Break My Stride

Album: I Don't Speak the Language (1983)
Charted: 4 5
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  • With a bouncing keyboard riff and a mild Jamaican flavor, this was by far the biggest hit for Wilder, who scored his only other Top 40 in 1984 with "The Kid's American" (#33 US).

    In the song, it's a failed relationship with a woman that Wilder is leaving behind him, but the real life inspiration was the record mogul Clive Davis, who was the head of Arista Records at the time. In a Songfacts interview with Matthew Wilder, he explained that Davis signed him around 1981, but nothing Matthew recorded went over well with Clive. Frustrated, Wilder and his songwriting partner Greg Prestopino came up with "Break My Stride."

    "My relationship with Clive Davis was precisely the impetus for my writing the song," said Wilder. "There are lyrics in there that are indirectly referring to the circumstance that were governing my life at that point."

    Paying for the session himself, Wilder and some of his friends recorded the song on the overnight shift at the studio owned by Spencer Proffer, who produced the Quiet Riot album Metal Health. He submitted the song to Arista, but heard nothing. When Wilder called the label to check, he spoke with the A&R head at the label, who found the cassette copy of "Break My Stride" with a note from Clive saying, "Interesting song, but not a hit." "If you guys can't hear this, there's nothing I can do for you anymore," said Wilder, and he suggested that the label drop him, which they did.

    Arista never paid for "Break My Stride" and had no rights to it, so Wilder shopped the song around, finding a taker in a new Epic subsidiary label called Private I Records. He got an album deal at the label and "Break My Stride" was the first single. Clive Davis was wrong about this one - the song was a hit, going Top-5 in both the US and UK.
  • MTV, which launched in 1981, was hitting its stride in 1983, and most hit songs had videos on the network. Remarkably, no video was ever made for "Break My Stride," despite Wilder's objections. He told us, "I was a big fan of Harry Nilsson and the Beatles and my vision for 'Stride' was to to do something that was visually creative, because it was such a fantastical lyric. I wanted it to be an animation/live action thing. And they just kind of laughed at me and said, 'Animation? You're not even getting a video.'"
  • You probably don't think of racketeering when you hear this song, but it was involved in some shady business. Private I Records, which released the song, was owned by Joe Isgro, who was the subject of a federal investigation that lasted from 1986 until charges against him were dropped in 1996. Isgro was charged with Payola, with the government claiming that he essentially paid radio stations to play songs from the label, including "Break My Stride." Says Wilder, "I remember there was some back room drama with the charts and Joe's ability to do what he does, or did - some of which he wound up in jail for."

    Isgro, who was indicted for extortion and loan sharking in 2000, helped persuade radio stations to play this song. "Through a lot of fancy footwork at radio, Joe was able to create the illusion that 'Stride' was really blowing up on the charts, even at R&B radio," said Wilder. "And eventually the tune did seep into the culture and become a legitimate crowd pleaser, and that's when it went Top 40 and then Top 5."
  • This is one of the most perennially popular songs for movies, TV shows, commercials and samples, generating a nice revenue stream for Wilder and the song's co-writer Greg Prestopino. Movie uses include Not Another Teen Movie (2001), Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), He's Just Not That Into You (2009), and Cedar Rapids (2011).

    Companies to use the song in their ads include National Car Rental, JPMorgan Chase, and the New Zealand company State insurance, who featured it in their "the State will keep you moving" spot.

    "Some of the products it's been used to promote, I'm not particularly enthralled by," Wilder told us. "But by the same token, you'd be surprised at the amount of revenue a song like that can generate over the years."
  • Puff Daddy interpolated this song on his 1997 track "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down." Sampling had been going on for quite a while, but this was one of the first instances of an artist taking a popular song and rapping over the chorus, which became a trend in the late '90s.
  • Matisyahu used some of the lyrics on his song "Jerusalem (Out of Darkness Comes Light)." There have also been some popular re-workings of "Break My Stride," including a 1996 version by the Australian group Unique II, which was a #1 hit in their homeland. A German group called Blue Lagoon recorded the song in 2004, taking it to the Top 10 in Germany, Sweden and Australia.
  • His solo career never took off, but Matthew Wilder had a resurgence as a songwriter and producer. Among his accomplishments are producing the No Doubt album Tragic Kingdom, writing "Reflection" for Christina Aguilera, and appearing as the singing voice of Ling in the movie Mulan. Wilder is comfortable with his hit, but appreciates not being forced to perform it over and over. "I don't really relish the thought of being able to get out there and sing that song for the rest of my life at a Howard Johnson's," he told us.
  • The song experienced a resurgence in early 2020 thanks to a TikTok meme. The trend involves TikTokers texting the lyrics to the song line-by-line to people they know. The challenge is to trick the other person into believing it's a normal conversation - they either figure out what's going on or stop responding. Finally, the TikTokers film themselves dancing to the song in front of the text chain.

Comments: 7

  • Seventhmist from 7th Heaven"Break-a my stride" was like Men At Work in "Down Under" with "I said 'do you speak-a my language?'"
  • A Person In The World from German from Argentina
    The "a" in break-a is not a correct contraction. It's just a weird lyrical thing. "Break-a" is not correct in any way.
  • German from ArgentinaCan anyone help me with this question? I'm not english speaker, so, What "a" means in "break-a"? Why he use this contraction or whatever? Thanks a lot, I love this page.
    Sorry for my bad english :)
  • Dave from Wheaton, IlSo, Matthew was a TWO-hit wonder!
  • Camille from Toronto, OhHey, it's a great song, moves things along, catchy chorus....
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxI always wondered how anyone could 'sail away to China' in a rowboat.
  • Jesse from Madison, WiThis is actually a good album. The problem with many singles acts is that the single is great, but the rest of the album sucks. This album is actually good throughout, and the title track is even slightly better than Break My Stride. The name of the album is I Don't Speak The Language. If you see it for a dollar go ahead and buy it. I did, and I'm glad I did! This was a good album that came along at a time when music was turning a corner and artists were trying new things and being daring. Check it out!
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