How Rick Springfield Found His Next Big Hit in a Public Restroom
A hit song can come from anywhere — and Rick Springfield's big moment with "Affair of the Heart" happened in a public restroom. After years of commercial disappointments, the Aussie rocker had finally found major success with 1981’s Working Class Dog, which spawned the No. 1 single "Jessie’s Girl" and notched two additional Top 20 hits. The momentum continued to build with 1982’s cheekily titled Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, which culminated in a glitzy California premiere for Live and Kickin', a concert special filmed on the accompanying tour.
At the film's debut, Springfield took a break and headed for the bathroom. “I was standing at the urinal. This guy walks up next to me and starts peeing. I’m thinking, ‘That’s pretty close, dude. Why don’t you move down a few?’” he now tells UCR with a laugh. “He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a song that I want you to hear that I wrote.' He handed me this cassette tape.”
Moments like this were common for Springfield, so the vocalist stuck the tape in his pocket and left the bathroom. After the premiere wrapped, he got in his car and tossed the cassette on the passenger floorboard. “About three weeks later, I was driving to General Hospital and looking for something to play on my car stereo,” he remembers. “I saw that and said, ‘Fuck it, I may as well listen to it.’”
He heard the pulsating synth intro and knew he had landed on something good. “I’d been pretty heavy on the guitars all through the first two albums. I was starting to think more along the keyboard lines,” he explains. “Synthesizers were starting to be in the forefront. The intro was very heavy with synthesizers. The rest of the song wasn’t really anything that I thought would work for me. So I just took the intro and wrote another song, and that became 'Affair of the Heart.'"
Watch Rick Springfield's 'Affair of the Heart' Video
The intro originates from a song called “Superman,” which Nashville singer-songwriter Danny Tate had written several years earlier and finished with the help of collaborator Blaise Tosti. Like many struggling artists, Tate was waiting tables at a local establishment and recording his music late at night after top-dollar clients left the studios.
He realized there was something special about the beginning of “Superman,” which a college professor inadvertently helped bring to fruition. “In college, I was a theory and composition major,” Tate tells UCR in a separate conversation. “My professor got some little synthesizer. He let me take it up to one of the rehearsal rooms and use it as my own. I became somewhat familiar with synthesizers as a result.”
Tate channeled that knowledge and drew on a variety of influences, including the Alan Parsons Project's Eye in the Sky, to develop the introduction to “Superman” after moving to Nashville. He understood Springfield’s attraction to what he later heard on that cassette tape. “It does make a great concert opening, that intro,” he says. “I’d been opening my concerts with ‘Superman’ for a couple of years. When you hear that piece of music, you know something’s about to happen.”
It was Tosti who made the fateful pilgrimage to that California bathroom, having failed to reach Springfield through more traditional channels. “He ran out and called me from a payphone right after he’d done the handoff to Rick,” Tate laughs. “He goes, ‘Man, I just gave our song to Rick Springfield.’ Which I thought was cool, but I didn’t think it would ever make it past the trash can.”
Instead, “Affair of the Heart” became the first song Springfield recorded for 1983’s Living in Oz and would come to represent a key moment in the album sessions. The songwriter had decided to step away from producer Keith Olsen (Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac), who had overseen two songs on Working Class Dog, including “Jessie’s Girl” and all of Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet.
It was not an easy break for Springfield. “I was kind of stepping out under a very big shadow. And, you know, I was really nervous about that,” he remembers now. “I guess I had a bit of a lack of trust in myself, but I was bold and decided to go for it. And so the first vocal session for ‘Affair of the Heart,’ I probably drank too much and then just over-sang it.”
Watch Rick Springfield Perform 'Affair of the Heart' Live
He exhausted his voice trying to capture the track but was able to come back strong the following night. “I knew why I blew my voice out. I understood that it was from the pressure and all the shit in my own head,” he says. “I’m one of those guys, probably my most positive quality is persistence. I never give up.”
That persistence gave Springfield another big hit as “Affair of the Heart” rose to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, pushing Living in Oz to platinum status. The song also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, though it lost to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
“It was just a one-off surprise kind of thing,” Springfield reflects, considering the unusual birth of “Affair of the Heart” and that cassette he received in the bathroom. “You either like a song or you don’t. But it had this really great intro. I tried to buy the intro off of the two writers, but they opted to have part of the song, which is a much smarter deal for them.”
“I credit Rick with giving me my break. I realize now what a big deal that was,” says Tate, who went on to work with artists such as Billy Ray Cyrus, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Tim McGraw. “I don’t blame him for trying to buy out our part of the song. But he was very generous, especially looking back now and knowing the business the way I do. You know, I’ve often wondered what would have happened in my career if that song had never happened.”