French-speaking Canadian Celine Dion was a young unknown – especially in the US – when she released her first English-language album, Unison. The third single from the album, the 1990 power-pop heartbreak ballad, “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” helped propel her to international stardom, and the song has since appeared on more than 20 studio, live, and compilation albums around the world.
Written by two Nashville-based writer/musicians, Taylor Rhodes – who had written for rockers Y&T and Loverboy – and Robert White Johnson, a former staff writer at Nashville’s Tree International and the former front man of Warner Brothers rock act RPM – the song was Dion’s first English language hit. From his suburban Nashville home, Johnson gave his recollection of the genesis of the song.
“If I remember correctly, Taylor started the idea. I loved what he had going, and felt it was in a really good place, i.e., a ballad that still rocked. Once we got the bed track, title and basic melody in order, I took it home to work on lyrics. I can remember vividly sitting at our kitchen counter coming up with verses etc. It pretty much wrote itself as the bulk of the verses were done in about 20 minutes. I don’t remember us ever really laboring over any aspect of the song. It just kept falling together. All the best songs seem to happen that way!”
“We needed to find the right female vocalist with the chops to sing it [for the demo]. We knew it would take someone with power and range to pull it off. Enter Lisa Bevill, who was signed to a major Christian record label in town. It’s interesting that Celine ended up copying practically every lick I had Lisa sing, especially on the out. That’s incredibly rare, especially when you’re dealing with an artist with chops like Celine, they usually prefer to put their own stamp on a track. A few years later Celine’s producer, Chris Neil, told me she stayed with Lisa’s roadmap because it was Celine’s first English speaking record. It felt comfortable for her.”
“In the demo version, there was a vocal bridge that never ended up on Celine’s version. My guess is the song was already stretching things time-wise, and at the end of the day our bridge wasn’t necessary to finish the story. So as far as I know the radio version is the only version of Celine’s that exists. Taylor and I were aware we were stretching things time-wise with regards to the track, so it never bothered us when we heard Celine’s cut.”
“We originally had a German artist in mind, Jennifer Rush. She was a powerful singer, and was huge throughout Europe. By the time we finished the demo and got it to her people over in Germany, they informed us the project was finished. We had missed our window. So I sent the demo to my publisher in NY. They in turn sent it to Sony in Canada. Sony sent it to Celine. She actually chose the song herself to record.”
Rhodes would go on to write for Aerosmith, Ozzy and Journey, and Johnson would co-write extensively for Lynyrd Skynyrd, in addition to becoming a Dove-award winning producer for contemporary gospel artist Larnelle Harris. And Celine, well…she became one of the biggest stars on the planet, thanks in part to a song written by a couple rocker guys in a city that was known mostly for country music.