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WASHINGTON - What do Sen. Orrin Hatch and thug rapper 50 Cent have in common?
It's not multiple gunshot scars or their views on the Violence Against Women Act. Both have earned platinum albums for work on a million-selling record.
"It's an honor," says Hatch. "Some people who don't ever listen to my music, they just can't imagine how a senator can write music. They just write it off as a gimmick, but I think that says it's no gimmick."
Hatch co-wrote the song "Unspoken," an upbeat track that was recorded by Jaci Velasquez and was the title track of her 2003 album. It got regular play on Christian radio, and was chosen for the album WOW Hits 2005, a compilation of religious pop tunes that went on to sell well over 1 million copies, earning Hatch his first gold and platinum album as a songwriter.
Russ Breimeier, editor of Christian Music Today, picked out the Hatch song as one of the high points of the Velasquez album.
"That one probably stood out a little more for its funky sound and at the same time, lyrically . . . it just seemed to speak to the times a little more when we had just entered the war," Breimeier said. "It had a little more relevance than the average Christian music."
The framed platinum and gold records were mounted on the wall in the front lobby of Hatch's Washington office about a month ago.
Hatch says he makes, at the most, about eight cents per album sale, and he co-wrote "Unspoken" with two other songwriters - Madeline Stone and Toby Gad.
Gad, a New York-based songwriter, said Hatch had recommended the title to Stone, who brought it up when they were writing together. They liked the title and reworked the song, sending lyrics back and forth to Hatch. Velasquez liked the song and they retooled it further until she "could identify with the song 100 percent," Gad said.
Hatch has been the butt of jokes and jabs for his songwriting by those who dismiss the tunes as sappy fluff.
"They poke fun at it because they don't like me and they don't like my politics and they haven't listened to the music. And those who are cynical who listen to the inspirational music don't like inspirational music," Hatch said.
The senator said he has recouped most of the money he put into his songwriting. He earned about $39,000 in 2005.
Hatch's coziness with music moguls got him in trouble in July when the senator helped spring record producer Dallas Austin from a Dubai prison after Austin was arrested for possession of cocaine. Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that represents Hatch's music interests, also represents Austin and enlisted Hatch's help.
Jeff Bell, spokesman for the Utah Democratic Party, wonders if songwriting has become a distraction.
"We're glad he can find time in his busy Senate schedule to write and produce records," Bell said. "It would be nice if he could put that time into governing for Utah instead of just using his Senate seat as a way to make ends meet while he works on his budding music career."
Hatch says he writes in his spare time, late at night and on airplanes while he's traveling.
"It's been a tremendously wonderful lot of fun for me to know that I have a little bit of talent here and it's really thrilling when you hear your songs performed and you hear them done," Hatch said.
His song, "Heal Our Land" was performed at President Bush's inauguration and by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and other songs have been recorded or performed by The Boston Pops, John Schneider, Brooks and Dunn, and Gladys Knight and have appeared in TV or feature films.
In August, country artist Steve Holy released "Brand New Girlfriend," which includes the song "What Could I Do Different Tonight?" -co-written by Hatch. The album debuted at No. 2 on the country charts, has sold several hundred thousand and could end up going gold.
"It never ceases to amaze me that people like what I'm doing. I'm just humbled that they'd enjoy my music and my words and thoughts," Hatch said. "Let's hope I can do more."