Home » Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder Thrive as Rod Stewart’s Venture Falters

Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder Thrive as Rod Stewart’s Venture Falters

Rod Stewart’s rendition of a song didn’t make waves, but Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder later revitalized it — yielding millions of dollars.

Rod Stewart and Dionne Warwick both enjoyed success in the first half of the 1980s. Stewart maintained an unbroken streak of hits that began with his 1971 signature tune, “Maggie May,” and extended through the early ’90s.

Warwick, a major star in the ’60s, experienced a tumultuous ride in the ’70s but made a comeback with her Barry Manilow-produced 1979 album, Déjà Vu, featuring hits like “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and the Bee Gees-backed “Heartbreaker.”

In 1982, Rod Stewart overlooked a ballad. However, three years later, the song gained new significance when Dionne enlisted celebrity friends Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight to re-record it for charity.

Dionne And Friends Covered “That’s What Friends Are For”

Dionne Warwick was deeply concerned about the escalating AIDS crisis, which claimed many lives in the song and dance communities. Witnessing dear friends suffer from the disease, she felt compelled to make a difference. “That’s What Friends Are For” brought Warwick back together with Burt Bacharach, who co-wrote the song with his then-wife, Carole Bayer Sager. Bacharach had previously composed Warwick’s ’60s hits with lyricist Hal David, including enduring pop classics like “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.”

The singer had a wide circle of friends in the industry spanning multiple generations. Dionne Warwick regards Frank Sinatra as one of her mentors. To fully harness the potential of the Bacharach/Bayer Sager ballad, she enlisted three other prominent names in soul and pop.

Elton John, a prominent rock star of the ’70s, experienced a recent resurgence with hits like “I’m Still Standing,” “Sad Songs,” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” in 1983–84. The latter featured harmonica accompaniment by Stevie Wonder, another ’70s icon renowned for chart-toppers like “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “Part-Time Lover.”

Gladys Knight, the longstanding frontwoman of the Pips, initially a Motown act in the ’60s, achieved glory with ’70s hits such as “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”

In “That’s What Friends Are For,” the four singers take turns delivering tender lines about friendship and loyalty, each getting a solo spot. Elton, in the third verse, passionately belts out the transcendent lines “Keep smilin’, keep shinin’, knowing you can always count on me for sure.” Stevie Wonder frames the track with his harmonica contributions.

In the winter of 1986, “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick and Friends held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for four consecutive weeks. This marked the second time the “Walk On By” singer reached the pinnacle of the pop charts, with her previous No. 1 achieved 11 years earlier through the Spinners duet “Then Came You.”

Rod Stewart’s Initial Recording of “That’s What Friends Are For

Despite its 1986 reign as the No. 1 Billboard hit, “That’s What Friends Are For” originated in 1982 with another pop star, Rod Stewart.

Stewart recorded the song for the 1982 comedy film Night Shift, directed by Ron Howard. The track is featured during the closing credits and is included on the soundtrack, which also boasts songs by Marshall Crenshaw (“Someday, Someway”), Talk Talk (“Talk Talk”), and Heaven 17 (“Penthouse and Pavement”).

While Dionne and Friends put a spotlight on harmonies and maintained subtle musical accompaniment, Stewart’s rendition features a prominent backing track with a distinctive wheezing synthesizer. Additionally, he opts to sing the song in the key of C, deviating from their E-flat version.

Stewart’s rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For” had the potential to be a hit, given his significant presence in the early ’80s. The success of his 1981 album, Tonight I’m Yours, with hits like “Young Turks” and the title track, contributed to his high profile. The videos for these songs, along with earlier hits such as “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Tonight’s the Night,” enjoyed frequent airplay on the then-new MTV.

Unfortunately, Warner Bros., Stewart’s label responsible for the soundtrack’s release, did not release his version of “That’s What Friends Are For” as a single. (They only released it in select markets in 1986 to capitalize on its newfound popularity through the Dionne and Friends version.)

It was a missed opportunity for the singer, who had been on a winning streak since 1971 when he abandoned band efforts to focus on his solo career. His ’80s success compensated for the challenges he faced in the ’60s when Rod Stewart experienced a setback with a band alongside Mick Fleetwood before each pursued separate and successful career paths.

“That’s What Friends Are For” Earned Two Grammys and Generated $3 Million for AIDS Research

“That’s What Friends Are For” Raised Over $3 Million for AIDS Research and Won Two Grammy Elton John Sustains AIDS Research Advocacy and Long-lasting Musical Friendships “That’s What Friends Are For” May Not Have Been Essential for Elton’s Career, but It Certainly Didn’t Hurt

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