Behind the Music: 'Forevermore' by Side A

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Sep 05 2021 10:00 AM

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If there is one hit of Side A that is really popular with music fans aside from “Hold On,” it is undoubtedly “Forevermore,” the Joey Benin composition that was released as a CD single, flipsided by the band's version of Joey Albert’s “Tell Me.”

“Forevermore” was not included in any of the albums of Side A. The song was inevitably released after the band’s fourth album, “By Your Side,” in 1995 under Warner Music Philippines. 

Side A just came from a successful, two-month coast-to-coast tour of the US at that time, their first time to perform in the US. “After ‘By Your Side,’ Side A found it hard to look for materials,” Side A’s original bassist and songwriter, Joey Benin, told ABS-CBN News.

“Lahat kami, wala kaming maisulat at ma-produce. In fact, we even asked other composers and artists to contribute their music for that album.”

Nonoy Tan contributed a cut, “True Love Can Always Wait.” Louie Ocampo gave “So Many Questions.” Mel Villena composed “Think It’s Over.” Dingdong Eduque wrote “Set You Free,” and Benin penned the title track, “By Your Side” and “Open Your Eyes.” 

The band had a send-off concert before they left for their first US tour in 1995. “When we returned, we had a major concert at the Folk Arts Theater with Regine Velasquez. Pero wala kaming material. Wala kaming bagong song,” Benin said.

The group was reluctant to push through with the FAT concert at that time. “Ang feeling namin, we just had a concert early that year, tapos for the Folk Arts concert, ‘yun ulit ang tutugtugin namin?” Benin shared. “Wala kaming bagong original na maibigay.”

At that time, however, Benin already had a demo recording of “Forevermore,” which he did while alone at home, and completed in just one night.

For the FAT concert, Benin suggested that Side A play “Forevermore” even if the song was still unfamiliar to the audience.

“Joey [Generoso] backed me up right away when he heard that,” Benin shared. “He said, ‘Laban ako diyan. Kantahin natin [ang ‘Forevermore’] kahit bago at hindi alam ng mga tao. At least we have something new to offer to the audience’.”

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At the concert, the band did a medley of Benin’s songs from “I Believe in Dreams,” “Eva Marie,” then segued to “Forevermore.” The reception of the audience to the new ballad was simply unbelievable. 

“When the audience heard just the intro to the song, everybody went, ‘Ahhhh’,” Benin shared. “Every verse, nag-react ang crowd. It was our first time to perform the song onstage.

“First time mo nilatag ang bagong kanta, pero ang reaction ng audience, ninanamnam nila ang lyrics, every verse. Pagdating sa chorus, talagang wow. Kahit hindi pa nila alam talaga ang song.”

Unknown to the band, even while they were performing “Forevermore” that night at the FAT, Side A manager Lito Fugoso lost no time in calling up an executive of Warner, as well as the band’s senior manager, Wyngard Tracy.

Fugoso excitedly shouted, “Eto na ‘yung hinahanap nating song,” as he made them hear the strains of the ballad on the phone.

That year, Side A had no plans to release another record after “By Your Side.” However, after seeing the reception of the audience to “Forevermore,” Warner agreed to release a CD single of “Forevermore.” 

Initially, Side A had reservations about coming out with a CD single. “We thought, paano kung hindi okay?,” Benin remembered. “Ang laki ng risk. So we decided to add ‘Tell Me.’ At least, sasaluhin niya ‘yung ‘Forevermore’ kung hindi talagang kagatin ng tao.”

That CD single charted nine times platinum in sales. “Our version of ‘Tell Me,’ iba din kasi lalaki ang kumanta, si Joey G. Ang peg namin at that time, Side A was the first artist to release a CD single.

For a long while, too, Side A was banking on “Hold On” as their biggest hit. But that was eclipsed when “Forevermore” was released.

“Ang final song namin lagi in all our concerts was ‘Hold On,’” Benin said. “We thought forever na namin tutugtugin ang ‘Hold On.’ But God gave us ‘Forevermore’.”

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When it comes to songwriting, all Side A members always contribute their compositions, although Benin is apparently the more prolific and diligent one in churning out songs.

“Ever since, I really enjoy the process of songwriting,” he admitted. “At the same time, you have a band that can play your compositions. But at that time, there was just nothing musically productive from any one of us, for some reason.”

Even Generoso also writes songs, with Dino Barba as his songwriting partner. Naldy Gonzales also composes. Rodel Gonzales, the original Side A vocalist later replaced by Generoso, had his early song credits for the band, too.

Benin’s “Forevemore” came just in the nick of time for Side A. “Our family was supposed to go to Hong Kong for a holiday,” he said. “At that time, we only had three kids and Clara was the youngest. Wala pa si Sarah.

“But Wyngard came to me and said he booked a corporate gig for Side A. If I could not join, he would cancel the booking. Wyn always refused to have a reliever or sub [substitute] performing with the band. Ayaw niya kumuha ng session player.

“Ganu’n kasi talaga kami sa Side A. ‘Pag absent ang isa, mas gusto ni Wyn to cancel the gig. Huwag na lang. That was how strict he was. What happened then, naiwan ako sa bahay.”

Alone at home, Benin only took one night to get his inspiration – “Isang upo ko lang sa piano” – to come up with “Forevermore.”

“Alam mo ‘yung makina na hirap na hirap kang paandarin tapos nu’ng nilagyan mo ng oil, tuloy tuloy na?,” Benin shared about the composition. “That was what happened with the song. Nag-flow talaga. Gumawa ako agad ng demo para hindi ko makalimutan.”

However, when Tracy initially heard “Forevermore,” he was not immediately sold to releasing the single right away. “To him, parang filler lang ng album ang ‘Forevermore’ or one of the songs,” Benin said. “Then, Wyn suggested that I add a bridge, ‘Para lumipad’ ang song.”

Hence, Benin added: “Time and again. There are changes that we cannot end. Sure a star that keeps going on and on. My love for you will be forevermore.” That made the song fit for release.

“If Wyngard didn’t push me, ‘Forevermore’ would simply stand as a normal form of verse-chorus, verse-chorus tapos ad lib,” Benin explained. “Ganu’n lang. But after I added the bridge, Wyngard was right. Lumipad na ‘yung song. Nakakatuwa.”

With “Forevermore,” Side A won the Awit Award Song of the Year and Best Performance By a Group Recording Artists in 1996.

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The song also became the theme of John D. Lazatin’s movie of the same title that starred Jericho Rosales and Kristine Hermosa, as well as a 2014 teleserye starring Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano

“Forevermore” had other versions by other artists, including Martin Nievera, Regine Velasquez, Juris and even “American Idol” runner-up David Archuleta. 

The version of Archuleta came much later, but undoubtedly a perfect timing for Benin. “It was a Sunday at nasa church kami at that time and it was another answered prayer for me,” Benin said. “The pastor urged me, ‘Joey, why don’t you tell us about your song?’

“At that time, lumang-luma na ‘yung ‘Forevermore.’ Wala na ako sa Side A and I was already based in Bacolod with the family. Para sa akin kasi, I had been writing other songs. Okay na ang ‘Forevermore.’ Lumipad na siya. Luma na ‘yung song.”

The next day, Monday, Benin got a call from composer and record producer Jimmy Antiporda, who broke to him the news that David Archuleta was set to record “Forevermore” as the carrier track of the latter’s Philippine album released in 2012.

“I suddenly had the realization from God. I told myself, ‘Ano ka ba? Binigay ko sa ‘yo ang ‘Forevermore.’ Wala ‘yang kamatayan.’ Hindi ko naisip or na-acknowledge that the song came from God and walang katapusan. It’s timeless.”

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One night, while Benin was driving home along Quezon Memorial Circle, when the family was still based in Manila, Side A’s original bassist heard “Forevermore” on the radio, after a long while.

“I was surprised dahil bigla na lang akong napaiyak at that time while listening to Side A’s version,” he offered. “That was when I realized ang ganda-ganda pala talaga nu’ng song. Hindi ko ma-imagine how I composed it.”

“Forevermore” is part of the repertoire of Side A’s much-awaited “Redux Calesa 2nd Set” online concert on September 11. “We agreed that ‘Forevermore’ will be rendered as a composer’s version,” Benin announced. “So I will sing it. I gave it a different arrangement.”

Fugoso was instrumental in making the first “Redux” concert happened last January. He came in and started negotiating again for the group and arranged their schedules. Even when Tracy was still around, Fugoso was already helping out Side A then.

“Tambay ‘yan ng Calesa [Bar],” Benin said about Fugoso, who assumed the role as Side A’s manager, from the time Tracy passed away. “He was always around. That long ago.”

Benin’s daughter, Clara, a successful solo artist to date, will guest in “Redux Calesa 2” and will render the newest single that she wrote, “Momentary.” The song is still unreleased, but Side A members have interestingly added their inputs to the piece.

“Clara gave us the freedom to do whatever we want to do with her song,” the dad excitedly said.
Side A’s current drummer, Ernie Severino, who joined the band after original drummer Mar Dizon left, will also guest and play the drums in “Love Will Find A Way,” Rodel Gonzales’ composition included in the first album.

According to Dizon, “Redux Calesa 1” was not enough for the fans of Side A. “Nabitin ang mga tao. We could not replay the concert because we have to pay big royalties. So we thought of doing a second set instead. May third set na nga. And world tour when this pandemic is done.”

Among Benin’s many compositions through the years, “Forevermore” nor “Eva Marie” do not top his favorites, but “Clara’s Eyes,” a song he wrote for his eldest daughter.

“Clara’s Eyes” was fielded in as one of the finalists in the 1999 Metropop Song Festival, where the song landed in third place.

“I really wrote ‘Clara’s Eyes’ for my children, pure na pure, hoping for a better tomorrow for them,” Benin maintained. “But my wife suggested that I entered the song to join the Metropop. So I did.” 

Side A also announced an original musical with all their songs, will be mounted hopefully when the pandemic is over from the same producer as “Ang Huling El Bimbo.”

“Late in 2019, nakipag-meeting na si Lito for that project,” Benin said. “Na-hold lang all negotiations, but all of us are looking forward to that musical.”

After more than three decades of Side A, Benin still keeps the faith they can all perform live onstage together again.

“Iba siguro kung magsama-sama ulit kami ng Side A sa tugtugan at sa concert tour,” Benin said. “Masaya kami to perform together again. I always imagine the original Side A to regroup” -- Benin, Dizon, the Gonzales brothers (Rodel and Naldy), Pido Lalimarmo and Kelly Badon.

“I learned a lot from all of them. Si Mar taught me how to play the bass well. Si Naldy, I learned how to be meticulous from him. Ga-buhok lang na sintunado ang music, pinapagalitan ako ni Naldy. Nag-grow talaga ako sa Side A, sa original na group.”

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