It’s hard to believe it, but Richard Marx was a truly dominant force in popular music for several years, from the late ’80s right on through the early ’90s. Today — though he still continues to release albums, tour, write songs for others, and be a generally pleasant fellow — he has become a bit of a punchline. The long-distance-dedication-worthy slow jams. The permed mullet. The cheese of it all. But I believe he was more a victim of his era, at least when it comes to his style choices.
As for his musical prowess, who is to quibble with his smooth tenor that lends itself both to romantic ballads (“Right Here Waiting,” “Now and Forever”) and more rock-and-roll fare (“Don’t Mean Nothing,” “Satisfied”)? (He also plays piano and guitar, which is 1.5 more instruments than I can handle.)
“Hold On to the Nights” came from Marx’s eponymous debut album, and would became his first number-one single in the summer of 1988. As it came on the heels of the similarly titled “Endless Summer Nights,” I didn’t think much of HOttN when first it hit the airwaves. (Also, as an eighth grader, I didn’t have much experience with the frustration of unrealized love.)
But I gained a new appreciation for the song upon seeing the video, which utilizes a live performance rather than the studio cut. And it is WILDLY better, and not just because of the epic nature of Marx’s hairdo. I used to joke that any kindred spirit of mine would be someone who could call to mind the four ways in which the live/video “Hold On to the Nights” is superior to the original. Twenty-six years later, I haven’t had that discussion with anyone, so I will lay these four points out here. And bullet number 3 is my personal “Best Part.”
1.2:08 – 2:17: A higher modulation of the heartbreaking lyric, “Promises in vain, love that is real but in disguise.”
2. 4:03 – 4:07: Instead of a retread of the penultimate line of the chorus, he delivers an impassioned glory note — “I wish that I could GIVE you more…” It might be off by 1/32nd of a pitch, but I will sacrifice technical accuracy for zeal any day of the week.
3. 4:21 – 4:28: Marx holds the final vocal arpeggio for about four seconds longer than the studio version, somehow taking this part of the song from “meh” to nerve-tinglingly fantastic. He even almost looks cute doing it.
4. 4:35 – 4:40: In lieu of a piano tinkling away into the ether, this version closes with six defined, pronounced notes. It’s a cleaner end, and makes it easier for the listener (and Richard himself) to enjoy some well-earned fist-pumps.