St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)

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Date Aired
May 12, 2015
Running Time
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Todd plays "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" on the piano.

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at bands and artists known for only one song. Today, I am filming the second of the requests I sold on Patreon. And today's patron gave me a couple options, but I knew instantly which one I wanted to cover

Video for "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)"

Todd (VO): Yeah, I've said before that I didn't listen to much or any pop music when I was a kid, but there was one exception.

Todd: I don't remember where I got it, but I had this [very brief picture of the cover of...] CD of 80's movies themes that I played all the time, because it had [brief clips of Ray Parker Jr.'s...] "Ghostbusters" on it. It's also where I first heard [...and Huey Lewis and the News'...] "The Power of Love", [...and Michael Sembello's...] "Maniac", and a bunch of others. [...and the Blue Brothers' - "Gimme Some Lovin'"] So I still have super-fond memories of everything on that CD, [...and Phil Collins'...] even "Take a Look at Me Now", which is not a song you really need to listen to more than once. And right in the middle of that CD, there was this.

John Parr: I can see a new horizon
Underneath the blazing sky

Todd (VO): This is "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)", the theme to the Brat Pack movie of the same name...minus the "Man in Motion" part, it's just St. Elmo's Fire.

John: Take me where the future's lyin'
St. Elmo's Fire

Todd (VO): I don't know how well people remember this song. It's not like I heard this song on the radio ever, except...

Todd: ...once, randomly, last week while I was writing this episode, which has to be a sign.

Todd (VO): And I know people don't remember the singer. Matter of fact, John Parr seems to belong to this weird sub-genre of rock—sweaty, hairy guys who weren't really flashy enough for MTV and made a living solely off of big pump-up soundtrack hits. You know, guys like...

Todd: ...Stan Bush...

Clips of "The Touch" from Transformer: The Movie...
Stan: You've got the touch

Todd: ...Paul Engemann...

..."Push It to the Limit" from Scarface...
Paul: Push it to the limit

Todd: ...Joe Esposito...

... and "You're the Best" from The Karate Kid
Joe: You're the best around
Nothing's ever gonna...

Todd: Yeah, tie yourself to a well-liked movie, and your song's gonna have a surprisingly long shelf-life.

Todd (VO): And that definitely worked for John Parr. This was a #1 single in 1985, in between [album cover of Sports by...] Huey Lewis's "The Power of Love" [concert pic of...] and Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing".

Todd: '85 was apparently a good year for rock songs by spectacularly normal dudes.

John: I can feel St. Elmo's Fire burning in me

Todd (VO): Well, that's what we've got this week—a kick-ass, inspirational anthem with a weird title by a guy no one's heard of.

Todd: I live for this kind of music. Let's check this guy out.

John: You broke the boy in me
But you won't break the man

Before the hit

Todd (VO): First off, is John Parr a one-hit wonder? Honestly, kind of, but kinda not. I'm stretching the definition a little here, because anyone who was around back then might remember this little number.

Clip of "Naughty Naughty"
John: Naughty naughty, loud and bawdy, t-t-t-t-tease me

Todd (VO): So this is John Parr. Can you tell he's from New Jersey?

Todd: 'Cause he's not, he's British.

Clip of interview
John: You can be an artist, you know. You can be the shiny new car with...

Todd (VO): But I'm pretty sure that from the second he was born, he was handed an official New Jersey birth certificate and driver's license. I mean, Christ, look at him.

Todd: Before we get to this, let me go backwards for a second.

Clip from American Bandstand

Todd (VO): John Parr was just a kid from Nottinghamshire, England, who wanted to pursue a career in music. He got injured while [clip of...] watching a performance by the Who in 1980, and while he was being tended to backstage, he met their manager, John Wolff. And since the Who were basically on their last legs at that point,...

Todd: ...Wolff decided to start managing Parr instead because, I don't know, [picture of waiter serving food] waiting tables wouldn't have been far enough a drop in prestige. The first major gig Wolff got for Parr was as a songwriter writing album tracks for Meat Loaf.

Clip of Meat Loaf - "Razor's Edge"

Todd (VO): Yes, everyone's favorite era of Meat Loaf...

Todd: '80s Meat Loaf.

Todd (VO): When Meat Loaf performs live, everyone screams for him to perform "Blind Before I Stop" and "Midnight at the Lost and Found". Yep.

Todd: Anyway, John Parr released his [self-titled album cover] first album in 1984...

Todd (VO): ...which brings us back to this, "Naughty Naughty".

John: Let my fingers do the walking, and there ain't far to go
Don't tell me, "I don't wanna be a girl like that"

Todd (VO): Yes, this big lumpen oaf wants you to know that he doesn't want no nice girls because he likes sex.

John: Naughty, naughty, cute and horny

Todd (VO): He's a sex-havin' guy, as you can tell by his muscle car, open-chested leather jacket, and American flag guitar. Again, Parr is from England, not America. And again, John Parr is the most American man I've ever seen in my life.

John: I'm a naughty, naughty guy

Todd (VO): Look, this is pretty lame. You can call a girl naughty, and that could be hot, but calling a guy that, or worse, a guy calling himself that?

Todd: You might as well say, "I'm a bad wittle boy."

Todd (VO): But regardless, this was kind of a hit. It almost cracked the Top 20 on the pop charts, but it was #1 on the mainstream rock charts. I'm not clear what the mainstream rock format entailed, but I gather it was basically mullet rock, [Chart of mullet rock (represented by Steve Perry), hairspray rock (represented by Jon Bon Jovi), and eyeliner rock] one of the three major subgenres of '80s rock music.

Todd: Well, having now established himself as being a very naughty boy, he got another assignment.

Clip of trailer for St. Elmo's Fire

Todd (VO): Seems some movie producers believed they had the summer movie of the year on their hands, and they gave the composer, like, a week and a half to come up with a theme to it. The dude recruited John Parr to help him come up with a song, and just a short time afterwards...

Todd: ...the world was given this.

The big hit

Video for "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)"

Todd (VO): Brat Pack movie St. Elmo's Fire came out in the summer of 1985. It did decently well, but the theme song did amazingly well. Not everyone saw the movie, but everyone heard the song, which rocketed to #1 that year.

Todd: Actually, come to think of it, I haven't seen the movie either, although it seems to be one of those sort of fondly remembered, quintessentially '80s movies. I should...I should check it out.

Opening credits

Todd (VO): It seems cool. You know, classic coming-of-age tale; it's got young Rob Lowe and young Demi Moore and half the cast of The Breakfast Club, and it was directed by Joel Schum...[worried as the screen turns red] um...

103 minutes later

Todd: Let us never speak of that movie again.

Todd (VO: Anyway, let's talk about the single good thing about that movie—the theme song, which is so good, it kinda makes you forget that you're watching a beyond shitty piece of up-its-ass, badly written, badly acted pukestain of a god...

Todd: Schumacher's serious movies are so much worse than his comic books, so I don't wanna hear another complaint about Bat-nipples ever again! [Composing himself] Anyway, the song.

John: Growing up, you don't see the writing on the wall

Todd (VO): For those who want the strange title explained, St. Elmo's fire [clip of...] is this weird weather thing where [picture of...] ships would suddenly have blue lightning coming off of their ship, and it looks really cool. In the movie, it's the name of the bar the characters go to. But it's also a metaphor for not a...

Todd: ...goddamn thing 'cause it's way too stu... [catching himself] Fortunately...

Todd (VO): ...that's really its only connection to the movie. It's only in there 'cause the producers demanded Parr drop the movie title in there somewhere. Parr hadn't even seen the movie. You wanna know the real inspiration, look at the second part of the title.

John: Gonna be your man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels

Todd (VO): Yeah, the wheels he's talking about is actually a wheelchair. See, there was this [clip of...] Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen, and he wheeled his way across the world Forrest Gump-style, called it his "Man in Motion Tour". Good, good decade for inspirationally disabled Canadians, the '80s were.

John: Burning up, don't know just how far that I can go (just how far I go)

Todd (VO): That really does explain why there's such a pump-up, inspirational tone for a theme to a movie about confused, whiny yuppies coming of age while also being crazed, violent stalkers?! What the living...

Todd: ...hell, Schum... [one more time] Anyway...

Todd (VO): ...yeah, wheelchair athlete makes the song make way more sense.

John: You know in some way, you're a lot like me
You're just a prisoner and you're tryin' to break free

Todd: Okay, you don't know me, John Parr. Don't presume we have anything in common. [beat] Oh, God, he described me perfectly. It's like he saw right into my soul.

John: I can see a new horizon underneath the blazing sky

Todd (VO): When I was a kid, this song seemed to promise a whole grand new world opening up to me.

John: I can climb the highest mountain, cross the wildest sea

Todd: Of course, I'm an adult now, so now this sounds super cheesy to me, but in all the best ways.

Todd (VO): You know, that cheesy little horn bit right here?

John: You know you can't quit until it's won

Todd (VO): That's the charm of this song in one riff. John Parr hits all the same notes as Journey; he's just too sincere to be ashamed by...

Todd: ...any of the things he sings.

John: I can climb the highest mountain, cross the wildest sea

Todd (VO): And I think I could tell this was about an athlete even as a kid. For one, it's all about moving forward, becoming stronger. I feel stronger just listening to it.

John: I can make it, I know I can
You broke the boy in me, but you won't break the man

Todd: You beat the boy in me, but you won't beat the man. The man in me is tough. The man inside me is hard as a rock, not like the little, broken boy I had inside me. [beat] I feel like I could be wording this better.

Todd (VO): And as further evidence of Parr's inner American-ness, note how he used the eagle as a metaphor.

John: ...where the eagle's flying higher and higher

Todd (VO): Hulk Hogan could use this song as his entrance music, that's how American this song is.

Todd: And yet, ironically, for a song about forward motion, this is where John Parr's career hits a sudden brick wall.

The failed follow-up

Video for "Magical"

Todd (VO): John Parr's first album was still new and circulating when "St. Elmo's Fire" hit it big, so he was basically obliged to keep releasing singles from it, which meant that rather than releasing more music that sounded like "St. Elmo's Fire", he was putting more stuff like "Naughty Naughty" out there, which is not what I would advise him to do.

John: Is it really what you want, one more broken heart

Todd (VO): Right before "St. Elmo's Fire" came out, his single at the time was called "Magical", and I found it mostly forgettable, although this particular image [arrow points at John floating backwards while wearing angel wings] is something I will never forget.

Todd: But instead, I would like to focus on the one he released right after "St. Elmo's Fire", which is called, no joke, "Love Grammar".

Video for "Love Grammar"
John: 'Cause I can't take no more of this
Love grammar, takin' me and breakin' me up
Love grammar, the grammar of love
I before he except after she - knows I'll always be there

Todd (VO): [fake laugh before...] This is awful. Back in the day, MTV had this fake, parody...

Todd: ...boy band who sang a song that was something like..."love calculus."

Clip of 2ge+her - "U + Me = Us (Calculus)"
2ge+her: My calculus, it says you plus me equals us

Todd: And it made considerably more sense than this.

John: I before he except after she

Todd (VO): No one in history has ever thought affairs of the heart were in any way comparable to proper sentence structure.

Todd: Unless... "Hey, baby, let's conjugate." No, that's worse.

John: Love grammar, the grammar of love

Todd (VO): "Love grammar"? More like [cover of I Wish Today Was Yesterday by...] Lou Grammar. [Clip of live Foreigner performance] And in case you don't know, Lou Gramm is the lead singer of Foreigner, and that's pretty clearly what John Parr's trying to be. You will not convince me that John Parr didn't see [cover of Long Hard Look] Lou Gramm's name, and then turn it into "Love Grammar".

Todd: Okay, like I said, he was still burning off singles from his first album, but let's see what he wrote now that he had "St. Elmo's Fire" under his belt.

Video for "Blame It on the Radio"
John: Blame it on the moonlight
Blame it on the radio
I just wanna hold you tight

Todd (VO): Well, um...he's not trying to be "Naughty Naughty" anymore, that's a good thing. Be more heartfelt, less sleazy...

Todd: ...get in on that more heartland Springsteen-y vibe.

John: Yeah...

Todd: Look, there's no way around it; this sounds awful.

John: Sexy dress

Todd (VO): What's with the production here? The vocals, for one, ju...just sound terrible, there's just something off about them. This is like a scratch take. And dear god, who picked that synth tone? Ugh. If John Parr's career ended based on this, I would point the blame directly at the producer. No Mutt Lange, that guy.

Todd: Who even was it?

Shot of Wikipedia page of Running the Endless Mile with a circled producer credit: John Parr

Well, there you go.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: Well, yeah.

Video for "Restless Heart"
John: No more lonely nights

Todd (VO): If you know anything else about John Parr, it's probably because you remember his theme from The Running Man. "Man in motion," Running Man, there's a theme here. But I can't help but feel like this song would've made more sense as the theme for a Rocky movie or something; you know, a Karate Kid sequel; not a movie where Arnold murders assassins in stupid outfits on a game show.

Clip from The Running Man
Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger): Here is Subzero, now plain zero!
Video for...

Todd (VO): And if you are a very dedicated Meat Loaf fan, you may remember his 1986 duet with Parr—"Rock 'n Roll Mercenaries".

John: I'm talkin' about rock 'n roll mercenaries
John and Meat Loaf: Money's power, and power is fame

Todd: Yeah, we are rock and roll mercenaries! We are cold, passionless, and we're only in it for the money. [beat] Wait, are they calling themselves rock 'n roll sellouts?

Clip of "Two Hearts"

Todd (VO): He didn't record any more music for six years and only ever released a couple more albums in the '90s to widespread apathy. Pretty much the only notable thing he recorded during that time period was this.

Gilette commercial
John: Gilette—the best a man can get

Todd (VO): Not kidding.

Clip of live performance
John: The best a man can get

Todd: But I want to cut ahead to 2011 because this is what he's been doing recently.

Clip of "Tim Tebow's Fire"
John: Gonna be a man in motion
All I need's my Broncos team
Take me where my future’s lyin’
Tim Tebow's Fire

Todd: Yes, he wrote his biggest hit...

Todd (VO): be about the world's most beloved second-string quarterback, Tim Tebow. He also wrote a whole album [album cover of Letter to America] to our troops in Afghanistan fighting to protect our freedoms.

Todd: Keep in mind, I'm not talking about [picture of...] Trace Adkins or anything, I'm still talking about John Parr.

Todd (VO): So yeah, I think, at this point, he has systematically eradicated every speck of Brit from his DNA. He gets annoyed if you try and call soccer "football" because real football has quarterbacks and cheerleaders, and he tells other Englishmen that, if it wasn't for America,...

Todd: ...they'd all be speaking German right now.

Did he deserve better?

Todd: Yeah, yeah...yeah, not really.

John: I can hear the music playin'

Todd (VO): Yeah, I got basically what I expected out of this one. John Parr was not a man with the talent or charisma to last more than a couple songs, but my opinion of "St. Elmo's Fire" the song remains unchanged, even despite the lousy movie or the badness of any of the guy's other stuff. But yeah, this was a fun request; I'm glad to have put this together, even if I...

Todd: ...did kind of bend the rules on what counts as a one-hit wonder for this one. It was a request, they paid. So let's see what the next requester wants.

From Violet Espositio: "Hey there, best reviewer on the internet! My One Hit Wonderland choice is something I promised to stop bugging you on twitter about almost a year ago: Mmmbop by Hanson." Zoom in on the last words


Video ends

Closing tag song: The Ventures - "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)"

"St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" is owned by Atlantic Records
This video is owned by me


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