“She’s just sixteen years old, ‘Leave her alone,’ they say….”
This is the opening line for Benny Mardones’s classic hit, “Into the Night”, written by Mardones and Robert Tepper. It was first released in 1980.
The first time I heard this song with my wife, she exclaimed, “Why would some pervert write a song about himself scamming on some young girl?!” Frankly, I had to agree with her sentiment.
Benny Mardones passed away on June 22, 2020, after a 20-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 73 years old (https://variety.com/2020/music/news/benny-mardones-into-the-night-dead-dies-1234693089/). You might want to label him as a “one-hit-wonder”, since “Into the Night” was his only hit. What fascinates me is the story behind Madrones’s greatest hit. Before I go into that, let’s take a brief look at the man behind the hit.
Benny Mardones was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 9, 1946, a son of an immigrant from Chile. He grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, and served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. For his show business debut, he did an impersonation of Elvis Presley at a Fourth of July talent show. He performed at local high schools and fire stations with the same group who backed him up at his debut.
When he first arrived in New York City in 1969, Mardones was signed to Mercury Records’ publishing division as a staff songwriter. He co-wrote songs for artists such as Brenda Lee, Three Dog Night, Main Ingredient, Free, and Tommy James (You Baby-Boomers probably recognize most of these names). He was eventually signed as an artist to White Whale Records, and then Columbia Records.
Mardones began to attract attention when he opened up for Richie Havens. He caught the eye of concert promoter Ron Delsener, who asked if he could fill in as the opening act for Peter Frampton at Madison Square Garden.
After getting signed to Polydor Records, Mardones began writing with Robert Tepper. Their ballad, “Into the Night”, was released on Polydor Records, and it reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It later became one of the few songs to reach the Top 20 twice when it was revived in 1989.
Unfortunately, Mardones’s life took a nosedive due to substance abuse. In the 1980s, he sought help for his addictions and moved to Syracuse, NY, where he revived his career with his back-up band, the Hurricanes. His performances were geared towards raising funds for charitable causes, such as children’s liver transplants, Ronald McDonald House, and L.A. Breast Cancer Awareness.
In 2000, Mardones was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he continued to tour and perform. His last performance was late in 2017.
A few days after learning of Mardones’s passing, I came across a YouTube video of him being interviewed by the “Professor of Rock”, Adam Reader, about his classic hit (https://youtu.be/EyABE-qjIbI). The 16-year-old in the song was about a girl whose family lived in the same apartment building as Mardones. The girl lived with her parents and two siblings. As time passed, the girl’s father left and abandoned the family, leaving them destitute. It broke Mardones’s heart when he learned of this tragic event, and it compelled him to do whatever he can to financially assist this family. Benny paid the girl $50 a week to walk his pet basset hound.
The following is an excerpt from Songfacts.com’s article on Mardones’s iconic hit:
Mardones wrote this song with Robert Tepper, who would later write the song “No Easy Way Out” for the movie Rocky IV. Benny told Songfacts: “One night Robert Tepper and I were up writing songs. It was about a week before we were leaving for Miami to cut the first big album, which was Never Run, Never Hide. We thought that we already had the hit song, so did Polydor Records. It was a song called ‘Might Have Been Love.’ But at the last minute we’re sitting there one night at my apartment trying to write. Bobby kept playing the chord changes and we tried 18 melodies and 30 kinds of lyrics and all of a sudden the key in the door turned and I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s daylight.’ Because we liked to keep the blinds down.
And in she walks, 16 years old, dressed for school in a miniskirt, little stacked heels, adorable, 16-going-on-21. She said, ‘You’ve been up all night?’ and of course it was obvious. I said, ‘Yeah, we have.’ She says, ‘Okay, come on, Zanky,’ and she walks the dog out. When she leaves and goes out the door, my partner goes, ‘Oh, my God.’ I said, ‘Hey, Bob. She’s just 16 years old, leave her alone.’ And literally five minutes later I said, ‘Play that lick again, Bobby.’ So he played the lick and I went (singing), ‘she’s just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say.’ Then I thought about her dad and what he had done, and that’s where I got (singing), ‘Separated by fools who don’t know what love is yet.’ The chorus was, ‘you’re too young for me, but if I could fly, I’d pick you up and take you into the night and show you love like you’ve never seen.’ Then the verse ‘It’s like having it all and letting it show. It’s like having a dream where nobody has a heart. It’s like having it all and watching it fall apart.’ Because his success was not the family’s success; it was just his. ‘I can’t measure my love there’s nothing compared to it’ – it was all about the abandonment of this family and this 16-year-old girl (https://www.songfacts.com/facts/benny-mardones/into-the-night).”
When you watch the Professor of Rock video, you will learn of the girl’s happy ending (I’m not gonna tell you; just watch the video). When my wife viewed the video, we were blown away, and it gave us a different and refreshing perspective of the song.
I hope you enjoyed this short journey through the background of this iconic hit. Here’s Benny performing his classic ballad: