Z100 in New York City was on the phone, the biggest radio station in the world. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon in 2007, and I was all set to hit the bike trails for a couple of hours, kick up my heart rate and soak up some sun. My idea of fun did not include partaking in some smartass radio prank involving my most loved and loathed song, Sometimes When We Touch.
The DJ’s faux-macho baritone was coming at me fast and loud.
“Hey, Dan, great of you to go along with this Donny Osmond gag. He’s minutes away from arriving at our station to debut his new single, a remake of your classic. This is how it’s gonna go down,” the disc jockey prattled on in his low, Jolly Green Giant voice. He peppered me with instructions, pausing every now and then to shower me with compliments on my past success. As I dutifully took note of my role in this Dan-Hill-trips-up-Donny-Osmond scenario, I began feeling like an artifact, about as relevant as a reconstructed dinosaur in the museum of pop trivia.
“So, truthfully, Dan—off the record—what do you think of Donny’s version?”
“Fabulous,” I lied. “Donny sings it great.”
How could I explain to this over-caffeinated, rat-a-tat-tat-talking DJ that I’d long ago stopped listening to other people’s interpretations of my song? Most versions were pretty awful, and since I was powerless to change someone else’s vocal performance, it was simply an exercise in frustration to listen.
“Right after Donny debuts his recording of Sometimes, people all over New York City will be calling in to give their reactions. We’ll put you on the line to Donny first. The trick is to pretend you’re just a typical fan, calling in from, say, Newark. All you have to do is give Donny your honest feedback on how he sings your song. Hey—whoopsie-daisy! Hold on a sec, Dan. Donny’s just arrived!”
Through the static hum of my phone line I could faintly make out Donny’s recording of my song. Thank God the telephone signal was far too crackly and distant for me to honestly appraise his interpretation. Then, presto, I was live on the air.
“Hello, sir,” the DJ began in his dulcet tones. “Here’s your once-in-a-lifetime chance to tell Mr. Osmond how you like his brand-new remake of that smash hit from the ’70s.”
What the hell, I took the plunge. “Wow, congratulations, Mr. Osmond. You sure sing that song a heck of a lot better than that old guy who sang it 30 years ago.”
Without dropping a beat, Donny shot back, “Well, thank you, sir. I’ve been hearing that a lot lately. Seems many people prefer my new version to the original.”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” the DJ broke in, his deep, honeyed voice rising with “gotcha” enthusiasm. Sweet, unsuspecting Donny had taken the bait. “Caller, could you kindly identify yourself to Mr. Donny Osmond?”
“Hi, Donny. It’s Dan Hill, the old guy who used to sing Sometimes When We Touch.”
Poor Donny. I could feel him squirming on the other end of the phone, could almost hear his little feet doing the old backpedal dance as he went on to tell me how amazing my original version had been. But good ol’ self-deprecating Donny got the last laugh. A few months after our telephone exchange, I started to receive indignant letters from some diehard fans of mine. They’d caught Donny’s show in Vegas. There, upon performing my song, he revealed to his audience what I’d supposedly told him: that his vocal of Sometimes was superior to mine.
That song. My, oh my, how Sometimes When We Touch has travelled since I solemnly wrote my first version at the age of 19. The year was 1974, and all I was trying to do by writing my earnest little song was get the girl. I’ve long ago grown more than a little weary of my signature hit—its lyrics now about as relevant to me as a poem or diary entry a teenager might have scrawled out in high school—and its refusal to go gently into that good night. More than three decades later and damned if my overly confessional ’70s ballad doesn’t still have a way of jumping out at me at the most random times; the rest of the world just doesn’t seem to share my beleaguered view. In America alone, That Song is just a few spins short of five million radio and TV broadcasts, whereas a typical hit song earns roughly a million.