Another year over and upon us, and like I’ve done before, highlighting a song that just felt right for this point in time. As has been my habit, or rather since this span of ours reeks of another decade, selected a tune from the 1970s to christen the new year of 2018. The beautiful ballad, Wishing on a Star, which happens to be turning a sprite forty this very year. Appropriate, having crested during the same pivotal month in 1978 that left a painful mark upon me.
Leave it to Amy Hanson of Allmusic to characterize why this pensive piece from the previous year’s Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom album resonates more now than then:
“The wistful and absolutely sublime ballad “Wishing on a Star” opens the set and should have been a chart-heavy hitter. In fact, it reached only number 52 on the R&B charts, proving that the band’s fans were truly in the mood to dance.”
For those who hadn’t lived (tend to use the term, “survive” instead, myself) through the period, it represented some distinct trends in pop music. While “hard”, “country”, and “punk” rock took off (likely in reaction to Disco), so did Jazz Fusion, R&B, and Funk as a counterbalance for a number of us seeking refuge. In midst of that, we gleamed the likes of Rose Royce; a nine-member Los Angeles band who blended disco, funk, and soul, which yielded some of the span’s best parts.
Framing the decade with a number of dance hits beginning with a movie and a soundtrack that’s legendary to this day: Car Wash.
Its success, which featured three Billboard R&B Top Ten singles: “Car Wash,” “I Wanna Get Next to You,” and “I’m Going Down”, catapulted the group to national fame. Hence their follow-up album, started in 1976, quickly debuted in ’77. Charting another two Top Ten singles, “Do Your Dance” and “Ooh Boy”, as a result. Leave it to the ’70s to funk up and overlook a song on the same LP that truly deserved better. Certainly one that showcased why their lead singer, the charismatic Gwen Dickey, stood out.
To say the magnetic Mississippi-born singer was one of the great soul voices of the era would be an understatement. And Wishing on a Star1 would be the best testament to that. While Rose Royce’s particularly memorable, Norman Whitfield-produced melodies and arrangements got fingers poppin’ and feet a movin’ on the dance floor, it was Gwen’s vocals that nailed it all down. She anchored those tunes as much as the infectious rhythms, and even more when the beat slowed to its bluesy, soulful core, as with this longing number.
(now do you see the link to our time?)
At a languid 4:52, the album cut truncated to 3:57 as a single for release to the airwaves. And as stated, it lagged among listeners dealing with the post-Vietnam War economic downturn and dissolution, oil crises, and the after-effects of a crook in the White House2. Perhaps the melancholy song, the lament of a woman regretting her split with her lover and somehow wishing she could follow and reconcile, hit too close. The tumult already turning folks lives into a requiem.
Guess I’d have rather danced away the time, too, than reflect upon the reality.
Still, have to hand it to the Brits seeing past and recognizing how great Wishing on a Star really was as a song. Ending up at #3 for the UK Singles that year3 rather than where we left it to wither on the vine. For all that, and as opposed to their previous hit, just couldn’t keep a great song down. The tune hardly forgotten and kept getting played periodically4 for years after. Little wonder, despite initially not charting well, the song became a classic covered by many an artist.
This included the girl group Cover Girls (a #9 pop hit here and #38 in the UK) with an upbeat version in 1992, followed similarly by the great Randy Crawford a few years later. All the more, from our current royal couple: Beyoncé’s cover nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Grammy in 2006 and Jay-Z sampled it, and featured Gwen Dickey. Likewise, one from Seal, Tamera Foster and Emily Middlemas performing the number during X Factor finals of 2013 and 2016, even association on TV and film5.
And yet, I daresay nothing has really surpassed what Rose Royce laid down on analog tracks in those L.A. sound studios back in the day6. A meaningful product of its time, from Gwen’s embryonic, plaintive vocals to the wah-wah guitar touches and classic string arrangement (by the great Paul Riser) filling in the song’s earthy sorrow. One so distinctive of the ’70s, yet a ballad so self-possessed time has phased it none. Guess as my mother lay in her coma, couldn’t appreciate it then as much as I do today.
I'm wishin' on a star To follow where you are I'm wishin' on a dream To follow what it means I'm wishin' on a star To follow where you are I'm wishin' on a dream To follow what it means And I wish on all the rainbows that I see I wish on all the people who really dream And I'm wishin' on tomorrow, praying it'll come And I'm wishin' on all the lovin' we've ever done I never thought I'd see A time when you would be So far away from home So far away from me Just think of all the moments that we spent I just can't let you go, for me you were meant And I didn't mean to hurt you, but I know That in the game of lovin', you reap what you sow I feel it's time we should make up, baby I feel it's time for us to get back together And make the best of things, oh, baby, when we're together Whether or never I feel it's time we should make up, baby I feel it's time for us to get back together And make the best of things, oh, baby, when we're together Whether or never I'm wishing on a star To follow where you are I'm wishin' on a dream To follow what it means
- The song “…written by Billie Rae Calvin, a female singer/songwriter who was formerly a member of Undisputed Truth. She wrote it with Barbra Streisand in mind, but she had a connection with producer Norman Whitfield who usurped it for his group Rose Royce instead. Whitfield, who produced the track, worked for Motown Records but brought Rose Royce to his own label, Whitfield.” ~ Songfacts ↩
- Richard M. Nixon. ↩
- Hell, even the Belgium and Dutch listeners knew better than us, giving Wishing on a Star #14 and #15, respectively, on their Top 40 charts. ↩
- “…the song was played every Saturday at 12 Noon on Kiss 108 in Boston for over two decades, with playing ceasing around 2004.” ~ Wikipedia ↩
- Used in the Emmy award winning opening credits of the TV miniseries, The 10th Kingdom and performed by Miriam Stockley; highlighted in John Singleton’s movie Baby Boy (2001). ↩
- Sound Factory West and Amigo Recording Studio. ↩