The Top500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #178: My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the film, “Titanic” (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #178: My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to “Titanic”.

There are few songs in this entire countdown that will illicit as visceral a reaction as will this song, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion from the movie, “Titanic”. For some people, the soaring power of this ballad showcases Celine Dion’s voice in a way that is breathtaking while the subject matter of the song touches their hearts in a way that very few songs do. For others, “My Heart Will Go On” is the poster-child for over-rated, over-played, over-produced music and, as such, hearing it played aloud is akin to an orchestra of fingernails screeching down a chalkboard while all you want is peace and quiet in its wake. Regardless of your take on this song, “My Heart Will Go On” has sold over 18 million units worldwide, making it one of the Top 3 biggest selling songs by a female recording artist, in any genre, of all-time. It won the Academy Award for Best Song from a Motion Picture, the Grammy Award for “Song of the Year” and “Best Performance, Pop, by a Female Artist”, as well as, “Best Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Recording”. This song was rated as the #1 song of the year on the charts and has been rated by industry organizations as one of the Top Five songs of the 1990s and one of the Top 20 songs of the entire 20th Century! The data all point to the impactful nature of “My Heart Will Go On” and the notion that this song is certainly one of the more memorable songs ever. So, with that in mind, here is the story of how this song came to be. All aboard!

I just read a quote that went something like…..”Sometimes, God’s greatest Mercy comes in the form of unanswered prayers.” This is very true of how the song, “My Heart Will Go On” came to be in the soundtrack to the movie, “Titanic”. At the time that “Titanic” was in production, there were rumblings that the movie was experiencing cost overruns. There was even talk that the movie was shaping up to be one of the costliest, most epic failures in Hollywood history. The studio heads were aware of the financial situation and decided to take matters into their own hands. They met with director, James Cameron, and broached the idea of commercial tie-ins; merchandise sales and hit songs were the ideas pitched…..anything that would create additional revenue streams that might help offset the huge expeditures that Cameron’s movie was racking up. Needless to say, James Cameron was feeling the “Art” of his project which, in his mind, was a “serious period piece” and he had no time for watering down his vision with “Happy Meal Toys” and Pop songs. But, as we all know, often in life, the financial fiddler calls the tune, and Cameron was told that a hit song needed to be part of his thinking, too. Mr. Cameron was not amused.

Initially, “My Heart Will Go On” was written as an instrumental piece that would play over the closing credits. The musical score was written by a man named James Horner. With pressure mounting to create a “hit song”, Horner’s instrumental was given lyrics. These lyrics were written by a man named Will Jennings. After shopping the song among a variety of singers, the duo ended up meeting with Celine Dion and her husband/manager, Rene Angelil. It is important to note that, at this time, Celine Dion was not the Mega-Diva that we know her to be today. In those days, in the early 1990s, she had had a few modest hits and, in particular, she had just completed the song, “Beauty and the Beast” with Peabo Bryson for the movie soundtrack to the film of the same name. So, when Dion was asked to give, “My Heart Will Go On” a chance, she declined because she didn’t want to become pigeon-holed as a “soundtrack” singer. So, James Horner sung the song for her and Rene Angelil. Dion was still not convinced but, her husband heard something in the amateurish singing of Horner that spoke to him of the song’s hit-making potential. So, he suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to give it one try and help make a rough demo of the song so that Horner could bring that back to James Cameron to see if he would be ok with Celine Dion as his singer. Even though it was reported that there was much sighing and that Angelil was given the “hairy eyeball” for making Celine sing a song she didn’t really want to be singing, she agreed to make the demo. The rest, as they say, is history.

Celine Dion recorded the demo in one take. When everyone heard how she told the story of Jack and Rose, they were all moved to tears. Everyone was aware of how powerful a voice she had but, what impressed them most about her performance was how much emotion she was able to convey during those parts of the song that called for restraint and subtlety. Even though James Cameron didn’t like the idea of having a “Pop song” at the end of his movie, he agreed to use Dion’s demo version which, aside from the addition of some instrumentation which was added later in studio, appeared on the “Titanic” soundtrack as originally recorded in that one take.

So, a song that originally didn’t even have lyrics, which was unwanted by the movie’s director and which was initially rejected by Celine Dion, herself, ended up becoming one of the biggest hits of all-time. The song and the movie have become inextricably linked together, amplifying the reach of both, in the process. The success of “My Heart Will Go On” helped raise Celine Dion into the upper echelon of the ranks of all female singers and has helped cement her legacy as possessing one of the most beautiful and powerful female voices ever. For James Cameron, the emotional tone of the song was, as it turned out, the perfect final ingredient in a love story set amid one of the world’s greatest tragedies in history.

Evidence that “Titanic” and “My Heart Will Go On” continue to touch lives, even today, can be seen in numerous ways but, one that I have witnessed for myself took place in Halifax. As you may know, when the real ship, “Titanic”, sunk off of the coast of Newfoundland, a majority of the bodies that were recovered were brought to Halifax for burial. There are three cemeteries in Halifax that hold the bodies of these victims; the biggest being, Fairview Lawn Cemetery. In Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the grave markers are arranged in such a way that they form the bow of a ship. One of those markers bears the name, “J. Dawson”. In the movie, “Titanic”, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was named “Jack Dawson”. In real life, Titanic victim, “J. Dawson” was a crewman and had nothing to do with the movie nor with Leonardo DiCaprio at all. Despite this, his grave marker has visitors come to it almost every, single day. The maintenance crew at Fairview Lawn Cemetery are constantly having to gather up teddy bears and other gifts (many of which are cleaned and then, donated to charities in the area), as well as, constantly having to re-seed the grass in front of his marker because so many people kneel before it that the grass is always being worn away, leaving a bare dirt spot in an, otherwise, pristine, grassy memorial area.

Along wth the hubris of thinking that we are more powerful than Nature, the story of the Titanic tragedy is one of Love and Loss. James Cameron captured that well in his portrayal of Jack and Rose and their love that has endured through the many years. The song, “My Heart Will Go On” is the musical complement to Cameron’s movie and perfectly conveys the power and importance of true love. Whether you feel the song is amazingly moving or else, that it is over-played and over-sung, is something you may wish to talk about in the comments below. Have at it!

Let’s see what all of the fuss is about….here is Celine Dion with “My Heart Will Go On” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “Titanic”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for a live version of the song, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, “Titanic”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Celine Dion, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie, “Titanic”, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting artists and bands from around the world. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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