Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Richard Marx, once hailed as “rock’s newest wi/noterkid” by Steve Dougherty of People, worked for years singing backup and writing songs for stars like Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers before landing a solo recording contract in 1986. His first album, aptly titled Richard Marx, spawned four hit singles and earned him a Grammy nomination. Marx’s good looks have brought him what Dougherty labeled “a herd of young female fans,” but he has also been praised as a “serious, articulate musician” by Ann Elliot in Mademoiselle and a “great singer” by reviewer J. D. Considine in Rolling Stone.
Marx was born in Chicago to parents who both earned their livelihoods in the commercial jingle business—his father composed and his mother sang. As a small child he often accompanied them to the studio where they worked. Marx told reporter Steve Hochman in Rolling Stone: “I loved to be in a recording studio. Any excuse to hang out. Get coffee for people, sharpen pencils, anything. And so when I got to sing, it was even cooler.” And sing he did; when he was about five Marx began singing commercials for products including peanut butter and candy bars.
His interest in music continued during his adolescence. As Marx recalled for Hochman: “Some of my friends used to watch Beatles or Elvis movies for the plot and I watched them for the music. When those songs came on, I would be up and I would fake the guitar and I would be Elvis, you know? None of my friends got off on it like I did.” At about the same time, the youngster began writing his own songs— “about girls [who] wouldn’t go out with me in high school,” Marx confided to Dougherty.
By the time he was eighteen Marx’s songwriting talents had improved to the point where he got a response when he sent a demo tape through an odd series of acquaintances to pop star Lionel Richie. “A friend of mine [who] was going to school in Atlanta, [Georgia], was roommates with a guy who grew up with a guy who was then working for the Commodores,” a group Richie was then a member of, Marx explained to Hochman. Richie encouraged Marx to move to Los Angeles, California, to enter the music business.
He followed Richie’s advice. In Los Angeles, Marx sang backup on some of Richie’s hits, including “All Night Long” and “Running With the Night.” He also wrote “What About Me” for country star Kenny Rogers, and composed music for the group Chicago. When Marx was nineteen, he was recruited to write a song for the film Staying Alive.While doing this, he met the film’s female lead, actress and dancer Cynthia Rhodes. Though she at first rejected his romantic overtures
Born c. 1962 in Chicago, 111.; son of Dick (a jingle composer) and Ruth (a jingle singer) Marx; married Cynthia Rhodes (an actress and dancer), c 1988.
Vocalist, guitarist, songwriter of pop and rock; sang commercial jingles during childhood and adolescence; began singing backup and writing songs for other artists, c 1982; solo recording artist and concert performer, c 1986—. Composed a song for the film Staying Alive.
Awards: Grammy nomination for BestMale Rock Vocal Performance.
Addresses: c/o EMI-America Records, 6464 Sunset Boulevard, Penthouse Suite, Los Angeles, CA 90028.
because he was seven years her junior, they eventually married.
Meanwhile, Marx’s quest to become a solo artist was initially frustrating. Primarily involved in a more mellow, ballad-oriented sound for his backup work with other artists, in his free time he wrote rock songs. And Marx had the discouraging experience of having a friend who was a music producer tell him: ‘“You’re never going to get a record. You’re not an artist,’” Marx admitted to Dougherty. Despite this judgment, and the fact that he “was turned down by every record company at least three times,” as he put it to Dougherty, the young singer-songwriter kept trying. Finally, in 1986, Marx was signed by Manhattan Records after an audition with the president of the company.
Richard Marx, the resulting album, was a rapid success. The hit singles from it include “Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Should Have Known Better,” and “Endless Summer Nights.” Though it took Marx until 1989 to release his second effort, Repeat Offender, his music continues to be extremely popular. Though Rolling Stone critic Considine labeled Offender “disappointing,” he conceded that “the songs go down as easily as chocolate milk.” Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that Marx’s second album has already scored two chart hits—the energetic “Satisfied” and the ballad “Right Here Waiting.” The young artist is philosophical, though, about his status as a pop star. Marx told Dougherty: “It could be the next single or 20 singles from now, but eventually I’m going to put out a song that is going to stall and go double plywood. But I won’t freak out, because I can always work as a producer.”
Richard Marx (includes “Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Should Have Known Better,” and “Endless Summer Nights”), Manhattan, 1987.
Repeat Offender (includes “Satisfied” and “Right Here Waiting”), EMI, 1989.
Mademoiselle, June 1989.
People, March 7, 1988.
Rolling Stone, September 24, 1987; June 29, 1989.
Known for his good looks as well as his vocal abilities, Richard Marx was perhaps the prototypical flashy 1980s pop star, making a name for himself as a mainstay of top-40 radio stations and MTV. With the 1997 release of Flesh and Bone, his first album since 1994’s Paid Vacation, Marx joined other stars of the 1980s whose popularity underwent a resurgence as the members of the MTV generation became nostalgic for the sounds of their youth. With the release of his fifth album, Marx, serving as the 1997 Grammy in the Schools spokesperson, aided the fundraising efforts of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) Foundation’s campaign to encourage the creative efforts of American students. Although critics have not assessed Marx as a serious artist in terms of his songs, which Billboard’s Larry Flick characterized as “radio-friendly nuggets” and “engaging, rock-etched love poems,” they have praised his ability to belt out powerful lyrics. Despite any reservations expressed in reviews of his works, Marx attained enormous popular success: his first four albums went multi-platinum, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
The son of a commercial jingle-writing father and a jingle-singing mother, Richard Noel Marx—born September 16, 1963 in Chicago, Illinois—spent the better part of his childhood inside recording studios. He began recording jingles himself at the age of five, and as a teenager Marx wrote his own songs. When he was 18, Marx managed, through a series of acquaintances in the music industry, to get a demo he had recorded to singer Lionel Richie, who was at the time still a member of the Commodores. At Richie’s urging, Marx moved to Los Angeles, and beginning in 1980, he worked as a background vocalist for a variety of recording artists, including George Benson, Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, and Julio Iglesias. In addition, Marx provided background vocals for songs on Lionel Richie’s solo albums, including the hits “All Night Long (All Night)” and “Running with the Night.”
Marx supplemented his work as a background vocalist by writing songs, which were recorded by such artists as Kenny Rogers and the band Chicago. The songwriter also contributed to movie soundtracks, including those for the 1985 films St. Elmo’s Fire and The Goonies. While working as a contributing songwriter for the 1983 John Travolta film Staying Alive, the sequel to the wildly popular Saturday Night Fever, Marx met Cynthia Rhodes, the movie’s female lead. He and Rhodes dated for several years and eventually married in 1989. Despite his success as a songwriter and his frequent contributions as a background vocalist,
Born Richard Noel Marx, September 16, 1963, in Chicago, IL; father a songwriter, mother a singer; married Cynthia Rhodes (an actress and dancer), 1989; children: three sons.
Singer and songwriter, c. 1976—. Background vocalist for various artists, including George Benson, Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston, Julio Iglesias, Billy Joel, Gordon Lightfoot, Madonna, Teddy Pendergrass, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Sting, Barbra Streisand, 1980-85; signed solo record contract with EMI Records, 1986; recording artist with EMI, 1986-91; recording artist with Capitol Records, 1991—.
Addresses: Record company —Capitol Records, 810 Seventh Ave., 4th floor, New York, NY 10019.
success as a solo recording artist eluded Marx, until 1987, the year his first album, Richard Marx, was released by EMI.
Four singles from the Richard Marx album, which ended up at number eight on the album charts, made it to the top of the popular music charts in 1987; one of these singles, the ballad “Hold On to the Nights,” was particularly well-liked among pop music fans, and spent several weeks at number one. Other chart-topping songs from Marx’s debut album included “Don’t Mean Nothing” and “Should Have Known Better,” both of which reached the number three spot, and “Endless Summer Nights,” which reached number two. The songs, all of which were composed by Marx, displayed his signature romantically raspy, forceful vocal style, and his trademark theme of love, unrequited and otherwise. The corresponding music videos for the songs depicted Marx as a soulful and often lovesick romantic figure, and with his youthful good looks—he was widely popular among MTV viewers, especially female viewers.
Marx’s second album, Repeat Offender, was released in 1989 and quickly reached triple-platinum status, producing the two number one singles “Satisfied” and “Right Here Waiting.” “Satisfied” was not only popular with fans, it was favored by music critics as well, which was an unusual achievement for a Marx song; the critics noted that the song departed from Marx’s usual romantic-ballad formula and lauded the singer for his powerful, heartfelt vocal performance on the song. “Angelia,” another song from Repeat Offender, reached number four on the charts in 1989, while “Too Late to Say Goodbye” topped out at number 12 in 1990. “Children of the Night” reached number 13 in 1990; the song commended the efforts of—and raised money for—the Los Angeles-based group called Children of the Night, which provides services for runaway children and teenage prostitutes. With the songs and videos from this second album, Marx established himself as a formidable player in the 1980s music scene.
In 1991 Marx released Rush Street, which, while not as popularly successful as its predecessors, produced three top-twenty singles, including “Take This Heart,” which reached number 20, “Keep Coming Back,” which reached number 12, and “Hazard,” a song that Entertainment Weekly’s Chuck Eddy dubbed “an oddly spooky flamenco-rock ballad about a riverside murder,” which went to number nine. In order to boost the sales of his third album, Marx took part in a publicity stunt that had him play five concerts in a twenty-four hour period, going from one coast of the United States to the other. The mini-tour began at an airport in Baltimore and ended at a Los Angeles airport, with performances at New York, Cleveland, and Chicago airports sandwiched between.
Marx’s 1994 effort, Paid Vacation, like his earlier albums, was not well-received by critics who deemed the collection simply more of the same rock ballads and top-40s sounds previously released by the singer. Again, however, critics acknowledged Marx’s vocal talent, such as People’s Peter Castro, who conceded that the album was “packed with well-sung songs” and Entertainment Weekly contributor Chuck Eddy, who offered a backhanded compliment to Marx with the assertion that Paid Vacation contained “some of the most skilled hackwork in the business.” Nevertheless, the critics still maintained their dislike for Marx’s lyrics and melodies; Castro remarked that the songs on the album were “painfully short on substance.” Among the songs on Paid Vacation, “One More Try” and “Nothing Left Behind Us” could be heard most often on the radio, and the album was a moderate success.
After three years without releasing a single album, Marx released Flesh and Bone in 1997. With superstar guest vocalists such as Luther Vandross and Randy Jackson lending their talents to the mix of songs that were, as always, entirely written by Marx, the album was designed to appeal to the fans who had embraced Marx in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although critical reception of the album was as always lukewarm, Marx’s vocals were deemed somewhat more mature—and at the age of 34 his voice was most definitely more seasoned than it had been on his debut album ten years earlier—and richer than they had been previously. Entertainment Weekly’s Jeremy Helligar, although faulting the album for containing what he referred to as “cheesy hallmarks” of the 1980s—cliche-laden lyrics, overdone vocals, and hackneyedarrangements—conceded that on songs such as “Touch of Heaven” Marx is “an occasionally convincing soul man.”
A noteworthy fact concerning Marx’s fifth solo album was its association with the NARAS Foundation; Marx requested photos, paintings, drawings, short stories, and poems from high school students around the United States, and the winning entries were featured in Flesh and Bone’s CD booklet. In addition, Marx donated proceeds from the sales of the first single released from Flesh and Bone, “Until I Find You Again,” to the NARAS Foundation, and produced five songs submitted by students on an album released with the support of the same organization. The singer was enthusiastic about the project, according to the Richard Marx website, which quoted him as saying: “The idea that I can expose a young short story writer, photographer, poet, painter or songwriter to a mass audience is really exciting. It’d be pretty cool if someone in a position to help even more then sees or hears their work and says, ‘This is great. Let’s open the door for him or her.’” The successful singer and songwriter was also eager for the concept to become more widespread among celebrities, remarking: “I hope other artists will pick up the ball and do similar things. In fact, I hope everybody steals the idea. For once, I want to be plagiarized.”
(Contributor) Staying Alive (soundtrack), 1983.
(Contributor) The Goonies (soundtrack), 1985.
(Contributor) St. Elmo’s Fire (soundtrack), 1987.
Richard Marx, EMI, 1987, reissued, Capitol, 1991.
Repeat Offender, EMI, 1989, reissued, 1991.
Rush Street, Capitol, 1991.
(Contributor) A League of Their Own (soundtrack), 1992.
Paid Vacation, Capitol, 1994.
(Contributor) Mirror Has Two Faces (soundtrack), 1996.
Flesh and Bone, Capitol, 1997.
Greatest Hits, Capitol, 1997.
Billboard, April 27, 1991, p. 1; January 28, 1995, p. 69.
Entertainment Weekly, February 11, 1994, p. 54; April 18, 1997, p. 68.
People, August 1, 1988, p. 106; June 26, 1989, p. 102; February 28, 1994, p. 23.
Variety, April 22, 1991, p. 63.
—Lynn M. Spampinato
Marx, Richard, unabashed pop craftsman who quietly accumulated 14 Top 40 hits; b. Chicago, Sept. 16, 1963. With a mother who sang jazz and a father who wrote and recorded jingles for companies like Nestle and Peter Pan, it’s little wonder that Richard Marx developed a remarkable sense of pop craft. By age five, Marx was singing on his father’s jingles; in his early teens, he was composing seriously. One of his tapes fell into the hands of Lionel Richie, who encouraged the 17-year-old Marx to come to Los Angeles, hiring him to sing backup on his first solo album. Marx continued to work as a backup singer for Madonna, Dolly Parton, Julio Iglesias, and Whitney Houston, to name but a few. While working on a Kenny Rogers session, he overheard Rogers say he needed a new song, which Marx brought him several days later. The tune, “Crazy,” went to the top of the country charts in 1984; another Marx song, “What About Me,” featuring Rogers, James Ingram, and Kim Carnes topped the country and adultcontemporary charts, reaching #15 popthat same year.
While Marx tasted success with other performers, his own solo career was limited to the clubs. He received rejection notices from every record company in Los Angeles, until Bruce Lundvall heard him and signed him to his new EMI/Manhattan imprint. The first single from Marx’s 1987 debut, “It Don’t Mean Nothing,” featured Joe Walsh on guitar, giving the tune a distinctive, recognizable sound. The song rose to #3, landing a phenomenal amount of airplay for a new artist. His next single, “Should’ve Known Better,” also rose to #3. “Endless Summer Night” spent two weeks at #2 and the last single from the album, the power ballad “Hold On to the Night,” topped the charts, making Marx the first artist to reach the Top 3 with the first four singles from a debut album. The album rose to #8 and went triple platinum. Marx went out on the road opening for REO Speedwagon, but quickly rose to headliner status. His boyish good looks no doubt added to his allure, and many a preteen girl pasted his picture on her wall.
In 1989, Marx kicked off his sophomore effort, Repeat Offender, with yet another chart-topping single, “Satisfied.” He followed this with the biggest single of his career, the ballad “Right Here Waiting,” which topped the pop charts for three weeks and the adult contemporary charts for six, and went platinum. The #4 follow-up single, “Angelia,” made Marx the first solo performer to reach the Top 5 with his first seven singles. He broke the string with his next single, “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” which stalled at #12. “Children of the Night,” a song that took its name from a Los Angeles organization helping runaways, made it to #13. Beyond raising awareness of the organization, all the money from the song went to support it. The album topped the charts and went triple platinum. Marx toured the world again, both as a solo act and supporting Tina Turner.
As a means of promoting his next album, Rush Street, Marx staged a one-day, five-city “Rush In, Rush Out, Rush Street” tour in 1991. The album broke away from the ballads a bit, exploring some of the soul roots that he had put to work for Lionel Richie. The first single, “Keep Coming Back,” featured Luther Vandross on backing vocals and rose to #12 pop, topping the adultcontemporary charts. “Hazard” had an almost contemporary-country feel; it reached #9 on the pop chart and again topped the adultcontemporary charts. The final single, “Take This Heart” only made it to #20. Rush Street hit #35 on the charts and went double platinum.
After moving his family (he had married Animotion lead singer and actress Cynthia Rhodes) back to Chicago, Marx went into the studio to cut Paid Vacation. Released in 1994, the first single, “Now and Forever,” topped the adultcontemporary charts for 11 weeks, rising to #7 pop. The other single, “The Way She Loves Me,” featured backing vocals by Vandross and Richie in a style reminiscent of 1950s doo-wop. However, it only hit #20. The album went platinum, rising to #37.
Marx produced his next outing, 1997’s Flesh and Bone, a hybrid of R&B and rock that featured Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire on backing vocals. “Until I Find You” topped the adultcontemporary charts. Marx has yet to follow this with anything new save for the greatest hits package that ended his relationship with Capitol Records. In the later 1990s, he has produced records for artists as varied as opera/musical theater star Sarah Brightman and teen-pop sensations N’Sync, a duet with Barbra Streisand and country star Vince Gill, and country act SHeDAISY. In 1999, he made two successful tours of China.
Richard Marx (1987); Repeat Offender (1989); Rush Street (1991); Paid Vacation (1994); Flesh & Bone (1997).