Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who penned ‘Something to Talk About,’ dies at 67

By David Friend, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Canadian singer-songwriter Shirley Eikhard was decades into a successful music career when Bonnie Raitt recorded her flirty track “Something to Talk About,” turning it into a massive, Grammy-winning hit.

But one of her closest friends says the sudden elevation of her name in the music industry changed very little about how Eikhard saw herself. She remained a private person who enjoyed the people around her, making art and preferring to stay out of the limelight.

Eikhard died Thursday surrounded by her friends at a hospital in Orangeville, Ont., after a three-year battle with cancer, said longtime friend Deborah Duggan. She was 67 years old.

“She lived a big life,” Duggan said. “It was always a joy to be around her. She really did have a glow about her.”

Much of those big experiences came outside of show business, which Eikhard preferred to stay adjacent to, particularly in her later years. She painted, released modest albums created largely on her own, and dedicated time to social causes, including animal rights and the environment.

It was almost as if “Something to Talk About” happened to another person, except in rare instances, such as a 2020 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, where she accepted her laurels.

Eikhard, born in Sackville, N.B., got her first taste of fame at 15 years old when Anne Murray recorded her 1971 track “It Takes Time,” making it a Canadian chart hit.

A year later, her self-titled debut album gave her another boost powered by a blend of original songs and covers. Her version of Sylvia Tyson’s “Smiling Wine” topped the Canadian country charts for two weeks.

By then, she was already considered a rising star of the local music scene, winning Juno Awards for female country artist in 1973 and 1974.

Eikhard released a couple of albums in the years that followed, but her output slowed in the 1980s. One of her most notable credits was as co-writer on “Kick Start My Heart” from Alannah Myles’ self-titled 1989 album.

She hadn’t given up on music in those years, however. 

On a 1985 trip to Nashville, one made solely with the goal of writing a hit song, she came up with “Something to Talk About,” the story of two people enticed by swirling rumours they’re having a secret relationship.

The idea was shaped on a Sunday night after she heard that one of her songs had received interest from the Pointer Sisters.

“I sat down and was able to come up with the song in 20 minutes,” she recalled in a 2020 interview on Global’s “The Morning Show.”

“So I took it into one of the publishers I was seeing in town .. and he loved it, but he couldn’t get it going.”

And so Eikhard returned to Canada with “Something to Talk About” in hand. She sent it to Murray’s management, hoping that one shared hit under their belts might inspire another. They hung onto the song’s rights for a year but eventually passed on releasing it, even though Murray still used the title for her 1985 album.

Six years went by where “Something to Talk About” sat on the shelf without any serious interest, though Eikhard sent tapes to others hoping someone would bite.

One wintery night, after she returned to her home in Harriston, Ont., she heard a message from Raitt on her answering machine. The blues singer was playing her growling, soulful version of “Something to Talk About,” which she wanted to include on her 1991 album “Luck of the Draw.”

As Raitt recalls, she had finished the record in its entirety when a conversation with Bruce Springsteen led her to worry there wasn’t a hit single among the tracks. Coming off her breakout 1989 album “Nick of Time,” she didn’t want to fall into a sophomore slump.

“I had received a cassette from Shirley with some great songs on it and stashed it away along with scores of other ones,” she said.

“Right when I needed it, I found the cassette, played the song and knew it was a catchy, smart and fresh way of looking at romance – playful and something I really hadn’t done before.”

In interviews, Eikhard would often say that if it wasn’t for Raitt taking on her song, she probably would’ve left the music business forever.

“Something to Talk About” was a bona fide crossover hit, reaching No. 3 in Canada and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. The song also won Raitt a Grammy for best pop vocal performance for a female artist.

“It was a great way to have a hit record without compromising any artistic sensibility,” she added.

“It changed both of our lives for the better.”

In pop culture, “Something to Talk About” left such an impression that it inspired the title of a 1995 Julia Roberts comedy-drama in which she plays a woman who learns her husband is having an affair. The gossip ignites controversy in their small community.

For Eikhard, the success of “Something to Talk About” gave her the freedom to focus on the parts of making music that she enjoyed — most of them being behind the scenes.

“She never liked attention, it just made her nervous,” Duggan said.

“She didn’t like performing and … was happy to sort of pull back and continue doing it, but not in that way.”

In her later years, she recorded backup vocals for various artists and wrote for others including Cher. She also dedicated time to her partner Lola Catherine Osborne, who died a year ago.

Eikhard also wrote and recorded several more solo albums, including her 2021 release “On My Way to You,” which captured her determination following her cancer diagnosis.

“Anything is Possible,” the record’s opener, laid out exactly how she saw her developing health situation.

“I refuse to be frightened,” she optimistically sang against a strumming guitar.

“From a grim diagnosis to the edge of psychosis, I’m refining my focus. Anything is possible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2022.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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