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For more than four decades, Dean Friedman has been reinventing himself creatively. But at heart, he’s still a singer-songwriter.

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Dean Friedman
Dean Friedman

Dean Friedman is pop and folk singer-songwriter. He is best remembered for his 1977 hit “Ariel,” which stayed in the Billboard singles charts for twenty-two months.

Raised in a New Jersey suburb of New York City, Friedman began playing guitar at age 9 and performed professionally as a teenager. He studied music at City College of New York, and secured a record contract by the time he was 20. His first single, “Ariel,” was an international hit. His 1978 single “Lucky Stars” made number 3 in the UK singles chart. In 1982 his song “McDonald’s Girl” was banned by the BBC for its reference to the fast food company. Friedman was dropped by his record label when he refused to change the title. Although he continued writing music for film and television, he didn’t release his next album until 1998.

In the meantime, Friedman wrote the first consumer guide to synthesizers, made a video series on the nascent instruments, and worked as a designer of interactive virtual reality games. In 2011, “McDonalds Girl” was licensed for a McDonalds commercial.


Dean Friedman is a singer-songwriter of delightful contradictions. He’s a pop and folk singer with a rebellious streak who spent decades in the wilderness after his major label contract was canceled, because he refused to change the title of one of his songs. And though chart-wise, his heyday was in the late 1970s, he still occupies a place in the hearts of his fans, who four decades in, continue to buy his records and show up to his gigs to hear his evocative, often whimsical story-songs.  

(Dean Friedman singing “Jennifer’s Baby”) 

Jennifer waited a year and a day 

She went to the doctors and they told her to pray 

She knew there was only so much they could say 

So, Jennifer decided there must be another way 

So, wake up the neighbors and break out the ale 

Jennifer’s baby just came in the mail 

She’s pink and she’s perfect in every detail 

And Jennifer’s a mommy now 

Dean Friedman has had his share of ups and downs, but today he’s still fundamentally an optimist. 

Dean Friedman: Yeah, woulda, coulda, shoulda. It becomes irrelevant at some point if you appreciate what you do have. 

What he does have is an unexpectedly wide sphere of influence for an artist who is best remembered in the U.S. for a song about adolescent infatuation in the New Jersey suburbs.  

(Dean Friedman singing “Ariel”) 

She was a Jewish girl, I fell in love with her 

She wrote her number on the back of my hand 

I called her up, I was all out of breath 

I said come hear me play in my rock and roll band 

I took a shower and I put on my best blue jeans 

I picked her up in my new VW van 

She wore a peasant blouse with nothing underneath 

I said hi, she said, Yeah, I guess I am  



“Ariel” spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking in the top 30, but it first had to overcome some record company jitters. 

Friedman: There’s a line, “She was a Jewish girl, “I fell in love with her.” Well, my record company insisted that I change the lyric, while at the same time recut the single down and remove the whole verse. They argued that stations in the South would refuse to play the song with a reference to a Jewish girl. 

AJC: Why was she a Jewish girl? 

Friedman: She was! She just was, that was the character. “Ariel” was sort of a composite of all these Jewish girls from suburbia that I had a crush on growin’ up as a teenager in Paramus, New Jersey, and so it was kind of a fantasy. To my great satisfaction, stations in the South refused to play the edited single version and insisted on playing the full-length album cut. 

AJC: With the Jewish girl reference. 

Friedman: With the Jewish girl reference into it. 

This was not the last time that Friedman would fight with a record company. In 1981, his song “McDonald’s Girl” was banned by the BBC for its reference to the fast food chain.  

(Dean Friedman singing “McDonald’s Girl”)  

I am in love with a McDonald’s girl  

She has a smile of innocence oh so tender and warm  

He refused to rename it, and so his major record label, Epic, dumped him. Friedman decided if he was going to be punished for being seen to support McDonald’s, maybe McDonald’s should support him. 

Friedman: I actually got an appointment with the marketing people at McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, flew out there, and I went there a day early just so that I knew the lay of the land, how to get there. I didn’t want to be late. And as I’m walking around the lobby, I noticed the door to the mail room was ajar. And I had printed up a whole batch of flexi singles, those flexible discs you used to get in magazines, of “McDonald’s Girl,” and so I had a brainstorm. I’m thinkin’, oh, this’ll be a great idea. I walked into the mail room of McDonald’s corporate headquarters and I said to the guy who’s puttin’ all the letters to the corporate executives in the bins, I said, “Look, if I give you 20 bucks, would you put one of these flexi discs in every one of these mailboxes?” He said, “Sure!” And he did, and I set ’em there and he put the, and I walked away thinking, oh, this is brilliant, what a great idea, everyone at McDonald’s is gonna hear the single, they’re gonna love it. They can’t help but love it, and they’re gonna call me up at the next meeting, tomorrow, and I’ll land a major national TV radio campaign. Of course, by the time I got back to where I was staying, they had canceled the meeting. Because they took so much offense to the fact that someone had violated the sanctity of their mail room. And so, I was kinda crestfallen and I kinda went back home with my tail between my legs. 

This setback was not the end of Dean Friedman’s career, rather, the beginning of several new ones. And acquaintance of his was the U.S. distributor of a revolutionary new synthesizer, the Synclavier, and Friedman would call by his office regularly to play around with this new gadget. 

Friedman: One day, as I was up there, a phone call came in. They were looking for someone to write a book on all the new synthesizers that were coming out. And someone said, “Well, Dean seems to know a lot about synthesis, put him on the phone,” and I did, and somehow, with no education in electronics or electronic music or synthesis, talked my way into writing what became the first consumer guide to synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines!  

Friedman’s book and accompanying video series are still considered seminal tools, thanks to his straightforward approach. 

(Clip from Dean Friedman’s Intro to Synthesis

Hi everyone, I’m Dean Friedman, Director of the New York School of Synthesis. I’m here to explain everything there is to know about music synthesis, and how to make sounds on all these neat, amazing synthesizers.   

Friedman: And I get compliments from artists and musicians of every ilk, who say, “I went to audio engineering school for four years, and it wasn’t until I watched your videos that I actually understood what I was doing, trying to make a sound on a synthesizer.” 

AJC: Wow.  

Friedman: So that’s really gratifying. 

AJC: Right. 

Friedman: ‘Cause one thing is, with all the change in technology and evolution of microchips, what haven’t changed is the physics of sound. 

Soon, Friedman’s love of tinkering brought him to yet another frontier, virtual reality. For a period in the early 1990s, he was the go-to designer of VR and interactive games for theme parks and museums all over the world, as well as the children’s TV network Nickelodeon. And though he continued writing music for film and television, it would be almost two decades before he would make a new record. In 1998, Friedman released his first studio album in 17 years, Songs for Grownups.  

(Dean Friedman singing “Don’t Mourn Don’t Cry”) 

I never told you, but it’s time you learned 

The truth about your mom 

She was working for the Soviets 

When they stole the atomic bomb 

You were born in a bomb bay, in a bomb bay 

When they turned the search lights on 

And don’t, don’t cry 

All God’s children have a right to die 

And she did more living than the next guy 

In 2001, Friedman became one of the first musicians to adopt the now nearly ubiquitous model of crowdfunding. He wrote to his website subscribers making an offer. If they would help him finance his new record, they’d each get a signed copy when it was done. 

Friedman: I was a little nervous when I sent that email out, ’cause I was worried that everyone would write back and say, “Dean, why don’t you get a proper job?” 

AJC: How many subscribers did you have to your newsletter at that point? 

Friedman: Not more than a thousand. And some people did write back and say, “Why don’t you get a proper job? I work for a living, you should too,” but enough people were supportive of the idea that I was able to get the funds to upgrade the studio and pay musicians and come out with a new album! 

Friedman has since put out three more well-received albums, as well as another book. He also tours regularly and holds songwriting retreats for aspiring and seasoned musicians alike. He’s even enjoyed a satisfying epilogue to the “McDonald’s Girl” saga. In 1991, a then-unknown Canadian band called the Barenaked Ladies had their first radio hit in Toronto with a cover of “McDonald’s Girl.”  

(The Barenaked Ladies singing “McDonald’s Girl”) 

I am in love with a McDonald’s girl  

She has a smile of innocence oh so tender and warm  

I am in love with a McDonald’s girl  

She is an angel in a polyester uniform  

Then, in the early 2000s, the song got another boost from YouTube, where scores of a cappella groups posted their own versions

(a capella group singing “McDonald’s Girl”) 

Will you go out with me please  

I am in love with a McDonald’s girl  

She has a smile of innocence so soft tender and warm  

And in 2011, things came full circle when McDonald’s licensed the song for a national ad campaign.  

(“McDonald’s Girl” featured in a McDonald’s commercial) 

She has a smile of innocence oh so tender and warm  

I am in love with a McDonald’s girl hey yeah  

She is an angel in a golden arches uniform  

Today, Dean Friedman continues to approach everything he does with wisdom, craft, and humor. 

Friedman: It starts with play, it starts with inspiration, and having fun, ’cause if it’s not fun, there’s other things that you can do to make money.