Hitmaker Diane Warren spills secrets about working with Cher, Whitney


It’s been 36 years since Songwriters Hall of Famer Diane Warren scored her breakout 1985 hit with DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” — from, yes, “The Last Dragon” soundtrack.

Since then, the woman with the golden pen has written countless hits, including Milli Vanilli’s 1989 No. 1 single “Blame It on the Rain,” Brandy’s 1999 chart-topper “Have You Ever?” and Céline Dion’s 1996 smash “Because You Loved Me.” The latter, from the movie “Up Close & Personal,” became one of Warren’s 12 tunes to be nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar — without a victory yet.

But the 64-year-old tunesmith is still winning with Friday’s release of her very first album, “Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1,” an all-star set featuring artists such as John Legend (“Where Is Your Heart”), Maren Morris (“I Save Me”) and, of course, longtime collaborator Dion (“Superwoman”).

Diane Warren
Diane Warren’s first album, “Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1,” features an all-star roster of artists.
Rhonda Resnick

Here, Warren shares the stories behind writing some of the songs that have made the whole world sing:

“If You Asked Me To,” Patti LaBelle (1989) and Céline Dion (1992)

After the song was originally a minor R&B hit for LaBelle, the Dion version became a Top 5 single.

Patti LaBelle performing on stage
Patti LaBelle originally performed “If You Asked Me To” before Céline Dion made it a big hit.
Redferns

“No one knows it’s a James Bond song,” Warren told The Post. “I wrote it for the movie ‘Licence To Kill.’ Patti’s version was just stunning. My friend was getting married, and as I was pulling up to the hotel where she was getting married at, Patti had just pulled up in front of me, and she’d just done the vocals. She goes, ‘You wanna hear it?’ We listened to the cassette in the car, and we listened so many times that I missed my friend’s wedding. It was worth it. I’d rather sit there with Patti listening to that.”

Aerosmith on the red carpet
Although Warren was thinking of a female singer for “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” Aerosmith (pictured) turned it into a smash.
FilmMagic, Inc

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Aerosmith

“I wrote the song for the movie ‘Armageddon’ thinking it was gonna be a female singer, thinking it would be like a Céline,” said Warren. “And then it turned out that the music supervisor on the movie said, ‘You know, I can get Aerosmith to do it.’ And [Steven Tyler] heard the song, and he just loved it. When you think of it, if it was a girl singing it, it would sound whiny. But if there were a guy singing it — especially when you have Steven Tyler, with his rock voice, this macho guy being sensitive — it’s a whole different thing. He’s singing what everybody wants their boyfriend or husband to sing.”

Still of Cher from the "If I Could Turn Back Time" video
Warren said that Cher can still fit into that infamous outfit from her “If I Could Turn Back Time” video.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

“If I Could Turn Back Time,” Cher

Although the 1989 hit has become one of Cher’s signature songs, at first “she hated it,” said Warren. “I had to beg her to do it on my knees, holding her leg down. She was absolutely not gonna do it, but I wasn’t gonna let go of her leg till she said she’d try it.”

And after Warren said, “I’ll pay for it” — the “magic words” to cover the costs of the recording sessions — Cher finally relented. “And it kinda worked,” said Warren with a laugh. “She still wears that outfit [from the sexy, sailor-heavy video]. She still fits into it.”

Toni Braxton performing on stage
Toni Braxton didn’t want to record “Un-Break My Heart,” which went on to become her biggest hit.
NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

“Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton

Although this became the hallmark heartbreak ballad for Braxton in 1996 — when it went to No. 1 and stayed there for 11 weeks, becoming her biggest hit — the diva didn’t have any love for the tune initially. “She didn’t want to do it — she didn’t like it,” said Warren, noting that Braxton was pushed to record it by her then-label head Clive Davis. “She sang it, and I told her she was gonna win a Grammy the night she did the vocal, and I was right — she did. But I think even after she sang it, she didn’t want to [release] it. Go figure.”

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston found the “Strength” to record one of Warren’s tunes for her final studio album.
© Photo ITAR-TASS/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

“I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” Whitney Houston

After writing “I Learned From the Best” and “I Bow Out” for Houston’s 1998 album “My Love Is Your Love,” Warren picked up her pen for 2009’s “I Look to You,” which would sadly turn out to be the final studio album by the greatest voice of all. “I feel like I tapped into Whitney when I wrote that,” said Warren of “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” “I remember I had the title, and I thought, ‘I wanna write her comeback song.’ Everybody thought she was getting better at the time. But it was a range-y song — it’s not an easy song to sing. When Whitney was at the top of her game, she could effortlessly do that, but she had done damage to her voice.”

But despite misgivings from producer David Foster, Warren still had faith in Houston to pull it off: “I’m like, ‘No, she’s going to sing it from her soul. That’s why she’s going to be able to hit those notes.’ And you know what? She did.”

The cover of "Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1"
John Legend, Céline Dion and Maren Morris are among the artists featured on “Diane Warren: The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1.”