Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)

Album: Mike & The Mechanics (1985)
Charted: 21 6

Songfacts®:

  • Mike Rutherford, the "Mike" of Mike + The Mechanics, wrote this song with the Scottish musician B.A. Robertson, his frequent collaborator. "It was really about time travel," Rutherford said in a Songfacts interview. "The story is about the idea that this father of the family is ahead in time, so he can look back and see what's going to happen in England, and it's not good. He's trying to get a message back to his family to warn them that the impending disaster is coming. Hence the line, 'Can you hear me, can you hear me calling you?'"
  • The phrase "Silent Running" doesn't show up in the lyric; it's a reference to the storyline where the father keeps asking if the son can hear him running. The subtitle, "On Dangerous Ground," has nothing to do with the song - that was added to promote the film of that name which used it. That promotion was mostly wasted, as in America the film was released under the title Choke Canyon (On Dangerous Ground was the UK title). The film fared poorly but the song became a hit. American listeners were left to wonder why the song was subtitled.
  • Paul Carrack, known for his work in Roxy Music, Squeeze and Ace, sang lead on this track. He and Paul Young (from Sad Café, not the guy from "Everytime You Go Away") were the vocalists in the group, as Mike Rutherford learned on his previous solo album, Acting Very Strange, that he couldn't sing very well. Carrack recorded this track during his first Mike + the Mechanics session.
  • This was the first Mike + The Mechanics single. Rutherford formed the group when Genesis took a break in 1984. He had released two solo albums that were well received in the UK, but decided he was better off as part of a band with someone else singing lead. When "Silent Running" took off, it proved the viability of the project, especially in America. The next single, "All I Need Is A Miracle," was also a hit, putting Mike + The Mechanics in the same league with Rutherford's bandmate Phil Collins, who had already made his mark as a solo artist.

    The group reached even greater heights with their next album, Living Years, in 1988. The title track was a #1 hit in America.
  • The album version runs 6:10; the single was cut down to 4:10.
  • The video was directed by Jim Yukich, who did most of the Genesis videos. It incorporates footage from the movie in which it was used (Choke Canyon) but has its own storyline, complete with dialog. Early on, a ghostly figure arrives and hands a key to a young boy, telling him, "You don't know me, but I knew your father. He wanted me to give you this."

    The rest of the video is filled with flashbacks (and more dialog) to the father before he left for the future, along with footage of the band members performing the song and incongruent scenes from Choke Canyon. The boy eventually finds a magic cube that takes him to another dimension where he can be with his father. In end, we see Mike + The Mechanics performing the song in a club.

    The video is rather disjointed, but it has strong production value and eye-catching special effects, which was good enough for MTV. The network put the video in rotation, which helped break the song in America.

    As for how it came together, Rutherford told Songfacts: "The song came first and it kind of married up to the movie to get a good video quickly."
  • B.A. Robertson came up with the song's hook, "Can you hear me, can you hear me running," but he figured it was just a temporary line until they could come up with something better. When Rutherford heard it, he thought it worked very well and insisted they use it as the basis for the story.
  • There is a 1972 sci-fi movie called Silent Running starring Bruce Dern, but it has nothing to do with this song. Rutherford told Songfacts that he hadn't heard of the film when he wrote the song.

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