You Light Up My Life - Debby Boone
B-Side: You Light Up My Life (instrumental)
From the Album: You Light Up My Life: Original Soundtrack
Released: August 16, 1977 (Charted the week of September 3)
Label: Arista/Warner Bros. (Warner Bros. 8455)
Songwriter(s): Joe Brooks
Producer(s): Joe Brooks
Debby Boone was, among other things, one of the very first third-generation pop stars. In 1950, her grandfather, Red Foley, topped the charts with “Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy.” A few years later, her father, Pat Boone, had the number-one single of 1957, “Love Letters in the Sand.” It was twenty years after that that Debby’s turn came, and with her first solo release she scored one of the biggest hits of the rock’n’roll era.
Debby was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and moved with her family to the Los Angeles area when she was four. Thanks to her father’s success, she was able to lead a sheltered life, and was content to do so. “I never felt a need to know everything that was going on,” she said. “Really, what’s the point of knowing about the smutty things in life?”
As a result of her attitude, Debby developed an image of unusual wholesomeness — saying yes to spiritual matters, but no to smoking, drinking, drugs, and premarital sex. What rebellious years she had came in the late sixties and early seventies, after seeing the film Easy Rider (1969). She announced plans to buy a motorcycle and head for San Francisco, but never got around to making the trip. Instead, she hung out in places where she wasn’t supposed to go, and admittedly “smoked cigarettes.”
It was about then that her dad decided to incorporate his wife and four daughters into a family-oriented concert act. They played state fairs, hotels and amusement parks around the world. Eventually, the team began to break up, as each girl entered college, got married, or pursued other interests. As for Debby, she elected to stay home with her parents, claiming that she couldn’t handle the “high pressure atmosphere” of university life. Instead, she enrolled at Bible school, and worked briefly with emotionally disturbed children.
By 1977 though, Debby’s lifestyle was getting her down — visiting friends, working out at her gym, and accompanying dad and mom on trips was boring, and “making her crazy.” It was then that producer Mike Curb approached her with “You Light Up My Life.”
“I’m pleased that my first release was a ballad,” said Debby. “I like some rock music, but I’m not really a rock’n’roller. Middle America, the bulk of the nation, isn’t into one extreme or the other, and enjoys this sort of thing. I think the song is a change, different from what we’ve been hearing. It’s refreshing.”
Debby freely acknowledged that she had a spiritual, rather than a romantic idea in mind when she recorded “You Light Up My Life.”
“When I first heard the song, I knew it was probably written about a male-female relationship, but I hadn’t seen the movie. For me, it lent itself to these spiritual feelings I was having. People always ask me if I was singing it to some special person, and I have to say no. You see, as far as I’m concerned, it’s my love song to God. My life is centered around Him, and that’s not something predominant in the music business.”
“You Light Up My Life” was the title theme from a movie about making it in the record industry. The project was conceived and produced by Joe Brooks, an award-winning commercial jingle writer. He had been making half-a-million dollars a year in advertising, but in 1975 simply quit to try something new. He wrote a screenplay and hired Kacey Cisyk to sing five songs for the soundtrack, including the title theme. Later, Kacey claimed she was never paid for that recording session, and her name did not appear in the movie credits. When the soundtrack album came out, her name was misspelled and she was listed as a “background singer.”
Recorded in late May, the single came out in late August and was used in a TV spot plugging the film. Within seven weeks the song had rocketed all the way to the top.
“You Light Up My Life” was number one longer than any other song in 1977, and longer than any recording by a female artist in a quarter century. It sold nearly five million copies, outdistancing even her father Pat’s greatest hit. It also garnered an Oscar and two Grammy Awards.