This soft rock classic tells the story of a condemned man on the run to Mexico. The storyline is one not often heard on Adult Contemporary radio, but the precise instrumentation and soaring background vocals, which were provided by Michael McDonald, helped make the song a big hit.
What you probably didn't know about the song: Christopher Cross was on acid when he wrote the lyrics. "We were living in Houston at the time, and on the way down to Austin to record the songs, it was just a beautiful Texas day," he told us
. "I took acid. So I wrote the words on the way down from Houston to Austin on acid."
Speaking about his inspiration for the outlaw theme in this song, Cross told us: "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. 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."
This song originated out of live performances by Christopher Cross and his band when they would play a 1973 Paul McCartney & Wings song called "Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five." They would jam on the song, and in the middle section, Cross would do the "ba da da da, da da, da da" part, which became the centerpiece of "Ride Like The Wind."
A track from Christopher Cross' first album, this was released as his first single. His record company, Warner, wanted "Say You'll Be Mine" to be the first single, but Cross' producer Michael Omartian convinced them that "Ride Like The Wind" was the best choice. The song went all the way to #2 in America, but the next release was even bigger: "Sailing
" was a #1 hit and won Grammy awards for Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year.
On the album inner sleeve, Christopher Cross dedicated this song to Lowell George, formerly of the band Little Feat, who died in 1979. (thanks, Brittany - Calgary, Canada)
The Michael McDonald connection came courtesy of Cross' producer Michael Omartian - they knew each other from working with Steely Dan. McDonald offered to do some background vocals, so they put him to work on the song "I Really Don't Know Anymore." A few weeks later when Cross and Omartian were working on "Ride Like The Wind," they realized they needed another voice for the answer vocals, so they called McDonald back to do it.
The album had some impressive credits, as Don Henley also contributed some vocals. The big names helped it earn credibility and airplay, making it a wildly successful debut for Cross.
A group called East Side Beat recorded a Dance version of this song in 1991 that was popular in Europe, making #3 in the UK. The Jazz trumpet player Freddie Hubbard included it on his 1982 album which was titled after the song, and the Metal band Saxon released a cover in 1988. Cross says he likes the East Side Beat version, as he prefers covers that put a different spin on the song.
In 1999, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a story with the headline, "Christopher Cross Finally Reaches Mexican Border," which was a reference to this song. Cross appreciated the honor.
In 2005, a web series called Yacht Rock debuted, poking fun at artists like Christopher Cross and Michael McDonald in their depictions of what went on behind the scenes of songs like this one. Cross and McDonald saw the humor, and even performed this song in 2009 on the "Yacht Rock Party" episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.