May 1987: Richard Marx Debuts with "Don't Mean Nothing"

Richard Marx on 06.11.1983 in Nürnberg / Nuremberg. (Photo by Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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(Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Richard Marx was not in the best of moods when he wrote his debut single, "Don't Mean Nothing." Released on May 26, 1987, the song launched Marx's career like a rocket, hurtling him towards the top of the charts and music stardom. Let's look back at where it all started for the man, the myth, and the hair, Richard Marx and "Don't Mean Nothing."

1. Richard Marx was mad at hell at the music industry
"I got a lot of people saying, 'Dude, you're 22. How can you be so cynical?' I think cynicism and gratitude can co-exist," Marx told Songfacts in 2012. "And I was very grateful. I moved to L.A. when I was 18, and I definitely spent a lot of time sitting around doing nothing, trying to get something going and nothing was happening. I got rejected by every label multiple times, and I got a lot of doors slammed in my face and more than my share of rejection and all that stuff. Guys at record companies telling me, 'You're signed, don't worry about it,' and then they won't call you back, and all kinds of stuff that you count on. Right down to people that sent me notes stamped 'Hobby' on my demo tape. So by the time I wrote 'Don't Mean Nothing,' I was pissed off. I definitely had a little chip on my shoulder at that point. While at the same time being aware that at least I was making a living in some way, shape, or form. I was doing music. I didn't have to work at McDonald's or the car wash."

2. Joe Walsh like the song so much that he played guitar on it
"He only came in the studio because he heard a demo of the song and really loved the song," Marx revealed. "So I didn't know him. It was all for the right reasons. It was all just music. He heard the song, went, 'Yeah, I really like the song, and I don't care that it's his first record.' He was so gracious, and he spent the whole afternoon in there with me. We cut a couple of different solos, but I think that was the first one he played, and it was like, duh, there's nothing wrong with this at all. And then he played some other little fills and parts in the song. It was a full-on afternoon session where we really collaborated together. Usually I sing the guitar solos almost note for note to the guitar player, whoever I'm having play on a particular record. But in that case, you don't tell Joe Walsh what note to play." Two other Eagles members, Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit, would provide backing vocals.

3. Marx was accused of ripping off the Eagles for the song
When "Don't Mean Nothing" was released, the Los Angeles Times called it "the best Eagles song in years." Marx took it all in stride. “The single has a familiar sound to it--sort of an Eagles’ sound,” Marx told the newspaper. “That helped it get on the radio. The Eagles’ tie-in gave DJs something to talk about. They could say more than here’s a new record by a new artist. They could say here’s a new record by a new artist featuring these other guys. I gave them a hook. But that Eagles tie-in isn’t the reason the song is a hit. Famous people play on records all the time and they go down the tubes. The song is a hit because people like it--not because who’s on it.”

4. The song peaked at #3 on the Hot 100
"Don't Mean Nothing" would race up the charts, peaking at #3 for the week of August 29, 1987. The songs that blocked it from the top spot: Los Lobos' "La Bamba" (1) and "Madonna's "Who's That Girl?" (2).

5. Marx wasn't too comfortable with the "teen heartthrob" tag
“Ninety-five percent of the letters I get say: ‘I saw the video on MTV and bought the album,’ ” he told the L.A. Times about the video for "Don't Mean Nothing." While acknowledging the MTV effect, he stood by the song: “I know they have to market me to sell the record. But it’s talent that sells records, not looks.”

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