Celebrating a Special Friend’s Day With “That’s What Friends Are For”

Happy #SongLyricsSunday! Today’s a special day: it’s fellow blogger Fandango’s Day! He also chose today’s prompt of finding a song with “this”, “that”, and “other” in either the lyrics or song’s title. I am picking a song to celebrate Fandango Day along with some students of mine leaving for new adventures this week and my best friend’s wedding (which happened yesterday but I couldn’t attend due to COVID travel restrictions). What song is it? It is the 80s song “That’s What Friends Are For” that was made famous by Dionne Warwick Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. It is such a beautiful song, but did you know it is a cover. Let’s explore the tune a little more down below.

In Good Times, In Bad Times

“That’s What Friends Are For” is written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. Burt Bacharach is one of the most important composers of 20th-century popular music. He has written songs for countless artists like Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin (“I Say a Little Prayer”), Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle, Carly Simon, the Carpenters ( “(They Long to Be) Close to You” ), Christopher Cross (“Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”), and Neil Diamond. He was married to the lyricist and sing-songwriter Carole Bayer Sager (who also co-wrote “That’s What Friends Are For”) from 1982 to 1991. Sager has written songs for Steve Perry, Bette Midler, Melissa Machester, Barbra Streisand, Rita Coolidge, and Peter Allen.

Rod Stewart was the original singer for “That’s What Friends Are For”. It was released in 1982 on the soundtrack for the Ron Howard movie Night Shifts, which features Henry Winkle, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long, and Richard Belzer (which I am a big fan of thanks to Law & Order). However, the song never was cut as a single. So, it was unknown to many people until Warwick’s cover in 1985.

Gladys Knight, Carole Bayer-Sager, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John, “That’s What Friends Are For”, 1985
Dionne Warwick decided to cover “That’s What Friends Are For”. to help raised money for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. It was also released to help to combat the AIDS epidemic, which Warwick personally experienced as she saw friends dying from the disease. This charity single features Gladys Knight, Elton John on vocals and piano, and Stevie Wonder on harmonica and vocals. The song was successful as it reached #1 on many charts in the United States and even worldwide. It won the Grammy Awards for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Song of the Year. But most importantly, it raised over three million dollars for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Warwick’s version is slightly different then Stewart’s version. The 1985 version has a different second verse. Don’t let that deter you from listening to the song. It’s a beautiful soft rock mid-tempo ballad with lots of wonderful talent. You cannot beat a powerhouse quartet like Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. Maybe you can but these four have unique musical talents that made this song so special: Warwick and Knights’ soft vocals, John’s powerful vocals, and Stevie’s unique vocals as well as his harmonica.

Yet, it’s the lyrics that bring out the heart of the song as they are so bittersweet and so true. Just look at that chorus! Those are the exact words that I would say to my friends. Those words are so encouraging and could bring a sime to anyone’s face (or melt hearts). Keep smiling, keep shining, I’ll be on your side forevermore

I always have loved “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. The reason why is because the song featuring amazing talent (both songwriters and performers), wonderful soft rock melodies, and its uplifting messages. What about you? What do you like about “That’s What Friends Are For”? Take a listen to the song below and let me know what you think!