(June 30, 2020). “She’s just 16 years old…leave her alone, they say.”
Those were the memorable – if not borderline statutory – lyrics that introduced “Into the Night,” one of the most iconic songs to peak at No. 11 in Billboard chart history.
Benny Mardones wrote those words with Robert Tepper while the two were up late one night coming up with songs for Mardones’ 1980 album Never Run, Never Hide. The song was inspired by a real-life, 16-year-old girl whose family lived with Benny and with whom he had a platonic relationship after the girl’s father had abandoned the family, leaving the singer to look after them.
One morning, after an all-night writing session with Tepper in Benny’s apartment, in walked the girl to fetch Benny’s dog Zanky, which she walked at the rate of $50/week. When Tepper saw her adult-like frame, he gawked. Benny told him, “Hey Bob, she’s just sixteen years old, leave her alone.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Benny Mardones, the man behind not only those lyrics, but one of the most soaring vocal performances on a pop song in history, passed away Monday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 73.
“Into The Night” began its chart life on June 14, 1980 – this blogger’s 14th birthday – as one of 14 debut records on Billboard’s Hot 100 that week. The song would begin a moderately paced ascension that saw its climb end at No. 11 that September – in its 14th week on the chart.
Reaching the top 20 was a commendable feat for a chart newcomer like Mardones, but it wasn’t extraordinary. In fact, eight of the 14 songs that debuted the same week as “Into The Night” eventually made the top 20, including a No. 1 single (“Sailing”) by Christopher Cross and a No. 2 (“All Out of Love”) by Air Supply.
What set Mardones’ hit apart from all the others is the song’s repeat top-20 run nine years later. “Into The Night” – Benny’s only Hot 100 entry – got a second life after he was featured in a “Where Are They Now?” story during an Arizona radio station segment, which prompted DJ Scott Shannon to place the song in regular rotation.
And the rest, as they say, was history repeating itself.
“Into the Night” re-entered the Hot 100 on May 6, 1989, this time as the third-highest entry of nine songs, including three No. 1 hits (by Richard Marx, Fine Young Cannibals, and Simply Red – acts who had not yet charted in America when Mardones first hit in 1980).
Just as it had in 1980, “Into the Night” would reach No. 20 in its ninth week on the chart…except this time the rise would end there. After a week at its second peak position, “Into the Night” began its chart descent, exiting the Hot 100 after 37 total chart weeks – combining both its 1980 and ‘89 runs. No other song by a solo artist accumulated more weeks on the Hot 100 during the 1980s.
“Into the Night” wasn’t the only song by the same artist to reach the top 20 during two different chart runs. It joined legendary non-holiday tunes by Chubby Checker (“The Twist”), The Beatles (“Twist and Shout”), Ben E. King (“Stand By Me”), Queen (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) among several others over the years.
It was, however, the only one by a one-hit-wonder to pull off this feat. Mardones never made the Billboard Hot 100 with any other song before, between, or after the separate runs of “Into the Night.”
Mardones’ song also didn’t require a motion picture tie-in or artist’s death to renew interest in his tune, unlike so many of the other repeat hits.
Mardones’ one-hit-wonder status may have been attributed to a number of factors, including personal challenges he faced after the song’s initial success in the early ‘80s and the ever-changing pop music landscape that made it an unlikely commercial success again in 1989.
Mardones turned his life around from substance abuse issues he faced in the wake of “Into the Night”’s initial success, but was pretty much done with recording new material in an industry that had brushed him aside in the mid-‘80s. It wasn’t until after renewed interest in the song in its second wave that the singer-songwriter gave music and recording another chance.
Although most accounts suggest that the version of “Into the Night” that became a hit in 1989 was re-recorded from the original, my personal recollection was that it was the original that got the most play…even the second time around.
Either way, “Into the Night” will always be regarded as one of the most enduring songs in pop music history, and Benny Mardones will be remembered as the man whose soaring vocal performance and haunting melody made it an iconic classic loved by millions!
And he’s still the only true one-hit wonder to do it twice.
R.I.P. Benny Mardones (November 9, 1946 – June 29, 2020)
DJRob is an African-American freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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