SHOW BUSINESS: David Foster: The True King of Pop

If a song's No. 1, look for David Foster's name on the label

  • Share
  • Read Later

You probably couldn't pick David Foster out of a lineup, but if you could, you might want to kiss his ring -- or throttle him on the spot. Foster is a producer of inescapable songs, especially those ultraromantic ballads that seem to blare out of every boom box on the beach. They are sung by various performers, from stars like Whitney Houston to the new group All-4-One, but the songs all bear the unmistakable Foster touch: the soaring vocals, the lush arrangements dripping with strings and keyboards, the crescendos built on crescendos. Whether the sound is timeless or just stuck in a time warp is a matter of taste. But it sure does sell -- and earn him hefty royalties. While rap and grunge grab all the critical attention these days, old-fashioned Foster has become the hottest -- even if he's not the coolest -- producer in pop music.

Over the past two years, Foster productions have held the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 more than 25% of the time. Not since George Martin has one producer so dominated the top of the chart for so long, and Martin had a single, unbeatable act: the Beatles. Foster, in contrast, seems able to lead the pack with almost any singer he picks. His streak began in late 1992 and '93 with Houston's I Will Always Love You, which was No. 1 for a record 14 weeks and earned Foster a Grammy as producer of the year for the second time in three years. So far in 1994 he has scored with Celine Dion's The Power of Love (four weeks at No. 1) and All-4-One's current smash, I Swear (11 weeks and counting).

But how many people read production credits? Despite being nominated for 34 Grammys and winning 12 during a 24-year career as a keyboard player, songwriter and producer, the Canadian-born Foster, 44, is almost unknown outside the music business. Recording artists, though, know he's a studio wizard who jump-starts stalled acts and lifts successful ones to new heights. No wonder Michael Jackson, whose image and career are shaky as never before, has turned to Foster, who's producing songs for the King of Pop's next album.

Until recently, Foster mainly attended the royalty of "adult contemporary" pop, the kind of music that pleases baby boomers but makes their kids want to hurl. Foster, whose longish hair, blue jeans and Nike-Air sneakers don't hide the fact that he's unusually old for the business he's in, produced large parts of Natalie Cole's Unforgettable album (another Grammy winner) and Barbra Streisand's Back to Broadway. Now Foster's success has taken on a new, youthful dimension. With songs like I Will Always Love You and I Swear, he's hooking kids as well as their parents.

Foster owes his current hitmaking not to changing with the times but to realizing that one kind of song bridges generation gaps: the ballad. While dance steps come and go, from twisting to voguing, kids and grownups alike still want slow numbers that let them pull their partners close. "There's always been a ballad in the Top 10," says Foster. "People love something with heart." For a while, teens favored the "power ballads" put out by hard-rock bands with gravel-voiced vocalists, but Foster has helped bring back the singing group. All-4-One, Color Me Badd (co-produced by Foster), Boyz II Men and Jodeci are winning fans with street-corner harmonies reminiscent of the '50s and early '60s.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2