How I wrote ‘Missing You’ by John Waite
The 80s smash that hit No 1 on the Billboard chart almost wasn’t recorded and was the songwriter’s bittersweet tale of divorce
Lancastrian singer-songwriter John Waite had experienced considerable success fronting the rock group The Babys through the 70s and early 80s, but it was Missing You that launched his solo career in June 1984, when it became the hit lead single from his album No Brakes. It peaked at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of September 1984, and No 9 on the UK Singles Chart, as well as topping the Canadian RPM Singles Chart.
The song was also recorded by Tina Turner in 1996 and was released as the third single from her album Wildest Dreams, which went double platinum in the UK, France, Germany, and on the European charts.
Here Waite explains how the song emerged, who/what inspired its lyrics, and how Missing You was the final missing link in an album that had already been recorded and mixed without it…
“I’d finished the No Brakes album and David Thoener, the co-producer, was mixing it and doing a couple of overdubs with the guitar player. They were absolutely convinced that the record was finished, but I knew we hadn’t got the single that we needed.
“I was working with a guy I knew in LA (who’d I’d written with, in the past) and I went back to his house to look for a backing track on this one-inch tape machine. He didn’t know where it was, so he was having to fast-forward and rewind, stop the tape and press play, to find this bit of music. Then he started the tape on this eight-note groove, that he’d been working on, that was on the end of the tape.
“I asked him what it was and he said, ‘I dunno, I’d just been putting some chords together.’ I said, ‘Just give me a minute with it’ and he put the tape in his headphones and the microphone was in his spare room. I listened to it once all the way through, to get a vocal balance, and then I sang the entire first verse, ‘B’ section, chorus and ‘missing you’ section without stopping. That kind of thing is so hard to explain to people because they think you’re either a) showing off or b) full of shit!
“A lot of things with The Babys happened like that: we would jam and I’d start singing, and the melody would stick. Then I’d take it home and write up a lyric, or make sense of the sounds that I was singing into the mic, and take the song in that direction.
“I was thinking about Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman when I wrote the lyrics – it’s about distance and telegraph poles. Then there’s a big rock song by Free called Catch A Train that’s about arriving somewhere. Neither of those songs had anything to do with it, but when I think of Missing You, I think of those symbols that I had in my head.
“Also I was getting divorced. I was trying to get home because my marriage was in genuine trouble – everything was wrong and it had been wrong for a while. I’d met someone in New York City when I was making my first solo album. I was alone and I was friends with another girl I met. So Missing You was essentially about three different women, I think, looking back on it.
“I was singing about New York, and distance, the caving in of my marriage, and the options that I had. It was bittersweet – it was about the end of my marriage and the beginning of something new. Although, when I was singing ‘I ain’t missing you’, it was denial too.
“I’ve always looked for that twist in things. A single line can take you in three or four different directions with the most minimal use of words. Words are beautiful, and with a melody, the sound of the word is melodic and, when you put an instrument behind it, you have absolute magic.
“I took the cassette [with the demo recording of Missing You] into the studio, but the record company were telling me, ‘No that’s it, we’ve spent enough, we have the singles.’ They didn’t want to know about it, but I walked in, stopped the session and I played them the demo. You could’ve heard a pin drop.
“Then I had to convince the record company to give me 5,000 dollars to do it [Laughs]… I told them, if it doesn’t go on I’d walk out. It was one of those brave things that you do when you’re absolutely convinced that you’re right. I knew it was a No 1. right after I’d recorded that first chorus. I knew that all of my life had led to that moment as a songwriter.”
Interview: Aaron Slater