In the world of lyric writing, there's only one Don Black, so it's fitting that his song, The TES's Anthem for the Millennium, is called "There's Only One of You". The high point of our Music for the Millennium campaign, it's been written specially to suit young singers of all ages and abilities, and is available on CD from The TES (see page 2). Don Black says he was "absolutely thrilled to write it".
A veteran lyricist whose "To Sir with Love", "Born Free" and four James Bond numbers head a list of more than 100 songs written for the movies, he has worked with composers John Barry and Andrew Lloyd Webber as well as stars such as Frank Sinatra and Smokey Robinson. He's also vice-president of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
How did he get involved with Music for the Millennium? "Debbie Wiseman approached me," he says. "We'd just worked together on the film version of Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden."
For The TES, he decided to "make the lyrics much more personal than is usual in such anthems. The basic message of "There's Only One of You" is that we're all different and that we can all make a difference."
He didn't want the Anthem for the Millennium to "be an all-purpose battle cry", but rather "something that each individual listener can relate to".
So many songs, he says, "are distancing with their stirring, patriotic and jingoistic content". And children can't easily relate to such songs. How did he think up the lyrics? He says he imagined an international chorus singing the song "and wrote the words to fit". This was partly inspired by a personal memory. Years ago, when he wrote "Born Free", it was nominated for an Academy Award, and the choir was multi-cultural. "I got goosebumps listening. I've remembered that moment with this song and I think if we can get a diverse bunch of people to perform it, it might touch the right emotions."
One of his previous hits, "To Sir with Love", must have touched a chord because, he says, "it's played a lot at American graduation days".
Nor is it the first time he has worked with children in mind. Among many such projects are the songs he wrote for the films of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Gulliver's Travels". "You have to make sure that young people are comfortable with the lyrics, that the words sit right on the notes."
But he avoids "pompous" recipes for song-writing: "I read all those books which say that the top note has to have an open vowel sound - and frankly a lot of these things are self-evident. When you write for young people you don't have to be Einstein - especially if you've got kids yourself. You just have to choose words they understand."
He originally wrote "There's Only One of You" with primary schools in mind, "but then I wrote some extra lyrics about the past and the future for secondary kids, so that older children can sing them," he says. "I love writing for children. The great lyric writers of our time, like Irving Berlin, all said that simplicity is the key to a good song."
Schoolchildren from Reay primary school, south London, were chosen to record the song at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the CD version. Don Black attended the recording session last week. "I didn't want the song to end up like a blank greetings card - something to fit any occasion," he says. "I wanted it to be specific to young people in Britain today."
A parent with grandchildren of his own, he says, "Most songwriters are children; we're professional dreamers - one minute we're children, the next, we're silly old men."
For "There's Only One of You", he found he was trying "to find a fresh way of saying a familiar thing - I'm just trying to bring a little bit of originality to well-worn themes."
"Learning music can be tough, so the more fun you can bring to it, the better it is. Without music or poetry in your life, you're basically undernourished. Hopefully, The TES song comes across as optimistic - it's basically saying that the future is up to us."