The Meaning Behind “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx and the Legendary Vocalist Who Refused to Wait for Anyone

When Chicago singer/songwriter Richard Marx wrote his biggest hit “Right Here Waiting,” it took a boomerang of rejection for the song to return to him.  

Videos by American Songwriter

He felt the song was too personal to record himself, so he pitched it to Barbra Streisand, who was looking for a hit. Fortunately for Marx, Streisand took issue with the lyrics and rejected the song.

“Right Here Waiting” was ubiquitous on pop radio in the 1980s, as were many songs written by Marx, who began his solo career with an impressive run of charting singles.

A Love Letter

Marx wrote “Right Here Waiting” as a love letter to actress Cynthia Rhodes, whom he’d later marry. Rhodes was filming a movie in South Africa, and they hadn’t seen each other in several months.

Oceans apart, day after day
And I slowly go insane
I hear your voice on the line
But it doesn’t stop the pain

Nashville-born Rhodes has appeared in Flashdance, Staying Alive, Runaway, and Dirty Dancing. She and Marx married in 1989 and divorced in 2014.

Wherever you go
Whatever you do
I will be right here waiting for you
Whatever it takes
Or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand had asked Marx to write a song for her, and he sent “Right Here Waiting.”

He told CBS’s The Talk, “I had just recently written ‘Right Here Waiting,’ and it was such a personal song to me at the time that I had no intention of recording it. I was like, ‘I’ll give Barbra Streisand “Right Here Waiting.” I’m not gonna do anything with it.’”

After sending Streisand a recording of the song, she called him and left a message: “Richard, I heard the song; it’s a beautiful song, but I’m gonna need you to rewrite the lyrics because I’m not gonna be right here waiting for anyone.”

Streisand’s rejection was a blessing for Marx. In 1989, “Right Here Waiting” became a colossal hit for him, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Marx said he occasionally put his arm around Streisand and thanked her for declining his song.

I wonder how we can survive
This romance
But in the end, if I’m with you
I’ll take the chance

The synthesizer intro mirrors Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ lush beginning to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” In U2’s song, Eno’s Yamaha DX7 gives way to The Edge’s lifting icicle guitars, but on “Right Here Waiting,” Marx’s synth intro pauses for a somber digital piano.

Repeat Offender

“Right Here Waiting” appeared on Marx’s second album Repeat Offender (1989), which became his only No. 1 album. The single received a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Years later, Marx co-wrote Luther Vandross’ 2003 hit “Dance with My Father,” which earned a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

Second Act

Marx’s father was an accomplished jazz pianist and conductor who started a jingle company in the 1960s. His mother, a singer, recorded vocals for his father’s commercial music.

As a young boy, Marx began singing his father’s jingles and eventually learned to write songs by listening to Billy Joel, the Eagles, and Elton John. Meanwhile, Lionel Richie heard a demo tape of Marx’s songs and invited the teenager to Los Angeles. He told his parents he wasn’t attending college and instead wanted to pursue a music career. They told him to go, and his father instructed him to forgo a backup plan. Marx wouldn’t need one.

As an artist and songwriter, Marx has sold more than 30 million albums, and he’s the only male artist to have his first seven singles reach the Top 5 on Billboard.

Following a successful solo career, he’s also written hit songs for Josh Groban, NSYNC, Luther Vandross, Barbra Streisand, Vince Gill, and many others. Marx wrote Keith Urban’s No. 1 country song “Long Hot Summer,” which earned him the distinction of writing or co-writing chart-topping singles in four decades.

Marx has earned 14 No. 1 singles as a performer, songwriter, and producer.

Endless Summer Nights

Streisand, in a show of peak pop feminism, rejected “Right Here Waiting.” For Marx, the tender ballad became his defining song—a touchstone of 1980s soft rock.

When John Mayer released his eighth studio album Sob Rock in 2021, the album artwork and general aesthetic echoed Marx’s early releases. Mayer’s earnest, easy-listening ballads gave Generation X their own version of Richard Marx, albeit one equipped with the guitar virtuosity of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

People remember ’80s pop culture for fluffy hair, shoulder pads, and leg warmers, but the neon decade also had great songwriting to match the fashion.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Alexandra Wyman/WireImage

Leave a Reply

'American Idol' Emmy Russell Shares How She Handles Fear

‘American Idol’ Star Emmy Russell Shares Vulnerable Video About “One of the Toughest” Moments of Her Life