November 04, 1996 12:00 PM

Call it a case of bad timing. Were it not for the Macarena, Donna Lewis would have had the top-ranked song in the U.S. for nine straight weeks beginning in late August. But having her debut single—a synthesizer-driven pop confection called “I Love You Always Forever”—reach No. 2 on the Billboard charts behind one of the biggest dance crazes since the hustle hasn’t exactly left the Welsh singer-songwriter bitter. The past year has been “this magical time, “says Lewis, whose first album, Now in a Minute, entered the Top 40 in September. Now Atlantic Records is about to release her second single, “Without Love.” With any luck, if this one climbs to the top of the pop charts, the Macarena will be heading in the other direction.

First person: “My manager says I’m ‘the alternative to the alternative.’ But I just write about everyday things.”

Second opinion: “It’s very sensitive music,” says Val Azzoli, cochairman and co-CEO of Atlantic Records. “I hate to label all us males lunkheads, but it’s a female kind of record.”

Vitals: Older of two sisters; raised in Cardiff, Wales, by her father, Donald, an electrician and jazz pianist, and her mother, Rubina, a former medical secretary. Lives in a Woodstock, N.Y., home with Martin Harris, 40, her road manager and husband of 10 years. Drives a leased Ford Escort. Gives her age as in her 30s.

Résumé: Started playing piano at age 6. Began composing music at 14, inspired by her father. Studied classical composition, majoring in piano and flute, at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. After graduating in 1979, taught music to finance her early songwriting attempts; played the piano bar circuit for five years throughout Britain and Europe but couldn’t get signed to a record label. When Atlantic executive Jennifer Stark heard her demo, Stark flew Lewis to New York City and signed her in 1994.

Idols: Elton John (“the biggest influence when I first started”); Rickie Lee Jones (“Oh, my God, this woman is incredible”); and the late English author H.E. Bates (“He does write in this beautiful, descriptive way—very dreamy”), whose novel Love for Lydia was the inspiration for some of the lyrics of “I Love You Always Forever.” The song was originally named after the novel.

The spoils of success: “The only thing I’ve done is buy some really nice clothes.”

Ever done the Macarena? “Certainly not.”

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