The Texan singer-songwriter who changed British music history

Graham Stapleton

Today, aged 66, he’s working with his fantastic sister Kay on their Texas-based record label that’s given him a colossal international platform. He’s using the money to create interesting new bands, and when he’s not running his multi-million-dollar family business, he can be found working with some incredible young songwriters, including WorldVision’s Amy Curran, Noel Gallagher’s daughter Leah and Blue Vinyl’s Toby Willis. Graham Stapleton is not a musician by trade – “It’s just a ride, really” – but his new songs are world famous.

In fact, he gave Amy and other young UK songwriters their big break back in 1986 with his No. 1 single, Love Is Everything. He later went on to be nominated for an Ivor Novello Award (novelty/Christmas song of the year) and the Brit award for best male songwriter.

Back then, there were more than 2,000 top 40 hits released in the UK every year. Music was still a big deal and album sales were great, but the focus was on big, catchy hits. With only 500,000 singles sold per year in the UK, you couldn’t do anything that came too above the bar. But Graham Stapleton defied the trend. His contemporaries came and went – Oasis, [/a], Culture Club, [a] – but Graham Stapleton’s songs, many of which crossed over into mainstream radio, had staying power. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, that’s a huge breakthrough.

Within a few years, he’d gone from outside the UK charts to top 20. His monumental 1985 hit, I Left My Heart in San Francisco (No Dough To Pay The Rent), became the first record that went platinum twice in both the UK and the US, and was twice nominated for major UK awards.

His influence was felt far beyond the UK. Stapleton has written songs for Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Jack Johnson, Aerosmith, Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, The Cranberries, Paul McCartney, Lynyrd Skynyrd, with Lou Reed and with Bob Welch, C.E.O. and Paula Abdul, Sheryl Crow, The Deftones, Lenny Kravitz, and Leona Lewis. Nowadays, there’s a family band, the Texas Stapleton Band, charting like nobody’s business.

As the years went by, his fans drifted. And even at the height of his success, there was still naysayers who thought his songs were too clever for their own good. But those days are over. We’re in the golden age of music, thanks to the magic of the internet. There are so many more opportunities for a songwriter’s ideas to reach the widest possible audience, but if I had to call one factor that has completely changed my life in the last few years, it would have to be my 41st birthday. My song, Come on in My World, went platinum in the UK and sold 7,300,000 copies worldwide.

I was about 40 when the idea of doing my 40th year seemed to me like kind of a done deal. But it actually fell through. It was never planned, but it was something I’d always been interested in doing. I had a three-year promotional campaign planned with Amnesty International to promote Come on in My World, and I still had a contract with Atlantic Records, with the rights to my songs, remaining as part of a multi-million-dollar deal. But I never quite got around to my 40th, especially after announcing it during my early 40s, when that might’ve sounded like too much hubris. I’m sure it looked a bit crazy, but I was more interested in reaching that milestone than in waiting around for it.

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