It’s not far to never, never land :: Songs of My Youth

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Sailing :: Christopher Cross
from the album, Christopher Cross

Oh, the canvas can do miracles,
just you wait and see.
Believe me.”

A Little History:

Sailing is a song written and recorded by American artist Christopher Cross. It was released in June 1980 as the second single from his eponymous debut album. The song was a success in the USA, winning Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Arrangement of the Year, and helping Cross win the Best New Artist award. VH1 named this the greatest “soft-sational soft rock” music song of all time.

It was a # 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States, reaching that position on August 30, 1980, for one week. Since its debut, it has been covered by many artists, including Avant, Barry Manilow, Greenskeepers, ‘N Sync, Phajja, Patrick Yandall and, as a duo, Moya Brennan & Cormac de Barra. The song was one of the first digitally recorded songs, utilizing the 3M digital recording system. In his Grammy acceptance speech, Christopher acknowledged Sailing as his favorite song on the album and that originally it was not meant to be a single.

The Mexican airline AeroMéxico used the theme during the middle 1980’s as a jingle for its advertisements; it was also used for the cigarette brand Winston.

Sailing has been sampled in several other songs, including Puff Daddy’s Best Friend (1999) and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Paradise (2006), and Chris Brown’s Can’t Let You Go. Dr. Octagon’s song Blue Flowers Revisited (1996) contains a brief interpolation of the chorus.

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In our SongFacts interview with Christopher Cross, he explained the writing process for this song:

I was just at home sitting in this cheap apartment, sitting at the table. I remember coming up with the verse and chorus, and the lyrics to the first verse of the chorus all came out. These tunings, like Joni used to say, they get you in this sort of trance, so all that came out at once: ‘It’s not far down to paradise…’ The chorus just sort of came out.

So I got up and wandered around the apartment just thinking, ‘Wow, that’s pretty f–kin’ great.’ I just thought, “That’s really cool.” So then I sat down and had to try to come up with other stuff to make the rest of the song, but I thought I had something there. 

Then it took about two years before I had a bridge to that song, because the modality of the modal tuning thing, it gets pretty linear, and you’ve got to be careful. There are writers – I won’t mention who – whose songs can get kind of boring because everything’s this modality. So I knew I needed to lift the song out of that modality in the bridge and make key changes. It took about two years before I came up with the bridge that changes all the keys to where it lifts, but it was a pretty special moment.”

Cross has said that he wrote this song about his memories sailing every summer with a friend in Texas. The song became a classic example of Yacht Rock, which was a term used to define a form of easy listening music favored by the rich.

On the Howard Stern radio show, Cross explained that sailing with his friend got him away from the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Cross said that if the guy had taken him bowling and he enjoyed it, the song could have become Bowling.

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Michael Omartian, who was Cross’ producer, also contributed keyboards and background vocals to the album. Omartian has worked on many hit songs – he co-wrote She Works Hard For The Money and produced We Are The World with Quincy Jones. Jay Graydon, who is also a hit songwriter and producer, played guitar on the Christopher Cross album. He singles out Omartian and David Foster as guys who are great to have in sessions:
These guys are just incredible musicians. I’m pretty good at doing string stuff and synth overdubs, and of course guitar overdubs and stuff, but you bring good guys in, then it gets really masterful.”

A Little Memory:

My blue beach cruiser bicycle was one of my prized childhood belongings. It was more than just a bike, to me it was freedom on two wheels. I spent so much of my young life indoors, hiding behind books and imagination, locked up by my own shyness and lack of self-confidence. I had too many secrets for my age, and they cast a shadow over me and increased my introverted nature exponentially. I wanted to escape though. I wanted to be outside of that blue walled bedroom.

My bicycle was a little miracle to me. On it I felt brave and strong. I would clip my tiny orange AM radio to the handlebars, throw a sweatshirt on over my clothes, and pedal away the mild weather days. This song, Sailing, was a mainstay on my AM station of choice (“The Mighty 690“) and to me it was the perfect “biking to freedom” song. The breeze would blow my hair back as I rode from street to street, and sometimes I would lift my hands up and out, like wings, causing a feeling of flight to overtake me. This song felt like the ultimate biking song, which, I suppose does not make a lot of sense – a sailing song associated with a biking song – but to me it was a perfect fit.

When I was older, in my thirties, my late husband would tease me about this song. Whenever we would happen upon it, or whenever we would find it on a dive bar jukebox and play it, he would say “hey honey, listen…its your bike song”, and then he would mock sing-a-long, changing it to say/sing “biking…takes me away...”

Every time I hear this song I picture that blue beach cruiser bike and remember how that kind of momentary escape felt.

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