Matthew Wilder and the Legend of "Break My Stride"

JANUARY 16: AMERICAN BANDSTAND - Show Coverage - 1/16/84, Matthew Wilder on the Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Television Network dance show "American Bandstand"., (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
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(Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

If you've heard a certain chirpy '80s pop song coming from phones and devices of kids around you, do not be alarmed. You haven't taken a dip in the hot tub time machine--Matthew Wilder's 1983 hit, "Break My Stride," is back and bigger than ever, thanks to the social media platform, TikTok.

The meme is quite silly: you send a friend the lyrics to the song one line at a time until they catch on, or simply ghost you for being weird. That's when you send a video of yourself dancing to Wilder's timeless hit. Hilarity ensues, and a good laugh is had by all. So wholesome!

The song's undying cheeriness comes from a pretty dark place. Back in the early '80s, Matthew Wilder was pissed. He'd been signed to Arista Records, but legendary label head Clive Davis wasn't feeling the music he was making. In a fit of frustration, he got together with songwriting partner Greg Prestopino, and the pair knocked out "Break My Stride."

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

While making the song, WIlder infused the track with some extra energy: "There was a party at a friend's house, and at the end of the record we asked everybody to come in and sing on the back end of the record, hence the rather sizable sound. I mean, it felt sizable at the time. When I go back and listen to the record now, it sounds like you could put in on the head of a pin."

Sending the track over with group of new demos, Wilder checked in with the label to see what they thought. When they had commentary on every song except "Break My Stride," Wilder pressed for more details. Davis' assistant found a note from the label head himself about the tune: "Interesting song, but not a hit."

It was enough for Wilder to demand that he be released from his contract, which the company obliged. Since he'd paid for the recording sessions out of his own pocket, we was able to take his songs--including "Break My Stride"--with him. Landing a deal with Epic subsidiary label Private I Records, Wilder's debut album, I Don't Speak the Language, was released in July 1983.

"Break My Stride," released as a single in August 1983, would take a rocket ride up the charts, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100 on January 20, 1984. The #1 song in America that week: "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes.

Even though MTV was blowing up at the time, Wilder's label chose not to make a video: "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.'"

The song also comes with some shady courtroom drama. Private I Records owner Joe Isgro would go under federal investigation for paying radio stations to spin his songs, including "Break My Stride." Ultimately, he would be indicted for extortion and loansharking.

"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," Wilder admitted. "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. 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."

Considering that "Break My Stride" has been used to advertise everything from National Car Rental to JPMorgan Chase investments, Wilder takes a pragmatic approach to licensing: "Some of the products it's been used to promote, I'm not particularly enthralled by. But by the same token, you'd be surprised at the amount of revenue a song like that can generate over the years."

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