Before Aaron Spelling cast Jamie Walters as Ray Pruit on his popular teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210, Walters played a soft-spoken singer on another Spelling drama: The Heights. The short-lived series follows a group of young adults who form a rock band, an idea Spelling borrowed from the 1991 movie The Commitments. He hired Steve Tyrell, a record producer and singer-songwriter known for his work on movie soundtracks such as The Five Heartbeats and Father of the Bride, as the show's music supervisor. Tyrell also co-wrote the theme song "How Do You Talk To An Angel" along with then-wife Stephanie Tyrell and songwriter Barry Coffing.
Singing from the perspective of his shy character, Alex O'Brien, Walters tries to muster the courage to talk to a female sax player he likes. On the strength of the song, Tyrell was enlisted to write an entire soundtrack album that would coincide with the show's fall premiere. As the lead single, the theme song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Unfortunately, The Heights wasn't as successful: It was canceled less than a week after the single dropped off the top of the chart.
This was the last TV theme song to hit #1 on the Hot 100. Prior to the 1992 feat, the Miami Vice theme topped the chart in 1985.
Boyz II Men were enjoying a record 13-week run with "End of the Road
" when "Angel" soared to #1, a fact that put the wind in Steve Tyrell's wings. "One thing I'm real proud of about the song is that it knocked off 'End of the Road,'" he told Billboard
magazine. "At the time that was the biggest record of all time and our little song from a TV show cruised right on up there and knocked it out of number one."
Tyrell remembers being blown away by Walters' audition: "Jamie Walters came in to audition in my studio and played 'So Hot' on guitar. I immediately loved the sound of his voice and the hooky, bluesy licks. I called Spelling and said, 'You should hire this guy. He looks like James Dean and sounds like Bryan Adams. And he can act!"
Shortly after Walters released his platinum-selling debut album, including the hit single "Hold On," Spelling brought him to 90210 as a love interest for Donna (played by the producer's daughter, Tori Spelling) in 1994. Ray turned out to be a philanderer and abuser in addition to being a singer of blues-tinged love songs, and the fans wouldn't let the actor live it down. Walters was still a real-life musician signed to Atlantic Records, and his character's reputation wasn't helping his ticket sales. He recalled:
"At first [Ray] was sort of like the underdog. He was this guy from the wrong side of the town, who didn't fit in with the Beverly Hills kids but he had his music and he was honest and all this stuff. And then they started twisting him into being like this abusive evil boyfriend. I was like you either have to change the character or you have to let me off the show, because I'm going out and I'm trying to sell tickets on our tour, and there's teenage girls out there who think, like they really think I'm an abusive guy you know, and they'd hold up signs saying 'leave Donna alone' and that's so not what I wanted."
The show eventually redeemed Ray, with an apology for Donna and a revelation that he had been the victim of child abuse. The ploy worked: His subsequent album,Ride, was certified gold.
This was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics, but lost to Liza Minnelli's "Sorry I Asked."