“I wrote the words on the way down from Houston to Austin on acid.”
Ride Like The Wind – Christopher Cross
Warner Bros 49184 (USA) /Warner Brothers K 17582 (UK)
Recorded at Warner Brothers Studios, North Hollywood, CA
Released 15th February 1980
Writer Christopher Cross
Producer Michael Omartian
USA #2 4/80 UK #69 4/80
*Song dedicated by Cross to Lowell George of Little Feat who died in 1979
Something of an overnight sensation, particularly in America, Christopher Cross apparently appeared out of nowhere towards the end of 1979, though he never really lived up to this initial success to make any lasting impression. His brace of hits stretched from 1980 until early 1984 though his second album lacked any strong single material and was more a sort of glossily overproduced nothingness. Cross suffered from a common music biz affliction – his initial album consisted of the best of his material composed over several years and consequently there was nothing left for a follow-up. His debut album Christopher Cross (released in December 1979) gave him 2 massive hits with ‘Ride Like The Wind’ and ‘Sailing’ (plus additional US Top 20 hits ‘Never Be The Same’ and ‘Say You’ll Be Mine’) and a handful of Grammy awards and spent 81 weeks on the US charts whereas second album, Another Page, (1983) was something of a disappointment to both fans and his record label, and strangely did not include his intermittent hit ‘Arthur’s Theme’. It only made Number 11 in the US with a mere 11 weeks on the charts. Two further albums for Warners followed (Every Turn Of The World 1985, Back Of My Mind 1988), but neither produced any hits and he was dropped by the label in 1988. From being a huge star, Cross had just as suddenly become a ‘has-been’. (While neither ‘Ride Like The Wind’ or ‘Sailing’ made the UK Top 40 his debut album spent 77 weeks on the album charts peaking at #14)
Born Christopher Geppert in San Antonio, Texas, in 1951, he had been in bands since his teens, was a friend of other local musicians including Stevie Ray Vaughan, his brother Jimmy and Billy Gibbons, and his early band, Flash, had opened for such international acts as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Indeed Cross once stood in for guitarist Richie Blackmore when he was taken ill, apparently at Purple’s gig at San Antonio’s Jam Factory in August 1970. Influenced by Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Beatles, Beach Boys and in particular Joni Mitchell, though Cross played in cover-bands throughout the 1970s he began writing his own songs which eventually got him a solo deal with Warners in 1979. While some biographies state that Cross was signed on the basis of his original material, he has more recently revealed that they were more attracted to his voice which they saw as ‘radio friendly and unique’ and the original intention was to release an album of cover versions from other contemporary writers. It was Warner staff producer Michael Omartian who favoured Cross’s own material and according to an interview with Cross on Songfacts, “He really fought hard to let me record my own songs.” From being an obscure unknown new artist recording his songs in the studio in 1979, Cross found himself opening at live concerts for mega-acts like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac just a few months later.
His first 2 major hits, the one’s that still remain the highlight of his catalogue, ‘Ride Like The Wind’ and ‘Sailing’ were both composed over a lengthy period of time. ‘Sailing’ took over 2 years to complete and while Cross was playing with cover bands by night he was trying to write songs in the daytime recalling, “I’d sit around and bang out tunes. I remember writing ‘Sailing’ at the kitchen table when my son was about two.” ‘Ride Like The Wind’ was apparently pieced together over a similar period of time and tells the story of a man on the run from a potential death sentence, trying to make it to the Mexican border to escape justice (not far from Cross’s San Antonio base) and is according to Cross a kind of modern day Western inspired by movies and TV series’ like The Lone Ranger that Cross had watched in his youth.
Cross states that the main musical theme originated from a jam that he and his band used to play in a live cover of Paul McCartney’s song ‘Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five’ (from Band On The Run) and has more recently admitted to having written the lyrics while on an acid-trip! “We were living in Houston at the time so on the way down to Austin to record the songs, I took acid. So I wrote the words on the way down from Houston to Austin on acid.” (Let’s hope he wasn’t the one driving!) The success of ‘Ride Like The Wind’ can also be attributed to the presence of Michael McDonald on background vocals – as a member of the contemporarily popular Doobie Brothers McDonald’s voice was already familiar to radio programmers – he was a friend of producer Michael Omartian, and liking Cross’s material, offered his services on backing vocals. A further Omartian associate Don Henley (another man with a highly distinctive voice) also sang backing vocals on the album and the entire project was recorded using the Los Angeles studio musicians A-team.
At the time ‘Ride Like The Wind’ was released there had been something of a backlash against disco music that had been predominant for the previous few years – radio were looking for something new, and Cross’s well produced and radio friendly pop/soft-rock certainly fit the bill. The presence of Mr McDonald’s voice was a great advantage and the single helped the album take off shifting 5 million copies in the US and a few million more around the world. Cross himself had hoped the album might sell around 50,000 copies and give him the basis for a continuing career, and was as surprised as everybody else when the album took off in a major way. ‘Ride Like The Wind’ reached Number 2 in America, while the Number 1 follow-up ‘Sailing’ was the one that cleaned up at the Grammy awards in 1981 winning for Record, Song and Arrangement of the year. He also won the Grammy for album of the year beating out Pink Floyd’s The Wall and a 5th Grammy for Best New Artist. (Mr Cross’s ‘Sailing’ is, by the way, a completely different song from the famous Rod Stewart hit of 1975)
Something of a reluctant celebrity, a little on the chubby side, and not exactly a popstar pin-up boy (he has frequently been described as looking like ‘your average Joe’ – UK readers may notice a resemblance to ‘Benny’ from Crossroads!), Cross was never comfortable with making videos and when MTV arrived in time for his second album his career undoubtedly suffered. Radio stations who’d played his 1980/1 hits to death now totally ignored him. Cross had in fact been lucky to get signed at all in the first place – every major record company had turned down his demos since the mid-1970s – indeed even Warners said ‘no thanks’ in 1975 – and these days he wouldn’t stand a chance since ‘image’ is everything and music by and large a secondary consideration when labels are signing new artists.
In the meantime he had initially been offered the job of writing the soundtrack for the Dudley Moore/Liza Minnelli movie Arthur – when the offer was withdrawn and given to Burt Bacharach instead, Mr Bacharach contacted Cross and asked if he’d like to help out with a title song. ‘Arthur’s Theme’ (played by most of Toto with Ernie Watts on saxophone) became his only major international hit, a US Number 1 in 1981 selling over a million (and winning an Oscar) and Top 10 in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Norway (#1), Switzerland and the UK. Written by Bacharach (music), his future wife Carole Bayer-Sager (lyrics) and Christopher Cross (music and lyrics), an additional credit went to Peter Allen for the single line ‘When you get caught between the moon and New York City’ which he’d written with Bayer-Sager for a previously unfinished song. Bayer-Sager rang Allen to ask if she could use his line which perfectly suited the song, and consequently Mr Allen shared in the royalties of ‘Arthur’ which still receives a considerable amount of radio play around the world some 30 years later. (Arthur by the way is surely a contender for one of the most dreadful movies of all time?)
Despite no longer being in the limelight, Christopher Cross no doubt enjoys a comfortable life by virtue of his ongoing earnings from those hits of the early 1980s (which I note are somewhat derisorily described as ‘Yacht Rock’ whatever that is…), and was in fact still active in 2014 with a recently released live concert album/DVD available, recorded in Paris in 2013, where he still apparently has quite a large following. Italian dance act East Side Beat had a European and UK Top 10 hit with a cover of ‘Ride Like The Wind’ in 1991 while the song has also been covered by UK heavy metal band Saxon (!), and Robin Thicke – Cross’s original version also appears in the late 2013 movie Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
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