The late Dan Hartman has nearly just as remarkable a musical resume as Carrack. Hartman got his first taste of chart success as the bassist for the Edgar Winter Group, joining just in time for the band’s commercial breakthrough, They Only Come Out at Night (which spawned the Number One hit instrumental “Frankenstein”), proving to be an indispensable contributor to the band, both writing and singing lead vocals on the band’s Top Twenty hit – and enduring radio favorite – “Free Ride” and the later Top 40 hit “River’s Risin’” from the wildly-underrated follow-up album Shock Treatment. Hartman would leave the band in 1976 to start a solo career.
Hartman’s first taste of success as a solo artist came via the 1978 album Instant Replay, which surprisingly was a venture into dance-oriented music, the title track becoming a Top 40 hit and a wildly popular item in discos, while the title cut of the similarly-styled follow-up album Relight My Fire would become a huge club hit as well (topping the U.S. dance charts for six weeks) and top the British charts in the ‘90s after it was covered by Take That (with a guest turn from “To Sir with Love” singer Lulu.)
Hartman kept a low profile for much of the early ‘80s, releasing just one disc, the long-out-of-print 1981 album It Hurts to Be in Love (including a cover of the delightful Gene Pitney classic of the same name). But Hartman would come out of hiding in 1984 to contribute a song to the Michael Pare/Diane Lane film Streets of Fire, a song that would bring him back to the limelight in a very big way.
Ironically, Hartman never meant to record “I Can Dream about You” himself, and if you’ve ever heard the song and thought you were listening to Daryl Hall and John Oates, you wouldn’t be entirely off: the song was, in fact, written for the Philadelphia natives. According to Hall, the two men were pitched by the song by Hartman and did indeed like it but had to pass on it at the time because Big Bam Boom had just been completed and it was too late to add the song.
Better for Hartman that the legendary duo had to decline the offer, because the song ended up becoming his first-ever Top Ten hit as a solo artist, rising all the way to #6. It’s not hard to see why the song was such a hit, or why Hartman thought it would be so perfect for Daryl and John. It has everything that you would expect a great Hall & Oates single to have – wall-to-wall hooks; sunny, hummable melodies; well-crafted, contemporary-but-never-to-the-point-of-sounding-overly-dated-today production, and that ever-intoxicating blend of pop and soul that was the duo’s forte – and Hartman even sporadically sounds just like Daryl at various points during the song, delivering a superb and powerful vocal on the cut. [The song also benefits from a great supporting cast: session great Richie Zito (who would go on to produce comeback hits for Cheap Trick and Eddie Money in the late ‘80s) adds some extra guitar to the cut, while Little Feat’s Bill Payne plays the piano and Joe Pizzulo – the lead singer on Sergio Mendes’ unlikely early-‘80s comeback hits “Never Gonna Let You Go” and “Alibis” – helps supply the single’s lovely backing vocals.]
With the aid of co-producer Jimmy Iovine (best known at this point for his work with Tom Petty) and songwriting partner Charlie Midnight (whose future credits would include the Doobie Brothers’ “The Doctor” and Hilary Duff’s shockingly great “So Yesterday”), Hartman would continue his comeback success on 1984’s I Can Dream About You, which included the Top Ten hit and yielded an additional two Top 40 hits, the anthem-like dance-pop of “We Are the Young” climbing as high as #29 and topping the Dance charts, while the sunny ‘60s-Motown-like stomp of “Second Nature” – which recalls a cross between Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and Patti LaBelle’s ever-underrated Beverly Hills Cop tune “Stir It Up” and boasts a great solo from saxophonist Ernie Watts – is even better and would just manage to squeak into the Top 40, peaking at #39, though it deserved to fare much, much better.
There are quite a few other winners here, though, including the lovely, harmony-laden “Shy Hearts,” which, like the album’s title cut, calls to mind Hall & Oates and could have made a fabulous addition to an album like Ooh Yeah!; the almost frantically bouncy pop of “I Can’t Get Enough,” featuring backing vocals from former Meat Loaf sidekick Ellen Foley and George Simms, an in-demand backup singer for the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, and Billy Joel who also has done extensive voiceover work on television and even – fun pop trivia alert – provided the voice of the Kool-Aid Man for many years (“Oh yeah!”); and the soulful new-wave of the great album closer “Electricity,” co-written with Sarah Dash of the great ‘70s R&B trio LaBelle (“Lady Marmalade.”)
Unfortunately, Hartman was unable to capitalize on the success of this appealing album, and his next recording, White Boy, originally slated for a 1986 release, was rejected outright by MCA for being too different from Hartman’s prior albums, though a handful of test pressings of the album do exist and the cut “Waiting to See You” was salvaged and made its way onto the soundtrack of the film Ruthless People.
Hartman’s career as a performer never really recovered from the aborted album, and he’d never have another chart hit (his next move as a performer, in fact, was a stunningly left-field and uncommercial move: releasing a full-blown new-age album, New Green Clear Blue), but he remained highly admired within the industry (even the legendary Neil Sedaka, who tapped Hartman to produce his 1984 album Come See About Me, was awed by his talents and hailed him in the press as a genius) and consequently became sought after as a producer and songwriter. Most notably, he’d be tapped to co-write and produce the Top Five-charting James Brown comeback hit “Living in America” from the film Rocky IV. [Hartman and Midnight would subsequently be asked to write and produce a full comeback album for the Godfather of Soul, a disc that would also include the original version of the Hartman/Midnight-penned “How Do You Stop,” which would go on in 1994 to be covered by Joni Mitchell on Turbulent Indigo with some help from Seal and become her biggest Adult-Contemporary radio hit in years.] A few years later, the Hartman/Midnight composition “Why Should I Worry?” would get recorded by Billy Joel and included in the oft-forgotten Disney animated movie Oliver and Company. Hartman would also go on in 1989 to both co-produce and play on Tina Turner’s Foreign Affair, overseeing the hit singles “The Best” (most easily identifiable by its hook “Simply the best / Better than all the rest” and for which Hartman would enlist the help of his old boss and early mentor, Edgar Winter, to provide the saxophone solo) and “Steamy Windows” and also penning the album cut “Not Enough Romance.”
Hartman would sadly pass away in 1994 at the age of 43 from a brain tumor, but his music has continued to live on and, fittingly enough, Daryl Hall and John Oates would belatedly record “I Can Dream About You” – albeit with some changes to the lyric – on their 2004 covers-oriented album Our Kind of Soul, finally realizing Hartman’s dream of having the legendary pop-soul duo do the song.