There’s no shortage of romantic numbers bemoaning complicated relationships and breakups. But where’s the song that speaks for the independent and self-content? Take a stroll through supermarkets, cafeterias, and cinemas, and at some point, you’ll likely hear the voice of Matthew Wilder singing about that very thing.
He was a promising up-and-coming artist in the 1980s, with enough gumption to realize the importance of his vision. He’s said that part of the reason he wrote his signature bouncy hit, “Break My Stride,” was to keep him motivated in the unpredictable music business.
Dissatisfied with the initial recordings, Wilder made the decision to book Spencer Proffer’s studio, where he re-recorded the track with money out of his own pocket. The finished result sounds ragged, albeit enjoyably so.
Confident in the work, he carried it around from network to network before stumbling into Joe Isgro, a record promoter who was feared almost as much as he was respected. Invariably, Isgro would serve some time in prison for some of his actions steering the music charts, but he did release the single off his new record label, Private-I. Partially due to the jauntiness and the raw vocals, the song became something of an anthem.
“I did tour a lot in Europe,” Wilder recalled. “But, for the amount of money that it took them to put me on the road and tour me through Europe and do all these personal appearances and staying at hotels and all of that, it would have cost a fraction of that to just do the video and then send it out as the ambassador for the song. I certainly could have traveled to fewer regions and economized on how my time was being spent. I would gladly have owed them for the video. I had a band and we played Grad Nite at Disneyland and did shows here and there at the Palace, did a lot of TV, Dick Clark, a lot of promotion on that basis. But, unfortunately, I never got out on the road behind the record.”
Wilder managed to cobble together a career in music, albeit one behind the desk board as opposed to in front of the microphone. In 1995, he produced No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, and in 2011, he was credited as co-producer on The Belle Brigade’s debut. Younger readers may recognize Wilder as the singing voice of Ling in Disney’s Mulan. More impressively, he was involved with the soundtrack, contributing some of the cleverer and more inventive vignettes such as “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”.
But for a whole generation of 1980s listeners, Wilder will always be the man who offered them the song that proved they could walk on their own two feet. The song’s longevity might be due to its universal appeal. For many of us, the road ahead will be rocky, but as long as we’re cocky and cool about it, the end result should be worth the trip. It certainly has been for Wilder.