Even if Christopher Cross had only released singles like “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do”) and “Sailing,” he’d still be heard coming out of radios in 2022, but there’s little question that one of the most impressive singles in his discography – and some would argue the one that holds up best – is his debut single, “Ride Like the Wind,” which features contributions from one of the most ubiquitous guest vocalists of his generation: Michael McDonald.
In an interview with Songfacts, Cross detailed the origins of the song’s lyrics, which – brace yourself, those of you with delicate sensibilities – were written while he was under the influence of LSD.
“I grew up with a lot of cowboy movies – serials and stuff, like The Lone Ranger and these cowboy serials where they were always chasing the bad guy – and I lived in San Antonio near Mexico, so there was always this anarchistic allure about if you could get to Mexico, you could escape the authority,” recalled Cross. “Also, Mexico was a place where you could go down there and drink and do all this debauchery that as a kid, you think sounds really cool. So getting to the border in Mexico was a fascinating thing to me.”
McDonald found his way onto the track through Cross’s producer, Michael Omartian, who'd worked with McDonald when he sang background with Steely Dan. Originally McDonald was only set to appear on the song “I Really Don’t Know Anymore,” but when Cross and Omartian realized they needed another voice for the answer vocals on “Ride Like the Wind,” they asked McDonald if he’d be willing to pop back into the studio again.
The rest, of course, is musical history.
“Ride Like the Wind” wasn’t the chart-topper that his second single, “Sailing,” would prove to be, but it did rise to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for four weeks, kept away from the top spot by Blondie’s “Call Me.” But, hey, there are worse places to spend four weeks than under...
Actually, never mind that, let’s instead wrap up by looking back at one of the funniest things to emerge as a result of McDonald’s appearance on “Ride Like the Wind.”
Once upon a long ago, SCTV delivered a delightful sketch which portrayed McDonald rushing to the studio to record his vocals for ‘Ride Like the Wind.” During a 2018 interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, the singer revealed how the sketch made him think he might be losing it:
I was over in Pat Simmons’ room after a [Doobie Brothers] show. He said to me, "We’re going to smoke this joint," and he goes, "This stuff is insane. You’re only going to want to smoke a little bit of it, because it’s crazy." It was some kind of crazy ganja. You know, I’m too old to be saying things like this now. But anyway, we sat on the bed and we smoked this joint and we were talking.
I literally staggered down the hall, got my key in the door, went in the room and I’m thinking, "Man, I gotta lay down. This stuff is crazy." I used to leave my TV on when we would go to gigs, just because I thought people would think there was somebody in the room. So SCTV was in progress and that skit was on. I’m looking at the TV and I’m so stoned, I don’t even know where [I am], I’m only hoping it’s my room, you know? I’m watching this guy on the TV, in this car, running [into] the session, they’re playing Christopher Cross and I went, "Am I having a psychotic breakdown?" It’s like, I’m going, "I know that guy!" And I’m going, "Who is that?" I’m thinking, "Oh my God."
For just about a split second, I thought, "That’s it, I’m never smoking pot again, because this is too crazy," he says. “But as this thing went on, I realized it was a skit and I could hardly believe it. And then I think it’s followed me ever since. Rick Moranis actually came to a show I did with Donald [Fagen] somewhere in New York and for some reason felt the need to apologize to me about it. And I said, "Hey, are you kidding? I’m still getting mileage out of that!"