OK, follow this train: Dan Hartman wrote “I Can Dream About You” for Hall & Oates, who turned it down, leaving Hartman to record the song himself, turning it into the title track from his 1984 album. Meanwhile, Walter Hill picked the tune to include in his self-described “rock and roll fable” Streets of Fire, where we saw actor Stoney Jackson lip-syncing to a dub not by Hartman, but by Winston Ford. The movie was a bomb but the soundtrack was a smash; curiously, Ford’s version of the song was replaced on the disc by Hartman’s recording, which then became a top ten hit. Meanwhile, the video featured clips from the film, but with Hartman’s performance, not Ford’s, being heard. Oh, and Hall & Oates finally got around to recording a cover of it, twenty years later. Simple enough, right?
There are those – mainly fans of the movie – who prefer the Ford version (and, I suppose, some diehard Hall & Oates fans who favor their version), but to me, Hartman’s is the only way to go. I grew up on the song; every note, every beat, every breathy pause has etched itself into my brain.
It’s 60s R&B by way of 80s synth pop, a unique brand of white bread soul where the verses seem straight out of the singer’s dreams, with those broken syllables (“mo… ving… side… walks…”) emphasizing a haze of memory and longing above that piano-and-drums riff that just floats. Each verse ends with a crescendo of emotion, the music carrying us away in a fit of joy. Despite the lyrics (“I can dream about you / If I can’t hold you tonight”), there’s no despair in the chorus. He’d rather be held by his love, sure, but what’s wrong with getting lost in a dream as a consolation prize? The guy’s happy just to have the memory of the one he misses. Yes, there’s pain and tears, but magic, too. As the song goes, he’s positively spellbound. So are we.