Revenge of the 80s Kids' Movie Theme Songs
Last night was Diana Ross theme-night on American Idol, and part of the fun was figuring out which contestants would do which songs. (Nobody did "Upside Down," WTF?) The show's weirdest and most revealing moment came at the end, when Jordin Sparks sang "If We Hold On Together," a cheesed-out weeper from the soundtrack to The Land Before Time. It was a pretty odd decision on her part; she had about four decades' worth of classic songs to pick from, and she chose the song from the Don Bluth movie about the dinosaur orphans looking for their grandparents, a song that I didn't even know existed. Do the math, though, and it makes sense: Sparks is seventeen years old, which means she was born a couple of years after The Land Before Time came out in theaters. So she's the right age to have seen the movie and its (seriously) eleven straight-to-video sequels many, many times. Maybe her parents would let her watch it while she went to sleep every night. Maybe it's her Star Wars. And maybe it's perfectly reasonable that she'd feel more connected to the closing-credits song from The Land Before Time than she would to any other song Diana Ross ever sang. In any case, she managed to give a surprisingly moving performance of the song, giving it the sort of emotional resonance that it might've already had for her. Sparks' feelings toward that song might have something to do with my feelings toward Mistah FAB's "Ghost Ride It," which has suddenly become my favorite hyphy song of all time even though it celebrates maybe the dumbest trend in the history of dumb trends. At least half the reason I love "Ghost Ride It" so much is the sample of Ray Parker Jr.'s Ghostbusters theme song, which bubbles throughout the track. The Ghostbusters theme is one of those songs that's pretty much guaranteed to trigger instant Pavlovian feelings of delirious joy in people of a certain age, and you can't really go wrong using that to your advantage.
One of the biggest songs on top-40 radio right now, or at least the DC top-40 radio station I've been hearing for the past few days, is Lumidee's "She's Like the Wind." (The song is currently at #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #38 on the iTunes download chart, but I could swear I heard it every ten minutes this weekend.) It's hard to understand why if you're hearing the song in isolation. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a nondescriptly Storchian piece of kiddie-pool rap&B fluff. But then I don't have any older sisters, so I was blissfully unaware that the song is a cover of Patrick Swayze's overenunciated Richard Marxist piano-ballad from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. The new "She's Like the Wind" is actually a neat little exercise in double-nostalgia, considering that the world's heard barely a peep out of Lumidee since her delicate Diwali devotion-anthem "Never Leave You (Uh Ohhh Uh Ohhh)," which was one of my favorite things about the summer of 2003. So this new song has managed to resuscitate two separate one-hit wonders, an impressive feat for such an unimpressive song. And the song doesn't even really belong to Lumidee; Terror Squad crooner Tony Sunshine sings pretty much all of it, leaving Lumidee with nothing to do except rap a couple of bars of sub-Foxy tough-chick boilerplate. Considering that Lumidee's one other hit was built from her fragility and vulnerability, it's a weird look, and "She's Like the Wind" sounds totally outclassed next to "Say It Right" and "Here In Your Arms" and that new Jojo song on pop-radio playlists. So I have to guess that the new version's success can be attributed entirely to a nation's fond memories of the original.
Really, as a plan, this is virtually foolproof. I think that "Ghost Ride It" is a good song, but I can't be entirely sure since so much of its appeal comes from its sample source. I have absolutely no idea whether the Ghostbusters theme is a good song; it's been in my life for so long that I can't remember a time without it. It's like wondering whether "Happy Birthday" is a good song; all I know is that I get an immediate rush of happiness whenever I hear it. For Jordin Sparks, maybe "If We Hold On Together" has the same effect. For vast swaths of female America, "She's Like the Wind" apparently can cause a strong enough reaction to vault Tony Sunshine out of obscurity and get Lumidee back onto the radio. And there's plenty of untapped gold left out there: Huey Lewis's "The Power of Love," America's "The Last Unicorn," the Ninja Turtles theme. If you're desperate to get a song into rotation, the moment you realize the commercial potential of music from old kids' movies must feel like a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view.