John Waite Reviews His Career and Misfire Covers of Hit 'Missing You': 'Hard to Get That Song Right'

The singer-songwriter, whose 1984 chart-topper "Missing You" has been remade by Tina Turner and Rod Stewart, has a new album and is the subject of a career-spanning documentary The Hard Way

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 30: Singer John Waite, former member of The Babys and Bad English, performs onstage at YouTube Theater on August 30, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)
Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty

"I ain't missing you at all."

With those words of denial, which many have misinterpreted as defiance, rocker John Waite achieved pop culture immortality. The singer-songwriter, who is the subject of the new career-spanning documentary The Hard Way, has gone down in music history for his 1984 No. 1 smash, "Missing You," a song that he remembers coming to him when he was "winging it on the mic" during a recording session.

"I was married at the time, and I'd been away from home maybe two months," Waite, now 70, recalls of his state of mind that day. "And I must have made it up on the spot. I suppose it was about denial, trying to be tough. When I sang the song, I stopped. I stepped back from the mic. I couldn't speak. I choked. It was so emotional. I knew what it was. I knew it was No. 1. It was that good, and it had come out of left field. It was a magical experience."

The '80s classic has inspired remakes by artists who have tried — and typically failed — to recapture the magic of the original. Among them: country duo Brooks & Dunn as well as rock and roll legends Rod Stewart and Tina Turner — who turned Waite's lovelorn lyrics into a post-breakup empowerment anthem a la Cher's "Believe" and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" on her 1996 album Wildest Dreams.

Waite, despite being a massive fan of both the "magnificent" Turner ("I remember being a kid and listening to 'River Deep, Mountain High,'" he says, citing Ike & Tina Turner's 1966 classic) and Stewart, wasn't necessarily a fan of their interpretations of his signature song.

"It's so weird to have someone sing your melody and lyrics that you admire that much. She's white hot," he says of Turner. But, he adds, "It's very hard to get that song right. Rod did it like a disco song [on his 2006 covers album Still the Same… Great Rock Classics of Our Time]. And I love Rod, too, but I was like, 'Why would you do it like a disco song?'"

Fun fact: After the author of this article reviewed Turner's cover of "Missing You" for Entertainment Weekly in 1996 and noted that her "gritty and tough" version lacked the "repressed agony" and "understated passion" of the original, Waite sent a handwritten letter expressing how pleased he was that the writer understood his song.


"Missing You," as done to perfection by the man who co-wrote it, resurfaces on Waite's recently released compilation album Singles. He also has a new four-song EP called Anything, while The Hard Way (filmed during COVID lockdown) dropped Dec. 6 for purchase and streaming. The Hard Way is not your typical Behind the Music-style trip down memory lane, but rather a portrait of an artist being surprisingly open about a singing career that he pretty much stumbled upon. Waite practically breaks down in tears when he talks about recording his greatest hit as a duet with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss for his 2007 album Downtown: Journey of a Heart.

"To be truthful, I didn't expect to be emotional," he says of that moment caught on camera. "That really was an embarrassment. I didn't know what to do. I just broke down."

He continues: "I didn't want the documentary to be a promotion device, like 'This is a really cool human being, and watch out for their new record.' I didn't want to do any of that. The person that was interviewing me has been a friend of mine for a long time, and so I was probably more open [with him]."

Waite grew up in Lancaster, England with long hair and artistic inclinations, earning the emphatic disapproval of some of his teachers. "They looked at me like I wasn't student material," he remembers. "When you meet that kind of ignorance, you either cave in or you keep going. Maybe that's where my confidence comes from, being backed into a corner, being told you're no good and swinging back."

"Trying to prove yourself in later life," he adds. "That kind of hurt is so profound that all you can do is get off the floor and keep punching."

In The Hard Way, Waite reveals that being a singer was never part of his game plan. He always considered himself to be primarily a bass player who wrote songs.

"I never thought of myself as a singer," he reiterates. "And I'm not being coy. My competition growing up, they were all, like, 10 years older: Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Paul Rodgers. These people are the Mount Rushmore of singers. Maybe I'm being too humble. I know I'm good."

"I did a gig with Rod Stewart about four years ago. I opened the show for him, this massive open-air concert. And he stopped the show halfway through and said, 'John Waite, what a singer.' And I was there on the side of the stage, and it winded me. For Rod Stewart to say that just blew my mind."

Waite onstage with The Babys. Courtesy

Waite's first brush with global success was in the late '70s as the frontman of the band The Babys. The group scored big hits with "Isn't It Time" and "Every Time I Think of You," before disbanding in 1981. Waite went on to launch a solo career that peaked in 1984 with "Missing You," a song sung from the point of view of someone trying to convince himself that he's over a tough breakup. The video, featuring a spiky-haired Waite walking the streets of downtown L.A., made him an MTV staple and, for a time, a pop heartthrob.

Later in the decade, as a member of the rock supergroup Bad English (which featured Journey guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain), he enjoyed more mainstream success. "When I See You Smile," written by Diane Warren, went to No. 1 in 1989 and "The Price of Love" reached No. 5 in 1990 — but Waite wasn't really interested in being a pop star.

"I think once you become No. 1 — which I was solo and with Bad English — it's in my nature to, not back away, but go home," he explains. "It's not like I want to hang out and play the game and be that person at receptions and being feted. I was living in New York, and I would go to the Met like twice a week and then go and have a glass of wine somewhere on Madison Avenue and have a really beautiful time doing something else, and then I would write music."

"I just need the downtime to balance the time in the spotlight. It doesn't mean that I'm moody. It just means my natural nature is, I think, a little introspective. And that's where the songs come from. So if you take that away, the songwriting stops."

Waite (far right) with Bad English. Courtesy

He says that's what happened with Bad English, a band that disbanded after four years and two albums. "We were so in motion all the time," Waite says. "There was no time to really reflect. You were always on, and it just burned out."

Though he wouldn't have any more big career hits after Bad English, Waite never stopped recording and touring. He released 10 solo studio albums between 1982 and 2011, and aside from the hiatus imposed on him and the rest of the world during the pandemic, he's continued to tour with his band. He says he's singing better than ever these days, and he's enjoying performing live and working on new material. Despite his undimmed passion for making music, he's starting to think about reaching the finish line and focusing on other interests, like writing and painting, and moving back to New York City (He's currently based in L.A.) or buying a house in the country and living the leisurely life of a flâneur (his word).

"At some point, the voice isn't going to go up to high C," he says. "Right now, everything is in the original keys — and I can go beyond that. The moment I have to lower the keys to get through a song, I think that's God telling you to go. The moment I have to drop the keys of the songs, it's good night. And it would be the right time to do so."

Related Articles