the world it could be anybody else’s.” She was speaking of “That’s What Friends Are For,” an all-but-forgotten song written for the 1982 film Night Shift, Ron Howard’s major big screen directorial debut. “Friends” set lyrics to Bacharach’s main love theme for the film, and was performed by Rod Stewart.
Warwick had recently reconciled with Bacharach after a decade-plus of estrangement; the catalyst was producer Aaron Spelling, who wished to have a Bacharach/Warwick collaboration as the theme to his 1984 television drama Finder of Lost Loves. The very next day after hearing “Friends,” Warwick phoned Bacharach and his then-wife and principal lyricist, Carole Bayer Sager. She let them know that she wished to cut the song herself. “And they were thrilled,” said Warwick. “They figured that nobody had heard the song, except the two of them – and Rod Stewart!” Warwick then hit upon the idea of inviting some of her famous friends to join the recording sessions, and a groundbreaking No. 1 record (both pop and R&B!) was born. “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne and Friends (Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder) would be the biggest hit of Warwick’s career, a feather in the cap for Bacharach and Sager, and perhaps most importantly, a major rallying cry and fundraiser for AIDS awareness. Arista Records, the artists, producers, publishers and respective unions all donated their proceeds to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR). When Rhino Records included the song on its 1998 box set The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection, Rhino followed suit.
“That’s What Friends Are For” is the major musical legacy of Night Shift. The original soundtrack version remains a hidden gem in Rod Stewart’s deep catalogue. But for today’s Friday Feature, we look not only at the original “Friends,” but the soundtrack contributions from Quarterflash, Al Jarreau, The Pointer Sisters, Marshall Crenshaw, Talk Talk and more! Hit the jump to join Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton and Shelley Long on the night shift!
Night Shift stars Henry Winkler as Chuck Lumley, formerly a Wall Street stockbroker, who escapes the high-pressure world of Wall Street with a job as the night shift supervisor at a morgue alongside Michael Keaton’s Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski. Chuck and Blaze are soon drawn into the plan of their neighbor Belinda (Shelley Long), a prostitute: why not run a brothel out of the morgue by night? As one would expect from a script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Splash, City Slickers), comic complications ensue.
Various Artists, Night Shift: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Warner Bros. LP 23702, 1982)
- Night Shift –Quarterflash
- Street Talk – Burt Bacharach*
- Girls Know How – Al Jarreau
- The Love Too Good to Last – The Pointer Sisters
- That’s What Friends Are For – Rod Stewart
- Someday, Someway – Marshall Crenshaw
- Penthouse and Pavement – Heaven 17
- Talk Talk – Talk Talk
- Everlasting Love – Rufus and Chaka Khan
- That’s What Friends Are For (Night Shift Love Theme) – Burt Bacharach*
* denotes instrumental score tracks
Burt Bacharach was enlisted to write the score for Night Shift, riding a wave of success after his Academy Award-winning work on 1981’s Arthur. With his wife and collaborator Carole Bayer Sager, Bacharach wrote a number of new songs for the film. The title song was performed by Quarterflash, who burst onto the music scene with 1981’s Top 5 hit “Harden My Heart.” John Boylan produced the track, written by Bacharach and Sager with the band’s Marv Ross. “Night Shift” has chord changes recognizably the work of Bacharach, but the song largely follows the glossy production template of “Harden My Heart.” Rindy Ross of Quarterflash contributed the requisite saxophone solos. When released as a single, however, it only reached No. 60 on the pop charts, a disappointing placement considering both the success of “Harden” and Bacharach and Sager’s “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” performed by Christopher Cross from their most recent film effort.
With David Foster, Bacharach and Sager wrote “Girls Know How” for Al Jarreau. Once again, Bacharach brought some of his individuality to the table, as the track opens with the horn sound so associated with his productions. Co-producer and co-writer Foster, however, seems to be in the driver’s seat, and “Girls Know How” is an agreeable piece of AC smooth soul. Foster and Bacharach would later write another song together, 1986’s “Love Will Show Us How” as performed by Glenn Jones. (The melody of this song originated on Foster’s 1982 The Best of Me as the instrumental “Heart Strings.”)
The 1980 Pointer Sisters pop/soul confection “The Love Too Good to Last,” written by Bacharach and Sager with production by Richard Perry, reappears on the Night Shift soundtrack. U.K. label Big Break Records recently reissued this song as part of its expanded edition of the Pointers’ LP Special Things.
Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” also appeared on the Night Shift soundtrack, perhaps an odder fit than most. The film was released the same summer of 1982 as Crenshaw’s self-titled LP which also included the song; “Someday” would be the artist’s only chart hit. This guitar-driven classic pop throwback seems like it wandered in from another album altogether considering the 1980s synthesizer-driven sonic signature of the other tracks. “Talk Talk,” by the band of the same name, was written by members Ed Hollis and Mark Hollis, and also dated from 1982. It first appeared on the band’s album The Party’s Over. Produced by Colin Thurston, the man behind Duran Duran’s first two long-players, “Talk Talk” is New Wave-influenced and bears many of the production hallmarks of early Duran Duran. This infectious song is featured in a unique mix on the soundtrack.
Heaven 17 was another U.K. group enlisted to appear on Night Shift. That trio’s 1981 debut Penthouse and Pavement spawned an electro-pop single of the same title, also appearing in a special mix on Night Shift. “Penthouse and Pavement” has an R&B edge and an irresistible bassline. Another song making a reprise is “Everlasting Love” performed by Rufus and Chaka Khan. Soundtrack executive producers Carole Bayer Sager and Stephen Paley reached back further for this ballad, which debuted in 1975 on ABC Records’ Ask Rufus.
“That’s What Friends Are For” appears in two versions. Rod Stewart self-produced his recording, and compared to the 1986 treatment produced and arranged by its writers, Stewart’s version sounds overproduced. Still, most of the familiar structure of the song was intact at the time of its composition. Bacharach and Sager streamlined it for the Warwick recording, jettisoning one entire verse that lent the song more of an overt “love song” feeling. There’s a prominent, unique synth line and sax part in Stewart’s recording, and his vocal is typically strong and soulful. Sager commented of the Stewart production, “Burt and I were not very happy with the record. The record company [Warner Bros.] didn’t want to consider it as a single for Rod because they thought it was too soft. The song quietly slipped into oblivion.”
Bacharach and co-producer Bruce Swedien, perhaps best known for his collaborations with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, offer an instrumental version as “Night Shift Love Theme.” Perhaps Bacharach’s original intentions were better expressed on this track. It’s a straightforward reading led by a very “1982” synthesizer part (what else?) with a harmonica presence that anticipates Stevie Wonder’s exceptional role on the later recording. The only other instrumental from the score included on the soundtrack album is “Street Talk,” a mildly funky piece that recalls some of Isaac Hayes’ cues from Shaft, some of which, in turn, sound as if they were inspired by early Bacharach (think of “Early Sunday Morning”).
Night Shift may not be remembered as a career high point for either Burt Bacharach or Ron Howard. But the film, like its soundtrack recording, offers a number of pleasures that make it well worth revisiting. The soundtrack has never been officially released on compact disc, though bootlegs proliferate in the usual places. Perhaps one of the enterprising film score labels we love to cover here at The Second Disc is ready for a little moonlighting on the night shift? It’s time to capitalize on 1980s soundtrack nostalgia and the still-considerable fan base for Bacharach’s ouevre. And how about an expanded edition? There’s more of the maestro’s original score that could be excavated, as well as songs excised from the album but included in the film. These include “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones (from Love You Live) and “Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter” by the Penguin Café Orchestra. (Admittedly, two of those three are long shots for licensing!)
We’re hoping someday, someway, for a CD reissue of Night Shift!