Stephen Michael Schwartz, Off the Clef #2: The Late '70s Collab Sessions, "I've Just About Given Up Hope" w/Toni Stern SONG DEMO
Stephen pens a tune with the gal who provided lyrics to two songs on Carole King's iconic 1971 "Tapestry" LP, an album which garnered 4 Grammys in 1972, and has sold 25 million + copies worldwide.
ABOVE: “I’ve Just About Given Up Hope,” sung by Stephen Michael Schwartz; harmony vocals and oboe by Janice Hubbard (lyrics by Toni Stern, music by Stephen Michael Schwartz, ©Busy Body Music/BMI)
“It’s 1977. Where to go next? What to do next? Am I a ‘one-trick-pony’? Did I get my one shot at ‘the big time’ with RCA Records (three years before) only to be slapped down to reality…proving I didn’t have the goods?
“It’s so easy to accept the negative thoughts of rejection, and then let that ruin you. Suddenly everything I did I began to question. Am I just too sensitive? Being ‘thick-skinned’ was never my strong suit…ironic that I should choose a profession where ‘No’ was heard more often than ‘Yes.’
“Today they call it ‘networking.’”
“In between odd jobs to pay rent, I was writing songs, playing clubs, and meeting people along the way. Today they call it ‘networking.’ I met and collaborated with some wonderful singer/songwriters, some who became lifelong friends and major success stories along the road, with each of them working through their own individual trials and triumphs.
“Collaborating, I found, was also consoling: It brought peace to the process. Unlike that famous Groucho Marx line, ‘I would never join a club that would have me as a member,’ I found a club that honored me as a respected member. This series focuses on some of my friends/collaborators and their accomplishments.”
Toni Stern, Lyricist
“I was introduced to Toni by Henry Marx. Henry, who was like an unofficial manager to me, always saw my talent, and tried to put me together with people who could elevate my status and success as a songwriter. For that I am deeply appreciative.
“Toni and I met for our session on Wonderland Drive in the idyllic and creative hot spot, Laurel Canyon, famous as home to many of L.A.’s rock musicians such as Cass Elliot of The Mamas & the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Carole King, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield.
“This was the Mecca of the southern California music scene [in the ‘70s]. I recall our writing sessions being very fluid and positive, and Toni was a very uplifting, creative spirit. Our song, however, ‘I’ve Just About Given Up Hope,’ was reflecting my state of mind at the time, not hers.”
A Peek Into Stern’s Lyrics for an Iconic Carole King Song, 7 Years Earlier
In a recent American Songwriter Magazine article, Tina Benitez-Eves reveals that “‘It’s Too Late’ is the realization that there’s no fixing a relationship, and it’s time to go separate ways,” as it addresses lovers who have grown apart:
Stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time
There’s somethin’ wrong here, there can be no denyin’
One of us is changin’, or maybe we’ve just stopped tryin’
And it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin’ inside has died
And I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it
American Songwriter: “Though ‘It’s Too Late’ moves through the pains of a breakup, it pays respect to a real attempt at love, and hopes for better days ahead:
There’ll be good times again for me and you
But we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it, too?
Still, I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you—Lyrics by Toni Stern
“King wrote ‘It’s Too Late’ after her own divorce from Gerry Goffin in 1968, following her move from New York City to Los Angeles to start over, but the lyrics were written with the help of friend and musician Toni Stern, who was going through her own breakup.”
“Those lyrics are by Ms. Toni Stern,” said King, in a CBS-TV interview about a decade ago. “And her lyrics really do speak for people going through divorces.”
American Songwriter: “Written within 20 minutes by Stern (Toni would usually agonize over lyrics, but she wrote these very quickly, according to Songfacts), the storyline of the song covered the end of her relationship with James Taylor—who also contributed to Tapestry with guitar and backing vocals with his then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell.”
(Editor’s note: Songfacts also appears to confirm a relationship between Stern and Taylor, but with one caveat: “Toni Stern, however, did have a relationship with Taylor and wrote the lyrics [to ‘It’s Too Late’] after they broke up, and he moved on to Joni Mitchell, but she won't confirm it's about the troubadour: ‘I won't say who 'It's Too Late' is about,’ she told Sheila Weller, author of Girls Like Us. ‘I don't kiss and tell.’”)
Back to Stephen, Recalling His Late ‘70s Songwriting Collaboration With Stern
“I suppose my first wife, Wendy [actress Wendy Schaal], and I were having some trouble in our relationship at this juncture, and I brought some of that into our session. Toni was great, and we used those emotional ‘vibes’ to our advantage. What do you do when you can’t cope with a broken heart? ‘Call a doctor or call a nurse.’
“Toni is, first and foremost, a poet who could easily transition into a lyricist extraordinaire, as evidenced by her work with Carole King.
“I came into our writing session with a musical idea, no lyrics per se, and although I was generally upbeat, excited, and a tad nervous in my collaborative sessions, this song took on a melancholy theme.
“‘…Hope’ was never demoed. The only recording I have is a ‘live’ version poorly captured on cassette when I sang it at The Ice House in Pasadena. Performing with me, on oboe and vocals, is Janice Hubbard, who would become an important part of my life as a member of my future trio, Parachute Express.”
Readers: Press “Play” on the song player at the top of the page (the blue “Listen Now” button if in e-mail) to listen to “I’ve Just About Given Up Hope,” live from The Ice House, late ‘70s.
Readers: Here’s your chance to play producer and arranger! Let us know in the comment section below how you’d arrange “I’ve Just About Given Up Hope”!
What instrumentation might you add (along with Janice’s oboe and harmony vocal)? Acoustic piano? Horns? Strings?
Or, if you prefer, be A&R exec for a day! Which current artist or group might you assign this song in today's market? Which artist might do it justice if an updated recording of the song were to happen?
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