X-Ray Spex Vol. 2: I Can Dream About You…Dan Hartman’s Mystery Date

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.wherin the Blogger induges his penchant for obessive examinations of a single songwriter’s body of work, sometimes focusing on a single song out of that body of work…because geekery.

“48 Hours” was such a smash for director Walter Hill his next script, a high-concept homage to Old Hollywood genres was practically green-lit over a weekend. “Streets of Fire” was to be a “Rock and Roll Fantasy” where Hill could create “a perfect film” featuring all the elements he considered”great” as a teen: Custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor]” Hey, when you make a pile for the studio, all your ideas sound brilliant, so why not?

For the “Rock and Roll” part of Hill’s fantasy, the studio and producers [typically] opted for music industry ringers and session players rather than any actual rock and rollers: Jimmy Iovine produced five songs for the soundtrack and Jim “Meat Loaf” Steineman wrote two of them. Some incidental music by Ry Cooder was tossed in for street cred as well as a quickie cover by punkabilly cult band the Blasters, but the soundtrack album was more Hollywood’s idea of Rock’n’roll that the real thing. The studio probably figured that marketing and video tie-ins would sell the music regardless.

Dan Hartman joined his first band, the Legends at the age of 13. He’d leave that band in 1971 to join Edgar Winter and also play for Rick Derringer before going out on his own. He hit big in 1978 with the disco anthem “Instant Replay” from the album of the same name. For the “Streets of Fire” soundtrack, he’d contribute a song originally intended for Hall & Oates they passed on. “I Can Dream About You” really does sound tailor made for H & O: a pristine slice of blue-eyed soul at a time when they were the only ones still having success with the sound. The verses express a man yearning for a love he can’t have while the soaring chorus finds him taking solace in dreams of holding his lover close – lyrics made even more poignant coming from the pen of Hartman – a closeted gay man who never married and died of AIDs related complications in 1994:

I Can Dream About You

If I can hold you tonight

I can dream about you

you know how to love me just right

While “Streets of Fire” turned out to be a critical and commercial disaster, “I Can Dream About You” was a hit, rising to #6 on the Billboard charts, due in great part to a gorgeous video that, while intended to promote the film, ends up with just a few seconds of movie footage in it at all. The bulk of the clip is a high-energy, imaginatively choreographed “live’ performance by the Sorels, a fictional doo-wop group who are in a few scenes of the movie:

Played by Grand L. Bush, Stoney Jackson, Mykelti Williamson, and Robert Townshend, [who also sang backups on the actual recording], the clip for “I Can Dream About You” is a perfect distillation of everything good about the golden age of MTV: A great song, bolstered by a perfect set of visuals that leaves you feeling like you’re at the best concert ever.

The choreography is attributed to Jeffery Hornaday, but the actors claim to have come up with a lot of the moves themselves. Nobody seems to dispute this. The lead “vocalist” in the clip is Jackson, who lip syncs the song almost perfectly [in a time where miming songs was still a new art not everybody could master]. The actual singing on the track isn’t by Jackson or Dan Hartman, but a session vocalist and backup musician named C. Winston Ford. The version of the song on the soundtrack album is Hartman. Confused? It seems that Hartman, well schooled in the music biz, had it written into his contract that while the film/video version might be sung by another artist, the album and any singles of the song would be his own vocal track. Fortunately for us, the song is so freaking bulletproof that it doesn’t really matter who sings it, though Ford probably lost out big by being reduced to a shadow in the song. His vocal is every bit as rich and nuanced as Hartman’s, his voice possessing a bit more bass and body in fact.

Hartman would use the success of the song to make a new album of his own and put together a band of killer session pros to play the songs on the road. Even with his successes behind the scenes, true stardom would elude him.

The success of “I Can Dream About You” would lead to his last big commercial single, once again writing a stand out soundtrack entry for another [this time real] artist:

And then 20 years after the fact, Hartman’s song ended up where he’d wanted it to be all along. Sadly, Hartman wouldn’t live to see his song find it’s home:

“I Can Dream About You” is one of those songs too great to languish in a bad movie. Play it for people who were there and their eyes will light up with fond remembrance. Play it for people who’ve never heard it [I did] and they’ll likely fall in love with it as well. It’s kind of amazing none of the current crop of pop stars haven’t covered or sample it it…yet.

NEXT:  …Like a Natural Woman

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