[28 August 2009]
Pop history is littered with the remains of singles released by actors desperately craving careers in music, from the strained vocals of Don Johnson searching for a “Heartbeat” to the featherweight vocals of “Don’t Give Up on Us”, the cheesy (yet oddly touching) plea from David Soul. Eddie Murphy had two Top 40 hits, the instantly forgettable “Put Your Mouth on Me” and the major smash “Party All the Time”, both of which came across as bad vanity projects. Leighton Meester, Blair on Gossip Girl (The O.C. 2.0), is currently featured on the Top 10 hit “Good Girls Go Bad”, a Cobra Starship song that sounded dated five seconds after it first played on the radio.
It’s almost a rite of passage for actors. Once they’ve found success appearing in a television series or in movies, many of them immediately want to prove that they are more than just actors. So we get Bruce Willis recording a cover of “Respect Yourself” and John Schneider remaking “It’s Now Or Never” – not bad songs, per se, just not particularly memorable either.
Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule. Love her or hate her, Jennifer Lopez ruled the charts with dance hits like “If You Had My Love” and “I’m Real”. Rick Springfield may have been the bubblegum version of a rock star, but “Jessie’s Girl” is still a damn good song (as are “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “I’ve Done Everything for You”, and “Affair of the Heart”, for that matter). Janet Jackson might have started out on shows like Good Times and Different Strokes, but her musical legacy rivals the King of Pop’s himself.
Still, the majority of actor cum singers rate somewhere between mediocre and abysmal, which raises the obvious question. Given all of the above, why is Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind” such a great single?
I thought Dirty Dancing was good, but it isn’t one of my favorite movies by any means. And while I know that Patrick Swayze was a heartthrob to millions, I was never a big fan. Still, there’s something about “She’s Like the Wind” that sets it apart.
For one thing, it sounds honest and real, like a Boz Scaggs single performed by the guy next door. The lyrics manage to transcend pop’s more trite clichés. “She leads me through moonlight, only to burn me with the sun. She’s taken my heart but she doesn’t know what she’s done.” If those words don’t describe what every teenager who’s ever fallen in love with someone unattainable feels, I don’t know what does. And while his voice isn’t remarkable, it is surprisingly good.
Perhaps the appeal is in its simplicity. “She’s Like the Wind” is a quiet love song praising the virtues of a woman who doesn’t even know she is loved. It’s sung by a man who has a strong enough voice to do justice to the tune and the talent to let the music speak for itself. It’s been almost twenty-two years since the song reigned on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #3 (for three weeks in a row) and spending five months on the chart, yet “She’s Like the Wind” still sounds as beautiful today as when it was first recorded.
There have been actors craving to be known as singers throughout pop history, from William Shatner to Hillary Duff, and for the most part, the results haven’t been pretty. But every now and then there’s an exception, and if we are truly lucky, there’s magic.