Carole Bayer Sager, the Woman Behind Some of Pop Music’s Biggest Hits, Releases a Fascinating Tell-All
By SHEILA WELLER
Why write a memoir if I wasn’t going to be completely honest?” Carole Bayer Sager says about They’re Playing Our Song (due out October 18 from Simon & Schuster), which reads like a candid conversation over a bottle of Meursault on a breezy Bel Air night. Yes, her phobias–flying, weight gain–are there. Her initial intimidation at meeting Burt Bacharach, the man who’d become her second husband–that’s in it, too.
But don’t let the self-deprecation fool you. A look-alike for her dear friend Elizabeth Taylor, Sager entranced Bacharach (“Burt needed a muse. . . . I got the job”) and her other great musical-and-romantic partner, Marvin Hamlisch (“We were like two Jewish jumping beans”). (Since 1996, she has been married to former Warner Bros. co-chairman Bob Daly.) In doing so, she helped dot the 70s-through-90s pop-scape with an update of the Great American Songbook: lyrics for “Nobody Does It Better,” the Oscar-winning “Arthur’s Theme,” the Grammy-winning “That’s What Friends Are For” (on which Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John all sang, raising millions for AIDS research). She’s collaborated with Peter Allen, Carole King, Bette Midler (who, she writes, bellowed, “ ”˜Iconic.’ ”˜Misfit.’ ”˜Drunk.’ Where are these words in your songs? Everything’s ”˜home,’ and ”˜rain,’ and ”˜light.”’), and even Bob Dylan, who made her, in her tight jeans and studded leather jacket, feel tackily “faux rock ”˜n’ roll.”
At 69, she’s still in the game. “Stronger Together,” a song that she, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, and Bruce Roberts wrote together, rang out in the closing minutes of the Democratic National Convention, sung by newcomer Jessica Sanchez. Sager was thrilled. Her excitement revealed that decades of glamour and achievement have not co-opted the earnest heart that created many wistful songs, and, now, this frank, delicious book.