But beyond that, one plank in the ladder would be to set up good-natured conversations and debates where people could both learn to listen, and also present their points of view. Another plank would be to start a movement of mentoring children, so that no child would be without a mentor (other than a parent) who could teach them great thoughts and wonderful ideas, show them the arts and theater and classical music and other such things that the intellect and creativity of mankind over centuries has created and given us as a legacy. To let the children know that they each have special talents, and to help each one find that talent — be it an ability to light up a room with their smile, or their ability to make someone feel needed. Or their ability to sing or dance or paint or throw a ball. We need to concentrate on finding and celebrating what’s good in humanity.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing triple Grammy nominated songwriter Pamela Phillips Oland, co-writer of “ONE WORLD,” the new “We Are the World” style charity anthem for the global pandemic and racial justice, currently bulleting up the Billboard Mainstream Adult Contemporary Chart. Watch the music video and donate for a free song download at www.oneworldoursong.com.
Career lyricist Pamela Phillips Oland is one of the few lyricists to have earned a full-time living simply doing what she loves for 30+ years. Working in a multiple of genres from pop to jazz, rock to country to children’s music, and lots of R&B, she has also found the time to write 14 musicals, one of which, “Soldier of Orange” is reopening in Amsterdam September 2, after a Covid pause, to continue its 10-year, 3-million-tickets-sold run. A 3-time Grammy Nominee, and CMA winner, and with a Genie Award nomination for Best Song in a Motion Picture, Pamela also has 2 songwriting books in print, “The Art of Writing Great Lyrics” and “The Art of Writing Love Songs.” Her works have been recorded by Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin & The Four Tops, Frank Sinatra, The Jacksons, Selena, Reba McIntyre, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Whispers, The Spinners, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Anne Murray, and dozens of others. She has written numerous film and TV themes and songs. Pamela divides her life between L.A., and a lake in Vegas. www.pamoland.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us Pamela! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in London, England, to first generation English parents, both of whom had ancestors who fled pogroms in Kiev, and Minsk in the Soviet Union. My Dad was a well-loved musician, doubling on winds and strings, and when he “played the Palace,” it was The Palace, as in Buckingham Palace. He played many society “do’s” as they called them. I studied Ballet at the Royal Academy, getting Honors. I was spotted by a photographer in my dance class and posed for advertising for milk, which later led to TV acting when we’d emigrated to the USA. I studied elocution with Gloria Brent, a larger than life British actress with a plummy accent and who would’ve been rendered mute if her hands were tied behind her back. Gloria Brent taught me hundreds of poems and how to recite them in rhythm, and how to put the correct emPHAsis on the right sylLAble. I entered numerous elocution contests, and won gold and silver medals for verse speaking. This turned out to be the impetus for becoming a budding poet; a predilection that later led me to writing lyrics, and defining the differences between poetry and lyrics for the music industry. My father said I swallowed a dictionary! On my birthdays, my parents treated me to Cantonese food and heavenly Musical Theater performances in the West End. I was entranced with lyrics, and “My Fair Lady,” remains my favorite musical, the wonderful story of two dissimilar people on a collision course with Love. We came to America when I was 9, first to LA, then Dad’s career took us to Las Vegas, where I grew up in its halcyon days.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
After a summer at the Sorbonne in Paris, I went back to London for a year. I volunteered at the Oxford & St. George Foundation Settlement House, where a shy 15-year old, an orphan I befriended, offered to teach me to play guitar. This gift he offered me seemed so important to him, that I took two trains and a bus across London to go to his meager bed-sit to learn those chords. I have tried everything to find him to thank him. When I returned home, my Dad — who’d taught me violin and piano — found out I now knew a few guitar chords, and bought me a guitar. At first, I sang folk songs, and before long, experimented with putting all of my early heartbreak poems to music. They were dreadful! But I couldn’t help becoming what I call a “Love-ologist” early on! I found myself covertly studying people’s relationships: love found, love lost, love longed for, love thwarted, tearful longings, joyful comings-together. I’d study lovers fighting on trains, and cooing in restaurants. I started to be able to read eyes and body movements, and was able to write “nickel novels” in my head as to what was going on with them! I was a natural lyricist. Song ideas came to me so easily, the stories flowed, and eventually I couldn’t “not” want to do it for a career. Eventually I realized that all songs are love songs to someone, or some thing ̶ a car or a country, a mother or a lover or a cause. Truly, I discovered the best reason to write…is for the joy of writing.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I had written “If Ever A Love There Was,” a romantic duet, with the wonderful Todd Cerney, twice ASCAP Nashville’s Writer of the Year. We loved the song, it seemed to write itself. Clive Davis of ARISTA Records chose it for the Four Tops. It happened that my friend Jerry Knight was named producer. I said, “Jerry, this is so exciting, but…it’s a duet!! Who is Levi Stubbs going to sing this to?!” His jaw dropped, he said…”I’ll figure it out when I get to Detroit.” Levi and the Tops loved the song, and then Jerry pointed out, “We need a girl for you to sing this with!” Levi though for a moment and said, “Let’s get Ree!” He then played the song over the studio monitors into the phone, and “Ree” said, “I love it, I want to do it!” He drove through the snow to “Ree,” Aretha Franklin’s house, to deliver her a copy of the song. They recorded it. With Kenny G playing a fabulous sax solo! It was a remarkable record. Later I was told that Levi and Aretha had actually lived that song lyric as youthful star-crossed lovers torn apart by parents!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was writing a commercial for a canned chicken product for a jingle production company. It was my first job. My boss asked me to come up with a cute slogan about the chicken. Immediately, the slogan came into my head: “The trick in pickin’ chicken is pickin’ which chicken to pick!” Thinking my boss would be thrilled at my quick work, I went into his office and rattled off that line. He looked at me sternly and said, “No! That’s terrible! Go back and think of something better!” The next day, the client came in, and my boss called me into the office, where I sampled the appalling product!
“Well?” said my boss, “Tell the client what you’ve come up with!” I smiled and said, “The trick in pickin’ chicken is pickin’ which chicken to pick!” The client roared with delight. My boss said, “See, I knew you could come up with something better!” My lesson: Never make it look too easy!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I co-created and wrote lyrics for “Soldier of Orange,” the most successful musical in Dutch history, with 3 million-plus tickets sold. It is a hugely immersive project and had been running for 9½ years till Covid. It’s re-opening with a limited number of seats, on September 2! We were about to open in London, the theater was already being built, but again, Covid interfered. But it will likely open in London in a year or so. Also, as I write this today, a new all-star production of my revised song “One World” — co-written in Moscow with Franke Previte (Oscar-winning writer of “I’ve Had The Time of My Life”) and 2 writers from Estonia, in 1988 — has debuted on the Billboard Mainstream Adult Contemporary Chart’s Top 30 at #30 with a bullet! That’s really hard to get. Every songwriter in the world is yearning to be on that chart. So I’m thrilled. Our song is released to benefit four charities struggling for income during this Covid time: the Musicians Foundation, Actors Fund, Children of First Responders Foundation, and NAACP Legal Defense Fund. People can watch the video, donate to one of the charities, and get a free download of the song at www.oneworldoursong.com My most exciting project that I’m hopeful of getting produced is an original musical called “Wonder,” which I wrote incorporating 25 of Stevie Wonder’s brilliant songs. It is not a biography. It’s a totally original story of hope and love and belonging, in which his songs vividly move the plot forward. I have had an opportunity to discuss it with Stevie, and I look forward to more conversations with him about what might be possible for it when live theater is once again fully viable!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Film and Television are mirrors of life in America and in our world. What we watch should look like us, like who we are, and who we are is a melting pot of races and nationalities and lifestyles in as many diverse combinations as there are stars in the sky. What I’m sure we are all working toward is balance. There should be a comfort level in what each member of an audience sees. An analogy might be watching a baseball team play. We are not watching for what color, race, or nationality the team members are. We are watching them play as a team for the common goal of winning! American culture will be blessed if we are all working, and living, together as a team.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
When I first started out as a songwriter, I wish someone had told me that:
1) Pop songs are conversations, not emotional diatribes. It wasn’t until I heard Carole King sing “You’re so far away, doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” that I understood I was spinning my wheels singing from emotional fantasy;
2) When you say “I,” you’re speaking for the listener. People don’t care about who the songwriters are, or what is going on in their lives. They want to know how the song relates to them!;
3) Don’t get attached to outcome, just do what you love each day and it will lead to whatever is to come. I have seen writers get discouraged as they wait for a hoped-for result for one of their songs, and they fall apart when it doesn’t happen. The deal is: stop thinking about that song so you can write more and more of them, and let success come and surprise you;
4) Songwriting is not about the money or the success. It’s about the joy of creation itself. Many of my personal favorite songs have never been recorded. But I was given the blessing of the creative process;
5) The object of a collaboration is to make your collaborator look brilliant. I’m a career collaborator, and the composers and songwriters I’ve worked with are often so gifted. I encourage their process, point out when they have come up with a melody that is terrific, or they’ve thrown an idea or a lyric into the ring that is exactly right! After all, both our names go on it, no matter who thought of what!!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I don’t believe in the concept of “writer’s block.” I think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on working on something without a clear direction for what you want to say. I think if you can’t finish something quite often it’s because you’ve written the end, not the beginning. Or else you need to scrap it and start something else because what you’re doing is going nowhere! I also think that people in the creative fields listen too much to other people’s opinions that make them feel low. Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. Only listen to those who understand how to make meaningful and useful comments. Whether that’s an artist, a producer or your Mom, you never know where the gems of advice are coming from! But most of all, never stop doing what you love!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well…I think the idea Franke Previte and I had, to rewrite “One World” and hire a producer (Jon Gilutin) to produce it, and reach out to the best of the best studio singers and musicians, and then join that with four charities to help people get some needed money during lockdown…I think that is a start. But beyond that, one plank in the ladder would be to set up good-natured conversations and debates where people could both learn to listen, and also present their points of view. Another plank would be to start a movement of mentoring children, so that no child would be without a mentor (other than a parent) who could teach them great thoughts and wonderful ideas, show them the arts and theater and classical music and other such things that the intellect and creativity of mankind over centuries has created and given us as a legacy. To let the children know that they each have special talents, and to help each one find that talent — be it an ability to light up a room with their smile, or their ability to make someone feel needed. Or their ability to sing or dance or paint or throw a ball. We need to concentrate on finding and celebrating what’s good in humanity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Frank Sinatra took a chance on me and recorded my song “Monday Morning Quarterback.” He was always gracious enough to credit me wherever and whenever he sang it. His influence on my life was remarkable, as so many doors opened then. He introduced me to Freddy Heineken, the Dutch brewer, who was a secret songwriter, and asked me to write lyrics for Freddy. Decades later that relationship led to me writing “Soldier of Orange” in Holland. But I suppose I must thank my Mom, the lovely late Lily Phillips, for teaching me how to use words creatively, and helping me write my first story. And for loving me and uplifting me throughout my creative path!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was 22, standing by an elevator, and a grey-haired man came up and said, “Why so glum?” And I said, “I feel like I’m always in preparation for my life! When am I going to actually live it?” He responded, “My dear, let me give you a piece of advice: The Process is the Purpose.” He was the president of the Television Academy, though I didn’t know that then. That became the mantra for my life. It is a theme that runs through everything I write, and it informs the way I live my life every day. It works. Someone else who passed through my life, later paraphrased it: “Everyone’s running around looking for the end of the road. But the end of the road is the road itself!”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh! There are so many people to admire! But perhaps it would be Richard Branson, who has been such a creative entrepreneur, unstoppable, filled with imagination and delight at what he creates. He thinks it and then he does it: an island, an airline, a film company, massive humanitarian efforts! His hot air ballooning may just be a metaphor for how to live our lives: just find a way to rise, and the winds of fortune will carry you where you need to go!!
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you very much. I’m honored to be asked your incisive and at the same time uplifting questions!