Adolescent fantasy and teen romance are Tiffany's trademarks, but behind the 17-year-old pop singer's latest hit, "All This Time," lie the adult heartaches of its authors, two longtime musical partners from Orange County.
Today, Tim James and Steve McClintock see the sweeping ballad as a career breakthrough: having peaked this week at No. 6 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, "All This Time" is the first hit to spring from their 10-year songwriting partnership. But 6 years ago, when they wrote the song, it was musical therapy for two emotionally bruised friends who had loved and lost.
"My wife left me and Tim's girlfriend left him on the same day," McClintock recalled in an interview this week at the headquarters of the Headway Group, the musical production company he runs in Westminster. "They hadn't planned it--it just happened that way."
The same could be said for the song that was born from all that turmoil. James, the duo's lyricist, was driving to San Francisco a few days after the romantic double-whammy when his car broke down.
"This song came out of the blue while I was looking under the hood," he recalled, sitting upstairs at Headway in an office lined with shelves of reel-to-reel tapes that represent years of songwriting handiwork. "I sat by the side of the road, and there it was. The song just came through me, and I put it down. I don't think it took more than 15 minutes."
Into his pocket-size tape recorder, James dictated sorrowful verses and a chorus that mixed pain with acceptance.
All this time, all in all I've no regrets,
The sun still shines, the sun still sets,
The heart forgives, the heart forgets.
But what will I do now with all this time?
Then it was McClintock's turn to come up with a melody.
"It was pretty easy because I felt like I needed to say something," said the easygoing Texas native, whose hair and beard are as red as Willie Nelson's.
McClintock's first hope for the song was based on love, not career ambition: He thought it might win back his wife.
"I sent it to her to beg her to come home. It didn't work."
But the song worked just fine a little over a year ago, when James and McClintock presented it to Tiffany's manager and producer, George Tobin.
"He thought it was a No. 1 single," McClintock said. "That remains to be seen, but we had no cause to doubt him." (In fact, "All This Time" has apparently lost its chart momentum--it slides to No. 20 in the Feb. 18 issue of Billboard.)
McClintock had faith in Tobin's highfalutin' prediction for "All This Time" because of what had happened in 1986, when he and James met Tobin for the first time to discuss writing songs for Tiffany's first album. McClintock said that he and James collected songwriter's royalties of about $100,000 for their contribution, "Kid on a Corner," an album track that wasn't released as a single.
"George said, 'I will guarantee you guys a gold record,' " McClintock said. The numerous awards for gold and platinum discs adorning the walls around Headway's spacious, well-kept office and studio complex show that Tobin was being conservative. Tiffany's debut album went on to sell 7 million copies worldwide.
The two songwriters say they have gotten to know and befriend Tiffany by sitting in at recording sessions and video shoots. That has helped them write tailor-made songs such as "Kid on a Corner" and "Oh Jackie," an up-tempo, R&B-flavored; James/McClintock tune that appears along with "All This Time" on Tiffany's current album, "Hold an Old Friend's Hand."
"Getting to know her helped a lot in getting me back to how I felt at that age," James said. "A lot of the criticism she or Debbie Gibson receives is, 'How can these young girls sing about (romantic) subjects?' But getting to know her made me remember when I was 16 or 17. You feel these emotions as strongly as anybody else--maybe more strongly."
For both partners, a good deal of music business frustration preceded their current success.
In the late 1970s, McClintock, now 34, saw a recording deal with Arista Records turn sour, and James, 39, had a similar experience with Capitol. Both turned to songwriting as their main creative outlet.
McClintock also became a music business entrepreneur, gradually building the Headway Group into a multifaceted operation that includes recording studios, a booking agency for area club bands, a voice-coaching business, an independent record label and the film-scoring, songwriting and music-publishing work that he and James carry on as a team.
McClintock, who sings backup vocals on Tiffany's new album, also is a performer who has fronted pop bands and sung classical music as a member of the Pacific Chorale. His current group, 19, will appear tonight and Saturday at Parker's Seafood Grill on the Balboa Peninsula.
Some acquaintances snickered at his songwriting connection with Tiffany when her first album came out, McClintock said.
"They said, 'It's a terrible album, I can't believe you guys put a song on that album.' Some people frown on pop music for some reason. They think (Top 40 fans are) a mindless group of people listening to whatever is put in front of (them). A song like 'All This Time' is not going to change the world. But people are going to believe it, and people relate to it."
James said he isn't concerned that he and McClintock might become typecast as writers of teen-pop. "I think the songs we're doing with Tiffany are substantial songs," he said, noting that Jennifer Warnes recorded an unreleased version of "All This Time" before Tiffany's appeared, and that Amanda McBroom, who wrote Bette Midler's hit, "The Rose," performs the song in her live shows. "Jennifer Warnes is certainly not a fluff artist, nor is Amanda McBroom," James said. And Kim Carnes recently made inquiries about recording "Kid on a Corner"--part of the increased interest in the McClintock/James catalogue that the two songwriters say has resulted from their first big hit.
"There's no guarantees" that a first Top 10 hit will lead inevitably to others, James said. "This could be it, our moment in time. But we can also build on it."
Meanwhile, the creators of "All This Time" hope that their maiden hit will have a long life in the pop mainstream.
"It'd be nice to have a song that became kind of ingrained," James said, "a song that you hear in elevators."