Dan Hartman's Dreams Came True with This Hit Song

Dan Hartman
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Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

If you remember the 1984 rock and roll flop Streets of Fire for any reason, it's for the hit song that closed the movie: Dan Hartman's insanely catchy "I Can Dream About You." But you'd be forgiven for watching the movie and wondering why the voice who sang the song on the radio isn't the same as the one in the movie.

Hartman was hardly an overnight sensation: in the '70s, his singles "Instant Replay" and "Vertigo/Relight My Fire" missed the upper reaches of the pop charts but both hit No. 1 on Billboard's dance singles list. His dedication to songwriting found him in the sights of Jimmy Iovine, the future music mogul who was putting together a galaxy of talent for Streets of Fire, a "rock and roll fable" written and directed by Walter Hill (who'd done the same tasks on cult classics like The Warriors and Eddie Murphy's breakout movie 48 Hrs.).

"I Can Dream About You" was used in the film's closing scene, where a fictional doo-wop group named The Sorels sings the song in concert. Careful listeners will realize, despite the same backing track, that Hartman is not singing in place of a Black actor. That actor, Stoney Jackson, wasn't even singing himself, either: the honors went to Winston Ford, a session singer who sang backing vocals on Hartman's version. (The writer, sensing its hit potential, let the song be used in the movie on the condition that he'd get to sing the song on the soundtrack.) "Some people had a fit because it was my name and my voice coming out of this group that looked like The Temptations," Hartman later said in an interview. "It was a big mess, but it was the best I could do under the circumstance."

And circumstances were good: "I Can Dream" hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 - Hartman's first and last big pop hit as a singer. But he wasn't done in the music business; he'd keep writing tunes for others, especially on film soundtracks. (The most famous, James Brown's punchy Rocky IV hit "Living in America," reached the Top 10 in 1986.) Hartman died in 1994 due to complications from AIDS, but his legacy has been secure for years. In addition to still being a radio staple, "I Can Dream About You" was covered in 2006 by Daryl Hall & John Oates, who'd turned down the chance to record it in their '80s heyday.

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