Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 33

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So.

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!

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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.

Ride Like The Wind (Layman Mix) (download) – this one comes from the excellent Born Again ’80s, which you should check out if, you know, you like ’80s songs. And remixes.

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!

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  • Michael K

    That "Gerry Todd" clip is great.  Loved that bit on SCTV.
    In the live Cross clip, how about the part with 2:00 left and he has to hurry the "makeittotheborderofmexico" line?  I had to replay that a few times, LOL.
     
     
     

  • http://jabartlett.wordpress.com jb

    It’s my theory that Christopher Cross came along about a dozen years too early. That thin, whiny voice sounded perfect alongside Celine Dion and Kenny G on adult contemporary radio in the early 90s; if he’d made a record then and screeched just a little bit more, he wouldn’t be working at the Kwik-E-Mart today.

  • Pete

    Glad to see you referenced the SCTV clip, Jason…as it’s now the first thing I think of when I hear this song. (Well, actually the second…after the b&w photo of "3 Time Grammy Award Winner: Michael McDonald".) For some reason, my best friend Nate was convinced for the longest time that Christopher Cross was blind-don’t ask me why, I have no idea…I don’t think he had ever actually seen a photo of the man. Perhaps whiney vocals = lack of sight? lol.

  • David

    Jason, I hate to be a stickler here, but that’s not Michael McDonald in the background of “Ride Like The Wind.”

    It’s a wood block.

  • http://jasonhare.com Jason

    David, can you e-mail me your address?  I have a Lou Reed CD you might be interested in.

  • Dan

    OF course there are countless mulititudes of reasons to love this post of Mellow Gold (not to mention EVERY post of Mellow Gold and everything else you do), but I’m a useless slab of giggles as soon as you throw in that Washington Square Park D-bag. Can he be your unofficial mascot for all time? Mimng. Another great job, Jason. Thanks for (yet again) almost getting me fired at work. (And, NO, I SHOULDN’T know better than to read your postings at work. I just won’t stop.)

  • Grumpies

    Also, I think this is one of the few songs in pop history in which the singer holds a note on a consonant instead of a vowel. In the first verse, Christopher sings, "I’m on the runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, no time to sleep",  whereas usually in a pop song it would be sung, "I’m on the ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun … I always thought that was interesting anyway.

  • Old Davy

    Another home run, Jason.  You’re absolutely right…the only reason why this song got any exposure was because of MMcD’s work on it.  Hey, it’s why I bought the album.  I remember hearing the song on the radio and thinking "Hmmm…this isn’t too bad, it kind of rocks, and it has MMcD on it to boot. I think I’ll shell out $4.96 for the album."  Imagine my surprise when I put it on the turntable and the mellow just POURED out of the speakers.  But the really shocking thing is, when I played this album for my best friend (who was into Black Sabbath & Pink Floyd at the time) he really DUG it.  Especially "Sailing" and that was even before "Sailing" was released as a single.  Equally shocking is when I saw a picture of CC for the first time.  Here’s this really whimpy, high-pitched squealing voice coming out of a linebacker bear of a guy.  Kind of like hearing David Gates speak…you wouldn’t know it from his singing voice, but when he speaks out comes a deep growling gargling noise.  That reminds me…how about some Bread Mellow Gold??  Oops, gotta run like the wind.  The guys in the white jump suits have found me…

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com Robert

    Good point, Grumpies.  And by stressing the N in "run," it almost sounds like Chris Cross is skidding to a stop, doesn’t it?  Irony … God bless.  Everyone should check out the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Christopher Cross that I forced Jefito to write at gunpoint.  For some reason I love bringing that up any chance I get.

    And since I’m already repeating myself, "Ride Like the Wind" reminds me of Patton Oswalt’s bit about Damn Yankees’ "High Enough" video.  A coworker and I were talking about "Ride Like the Wind" yesterday, in fact, and how silly it is to think of Cross being a dangerous outlaw.  At least Ted Nugent looks like he could start some shit in a convenience store or go crazy and pick off some animal-rights protesters from the window of a book depository.

    But I still love this song.  And I love that "SCTV" clip.  And although I’m a stickler for realistic details in comedy sometimes, I can forgive Rick Moranis for missing out on McDonald’s "ba da ba" part.

    Pete, it’s possible that your friend thought Cross was blind because he made it big on the pop charts around the same time as Ronnie Milsap, who was also pretty mellow.  That’s one theory anyway.

  • http://standup101.blogspot.com Lucy

    Great to come across your blog.  I will definitely be stopping back soon. I’m also a working entertainer in the Big Apple.  (I’m a female standup comic.)  My blog is nowhere near as cool as yours.  I’m going to have to ask you for some pointers.My Blog: http://standup101.blogspot.com~ lucy

  • http://rapidshare.com/files/18650985/Pseudobiography.rar Dw Dunphy

    From the Department of Disillusionment: "Ride Like The Wind" is actually about Cross’ food poisoning incident at Taco Bell. But I do think it would be nice if someone actually did a truly badass cover of this, maybe someone with a manly, mean voice that sounded like they might actually kill someone in cold blood… Tom Waits, Paul Westerberg, maybe Cher. Y’know, someone with the balls to do it right.  DwD

  • http://downwithsnark.blogspot.com Michael

    For accuracy’s sake, I feel I have to remind everyone that I played with
    "WSP-d bag" for the better part of a summer, and really, he didn’t sound anything like that.
     
    Still, I love Jason’s Budweiser ferret voice. Up with Jason’s Budweiser ferret voice. I think you should sing along with everything you post from now on.
     
    Also, oh MAN do I love Ride Like the Wind, I cannot wait to get home and listen to the remixes.

  • Dave P

    JB, I think that, if anything, Christopher Cross came along about a dozen years too *late* (or maybe five or six years)… he became a star on the eve of MTV becoming a big force in pop music. And when you look like a doughy ex-linebacker who just pulled an allnighter at the Krispy Kreme, your music career’s going to be affected. Hell, it’s almost like the Buggles killed Christopher Cross specifically. Or their song did. Aw jeez, you know what I’m driving at, right?

    That said, Christopher Cross is the shit.

  • http://schiing.blogspot.com/ Terje

    I have a soft heart and I like to think of Cross as the nicest and most modest Grammy winner you’ll ever meet and I love the fact that he’s so uncharismatic on stage. He should be a role model for new artists: "Guys, don’t look at me. Just pay attention to the music, OK? I’ll step back here so you can get a good look at the rhythm section while I’m singing." He’s dedicated to his music, see, not to his ego. Right? Or is it just an illusion? You know, he even offered to buy Bobby Alessi a Ferrari. Didn’t do it in the end, though. Bought two BMW’s for himself instead. That sucks.

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com/ Robert

    According to Jefito, Cross wasn’t so nice when he interviewed him a decade or so ago. Neither was Peter Cetera. I seem to recall Jeff saying that Cetera gave off a paranoid Mafioso kind of vibe. But Peter, if you’re listening, I’m just quoting Jeff. I LOVE your music, sir. Jeff was the 14-year-old cub reporter who wanted to bring you down, not me.

    Terje, I didn’t realize until now that you’re responsible for that Alessi Brothers song from a few months back. Good work, sir!

    If anyone wants to know, I’m at 11:38 right now in “Metal Machine Music, Part I.” It ain’t so bad if you’re listening to it while also doing something else. Still, I wish I’d had this in the fall of 2005 when my then-asshole neighbor (translation: still an asshole, but no longer my neighbor) was blasting me with his shitty music. This would’ve been great retaliation at full blast. Then again, I probably would’ve had to go for a walk while this was playing.

  • jhensy

    Way back when, upon hearing Michael McDonald sing, a friend of mine said, "Why does he always sound like he’s about to yawn?"

  • http://mostlymodernmusic.blogspot.com BD

    Speaking of percussion — you just don’t see that many bongo/conga players any more. Even the guy is Guster spends half his time behind a kit now.<br><br>There’s a strange symmetry between McD’s hair and his beard. They’re not the same length — that would be weird — but it’s as if he went for a uniform look all the way around. It’s strangely mesmerizing.

  • David

    … Speaking of fat jokes, at the 2:45 remaining mark of the Gathering of Friends performance, I believe we’re treated to Alan Parsons on acoustic guitar. He’s as big as Thor these days — both vertically and across.

  • JT

    J, did I hear a quick ‘Woman’ slipped into the WSP DB rendition of ‘Ride Like the Wind’? If so – nice touch.

  • http://jasonhare.com Jason

    Good catch. :)

  • Broad

    I agree — WSP DB must make an appearance for every single post ever. He never fails to make me giggle.

  • http://www.earstation.com/franz/ Franz Hemingbeck

    At the beginning of the "Gathering of Friends" clip, the legendary session bassist Tommy Sims is walking off stage. Why?

  • http://popdose.com/chart-attack-4580/ CHART ATTACK!: 4/5/80 | Popdose

    […] devoted the entirety of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold #33 to this fantastic song, and between mentions of Cross, McDonald, Kim Carnes, and a special […]

  • http://autographedcat.livejournal.com/ Autographedcat

    I always loved the late Richard Jeni’s routine about Christopher Cross:

    “I went to see Christopher Cross in concert, because…..well, somebody had to. So there we were, me and Chris…

    Ever notice how Christopher Cross always sounds like he’s driving past you in a car? It’s like the Doppler effect:

    “ooooooooooooooooooooooooone in your life you fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind” (mimes looking back and forth)

    [[All from memory, so may be mangled. I think but cannot swear that this is from the “Boy From New York City” special.]]

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