Alicia Keys, born Alicia Augello Cook, is one of the world’s most famous female R&B singer-songwriters. She has released many albums over the course of her successful career, selling tens of millions of copies, but what was her first song?
Alicia Key’s first song was the single “Fallin'” from the album Songs in A Minor, with Alicia both writing and producing the track. “Fallin’” was hugely successful, hitting the number one spot in the charts.
Keys is no one-hit-wonder by any stretch of the imagination, but “Fallin'” is definitely what many may consider as one of her best songs, the one that they most easily identify the singer with.
Although it was a massive hit, the road to writing it was anything but easy.
Establishing Herself as a Writer and Producer
Seeing the quality and consistency of her work as a music artist, you’d think that the talent of Keys was evident for anyone who was a seasoned music industry veteran. In the case of Keys, who not only wrote the songs but the music also, as well as having some serious production chops, you’d think that it would be doubly evident.
Whether it was down to hubris, the fact that Keys was a fresh young musician, or simply that there were other discriminations at play, her relationship with Columbia Records soured almost as soon as she was able to start working for them.
It’s fairly standard in the industry, especially in the case of a less established artist like the incredibly young Keys, that the record label will add experienced songwriters and music producers to assist in the production of new songs.
Their attempt to add their own people into the equation, instead of being complementary, was disruptive and did nothing but interfere with Keys’ creative process. Not only was the productivity being harmed, but so was Key’s faith in her ability to work with Columbia.
She was routinely dismissed by the people assigned to work with her, a fact that made her completely sick with even the very idea of going into the studio to work on the tracks.
It was a brutal start for an artist who already had a strong vision of who she wanted to be and what she wanted to achieve musically, almost immediately putting her on the wrong foot with the disillusionment of the industry.
As an antidote to the issues she was having, she opted to strike out on her own path, learning as much as she could about the technical side of production. To Keys’ mind, if she could learn to independently produce all of her music, she wouldn’t need to rely on the record label.
Breaking Away From Columbia
With all of the aforementioned issues that had taken place over the course of her deal with Columbia, Keys had seen the writing on the wall as far as her future with the record label was concerned.
Breaking away wasn’t as simple as simply citing creative differences and walking off into the sunset, however, with the record label holding the threat over her head of keeping all the music that she had made thus far.
The relationship was so badly damaged, and Keys’ faith in the label was so compromised that she was simply willing to accept that as the price of escaping from underneath the pressure she was being under to change or compromise her creative vision.
Thankfully for her, however, she received a blessing in the form of Clive Davis of Arista Records.
When Davis was first introduced to Keys music and style, he said that he was “blown away” by what he saw and heard. He immediately recognized the talent that she possessed and got to the task of familiarizing himself further with the singer.
This particular aspect of the relationship was what clinched the deal for Keys, appreciating the fact that for once her own ideas and goals were being taken into consideration. The new relationships she built at Arista also helped her to escape the grasp of the Columbia contract, along with the music she had written.
A few more years of honing her craft and a few more delays saw her eventually move to J Records along with Davis, where her first song and first hit “Fallin’” was finally released. It was a long journey for the singer, but one that proved to be worth it, as she preserved her own style and sound.