Apparently you guys weren’t on board for last week’s selection, “Couldn’t Get It Right.” Hell, you were even skeptical that there was any cowbell in the song at all. (To your credit, though, I’ve never been witness to such a spirited discussion of cowbell v. woodblock.) It’s okay. I admit I was slightly
devastated affected by it, but I can’t spend time sulking, no matter how mellow a reaction it might be. I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to rebound. I’ve got to come back strong.
I’ve got to ride.
Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind (download)
Behold, mellow fans! This is what happens when a pussy puts on a cowboy hat and chaps!
We’ve encountered Christopher Cross twice before whilst spelunking deep in these mines (which I think now makes him our most frequently-covered artist so far), but oddly enough, the songs we’ve covered were not part of his unbelievable smash debut album. “Ride Like The Wind” was the first single – and an impressive entrance onto the pop scene at #2, I might add – from Christopher Cross. Yes, that’s one balls-to-the-wall album title right there, but if nothing else, it helps you understand why this song – his most uptempo, “gritty” hit – still sounds like it’s swimming upstream in oatmeal.
So, what’s the inspiration behind a wild – wild! – song like “Ride Like The Wind?” It’s hard to say. Perhaps Cross was inspired by his Texas upbringing, but let me tell you – growing up in Texas doesn’t automatically make you a cowboy. I grew up on Long Island, and I’m not a spoiled little…well, maybe this isn’t the best example. But look – this is the same man who felt that fantasy got the best of him while he was sailing, and we’re supposed to believe that he was some kind of outlaw, on the run (no time to speak)? I don’t buy it. Do you? Did anybody, even with the song being the world’s introduction to the man? Let’s examine the facts here:
1) Music. The strongest percussion in here comes from the bongos, apparently trying to replicate the sound of a horse. A horse that was doing some kind of two-step, apparently, but a horse nonetheless.
2) Lyric. “I was born the son of a lawless man.” Christopher Cross’s dad was an army officer. That seems pretty, uh…what’s the polar opposite of lawless? Not lawless? Yeah. That’s totally not lawless.
3) General Fact. This man wrote “Sailing.” I rest my case.
And don’t forget this lyrical gem: “Always spoke my mind with a gun in my hand.” Seriously. Are you buying this? And if you said “yes,” then you’re obviously Christopher Cross’s mom, and you don’t count. I did a play once where I had to smoke a cigarette. (If you can’t imagine how awkward this looks, imagine Christopher Cross trying to get on a horse. Same thing.) My mom told me I did “a very nice job.” She was lying. My point is that you can try to escape who you are, but you had better have some cojones behind it. Or at least a snare drum. I’m just saying.
For argument’s sake, let’s pretend for a second that we’re on board with this absurd role-playing fantasy. Mr. Cross is some kind of outlaw. And I can relate. Can’t we all? I ask you: who among us hasn’t had to ride, ride like the wind, to be free again? What’s that? None of us? Okay, clearly this isn’t working. I just can’t be convinced, no matter what.
Even the first line is making it difficult for me to go along with this story: “It is the night, my body’s weak.” I know what I’m supposed to think.
Exterior: Death Valley, CA
Time: 9:00 PM
The sun has set, but the temperature is still a blistering 92°. Our protagonist is stumbling through miles of flat, dusty terrain. He can still hear the rumble of horses’ hooves, but he isn’t sure whether he’s still being followed or they’re merely in his head. In his mouth is the taste of sand, kicked up by his spurs. He desperately wants to rest, but he can’t. It is the night. His body’s weak. He’s on the run, no time to speak. He’s got to ride. Ride like the wind.
Instead, this is all I can really think of:
Interior: Dunkin’ Donuts, Grand Rapids, MI
Time: 10:30 PM
The sun has set, but the temperature inside is still a cool 62°. Our protagonist is lying on the floor near the cash register. He can still hear the sound of the cashier, asking him if he’s sure he wants a fifth French Cruller, but he isn’t sure whether it’s just the sound of his rumbling gut echoing in his ears. In his mouth is the taste of glazed sugar. He desperately wants to eat another one, but he can’t. It is the night. His body’s weak. He’s trying to roll over, no time to speak. He’s got to eat. Eat like the wind.
Now this, I’m buying.
But it wasn’t just the lyrics. It was the vocal. As I said in a previous Mellow Gold, the vocal for “Ride Like The Wind” is edgy if you consider Emo Phillips edgy. He doesn’t sound like he’s in danger, or even mildly threatened. He just sounds so whiny, and…hey, you know who he sounds like? He sounds like that d-bag from Washington Square Park!
Anyway, you all know what I’m leading up to at this point: the fact that the reason this song was a #2 hit – and a Mellow Gold classic – is because of one person.
I don’t know how they met, and frankly, I don’t give a shit. All that’s important was that McD joined Cross in the studio, and added some great lead vocal lines – most likely because Cross was busy with an Egg McMuffin.
I know that you’re all chomping at the bit right now, thinking “SCTV! SCTV!” Here’s the clip from SCTV – later referenced in a Yacht Rock ep – of Michael McDonald recording his vocal.
I like this clip, but it drives me nuts, because it’s historically inaccurate: they don’t include McD singing the “ba da ba da” part. That was, like, all McD, man! Damn.
Anyway, you have to love McD’s part on this song. (And I mean that: it’s a requirement for visiting this site.) I think the whole song should have been McD. My favorite McD moment in this song is the very last “such a long way to go.” It’s a bit varied from the others, and has that sound of “C’mon, Chris, how many more times are you gonna make me sing this line? I can’t write this for you,” with Chris in the control booth, speculating on how much of a moneymaker McD will be, frantically betting on horses and going, “Just one more, Mike! Please!”
So although the truth is probably that the Cross/McD hookup was probably orchestrated by producer Michael Omartian or somebody at Warner Bros owed a favor, the two became friends and co-collaborators. (One day we’ll take a look at the non-MG song “Someday,” by Cross with McD backing vocals. Jeff sent it to me one day and I subquently played it 14 times in a row.) Here’s a performance of “Ride Like The Wind” from McD’s A Gathering Of Friends DVD.
It strikes me that going to see Christopher Cross live might be the most tepid concert imaginable. Although here’s what makes this clip awesome:
– Christopher Cross actually sounding weak on “My body’s weak.” I’ve heard three live performances of this song, and I have yet to hear him actually hit the right note on the word “weak.” How apropos! He just always goes a little flat.
– Backing vocals: Kim Carnes, y’all! Top single of 1981, and now she’s singing backup on “Ride Like The Wind” in The Michael McDonald Band.
– Michael McDonald’s vocals, obviously, but specifically his last “such a long way to go,” which impresses Cross enough that he forgets to come in with the next line and has to rush it, and his ad-libs over Cross’s guitar solo.
– Cross’s guitar solo. He’s a great fucking guitarist, actually, which you’d never know from the mellow original. See, on the original, he’s rippin’ it on guitar, but Omartian knew: don’t put the guitar higher than McD. Nobody knows you play guitar, Chris, and that’s okay. Let them think you just sit and eat Combos while the Doobie Brother does the heavy lifting.
Need more Cross/McD? Here’s a clip from ’98, notable because McD is playing keyboards and looks like he came from the same Dunkin’ Donuts that Cross just left. Also, Cross still can’t hit the notes. He gets points for consistency, though.
Despite all this ribbing, “Ride Like The Wind” has endured as a classic, and not just to us mellow-lovin’
dorks enthusiasts. The kids seem to like “Ride Like The Wind” as well. Do a search on iTunes, and you’ll find countless remixes and remakes – even entire EPs – devoted to “Ride Like The Wind.” Here are two for your listening pleasure:
Ride Like The Wind (remix) (download) I don’t know anything about this one except that Jeff gave it to me. I think he has an entire album of Christopher Cross and Stephen Bishop dance mixes.
Well, I think I’ve made enough fat jokes for one week, don’t you? Ride like the wind, mellow miners, and we’ll see you next time on Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!