“Ariel,” a catchy song about having a crush on a carefree Jewish girl, was a one-hit wonder from singer-songwriter Dean Friedman in 1977 — an era saturated with poetic artists like himself: Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon.
But Friedman, a 56-year-old Peekskill resident, has carved a unique career for himself since his flirtation with Billboard’s hot 100 in the mid-1970s, though most people in the U.S. have been unaware of Friedman for years for lack of commercial success. His tune "Lucky Stars” was a big hit in England, where he is well-known and continues to tour every year, and "McDonald's Girl,” a lovely love song which was banned by the BBC because the chorus mentions the fast food restaurant, is finally being featured on McDonald’s TV commercials after 30 years under the radar.
Friedman continues to write and release well-regarded albums for both adults and kids. His influence can be heard today in the music of contemporary bands like Barenaked Ladies, the Blenders and Ben Folds Five — honest lyrics about real life framed by often unforgettable pop hooks.
Before he flies overseas for his yearly eight-week tour in the United Kingdom, Friedman will play a solo show at Sandpiper Ice Cream in Greenport this Saturday at 8 p.m.
Patch asked Friedman a few questions over the phone before his show this weekend.
Patch: Have you ever played an ice cream shop before?
Friedman: I can’t say that I have. I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t been on Long Island in probably a decade. I started out playing gigs on Long Island, and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the audience in your neck of the woods.
Patch: How is it for you, living here in the U.S., but having more of a fan base in the U.K.?
Friedman: Well, it’s just my reality, so it’s hard to get a good perspective on that. It’s always been a little frustrating not being able to tour as readily in my own backyard, it’s a bit of a commute but I always appreciate the enthusiastic audiences we have in the U.K. I have supportive listeners here too, though it’s been hard to track down my music. The Internet has made a big difference in recent years there though, so now I feel I have the best of both worlds.
Patch: Some artists I’ve talked to in the past who made it big in a certain era carry around the identity of that era as they evolve — how have you evolved since the ‘70s?
Friedman: When I was coming up, people like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell — I felt like they were my elder siblings and I tried to do them proud. So yeah, in some modest way I still feel like a part of that media stew, though I am more readily acknowledged across the pond. I’m more low profile here, but I know I’ve made an impact on younger musicians all over the world.
Patch: McDonald’s finally started using your tune “McDonald’s Girl” on commercials last year — how do you feel about that?
Friedman: That song has always been problematic for me. I’ve always loved the tune — always knew it was a pure pop hit, but the same thing happened to The Kinks and “Lola” — they had to change Coca Cola to cherry cola in the lyrics because they couldn’t use a commercial name if they wanted radio play. But once YouTube came along it became a whole different story. Independent artists picked it up, high school acapella groups picked it up and acted out the whole story of the McDonald’s girl. And I’m getting a kick out of the McDonald’s commercials after all these years. For me, that speaks to the power of the song itself.
Patch: “Ariel,” “McDonald’s Girl” — these and many of your songs are poetic takes on everyday, real life things. Is this what still inspires you as a songwriter?
Friedman: It’s one of those writer’s axioms — it make sense to write about what you know, not to say I always do. I take liberal use of my poetic license. When I write it’s because there is something I really meant to say, something that matters that happened with friends or family or life in general — that gives me a chance to really resonate with other people.
Patch: You’ve been at this a long time — what do you think of the music industry of today?
Friedman: One thing that remains true about the music business is that talented people will always find a way to get heard. I’m a big fan of Jewel, though we haven’t heard from her in a while. I applaud John Mayer for his songwriting, though I think he’s an idiot as a person. And I love Pink — she writes about the real world in her own way, which is cool.
Get $20 tickets at Friedman’s official webpage www.deanfriedman.com or go to Sandpiper Ice Cream while you buy a cone.