’70s hitmaker Paul Williams on having his songs sung by The Carpenters and The Muppets


From The A.V. Club:

AVC: So many people—performers and listeners—find their way of relating to songs you wrote. You write “We’ve Only Just Begun” for a bank commercial, and it becomes a huge hit, and then you write a song for a felt frog…
PW: [Laughs.] My life is beginning to sound like a blessed life, doesn’t it?

AVC: It doesn’t seem like you thought, “This song’s just for a bank, or a puppet. Maybe I don’t need to put so much into it.”

PW: You know, I’ve always believed that the reason a song is a hit is not what’s unique about the songwriter or unique about what the songwriter is feeling or expressing, but what we have in common. So if I write about this sense of wonder about the mystery of life, you know, “Who said that every wish would be heard and answered / if wished on a morning star? / Somebody thought of that and someone believed it / Look what it’s done so far.” If I write about what is actually going on in the center of my chest, there’s a pretty good chance it’ll match what’s going on in somebody else’s. It’s what we have in common, I think, that makes the song work. The ancillary benefit of being a songwriter is, you begin to have this sense of family with your audience, especially at this point in my life. You know, I go and do a concert, a lot of people my age and their grandkids show up, and they respond to the song. It’s like there’s a comfort level for an old performer to go, “You know what? This is my family. These are kind of family mementos, in a way.” I bring the songs, and the audience brings the memories. They all relate to the songs in their own specific way. “You And Me Against The World” is probably the one that gets the deepest connection with people. So many times, they say, “My mom was a single mother, and ‘You And Me Against The World’ was really important to her.” That’s what I call “heart payment.” That’s an unexpected little heart payment for a songwriter, that this is something you did that people related to that was meaningful, which is wonderful.

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