The ’80s is remembered as an era of jubilant excess. Musically, it was the era of upbeat pop music and the irresistible influence of urban (black) music on the mainstream market as a whole. Outside of the contributions of the Prince, Micheal Jackson and Madonnas of the music world, there were many pioneers who worked in the background. One of these pioneers was Dan Hartman.
Hartman embodied all that was good about pop music in the ’80s: big brash and optimistic with a dancable streak that suggested funky urban roots. Long established in the music business as both a producer and a solo artist after leaving the Edgar Winter Group, Hartman had a string of successful soundtrack projects that included Breakin’ and Streets of Fire in 1984. His success made him a sought after writer/producer and musician for everyone from Stevie Nicks to James Brown.
After the success of James Brown’s “Living In America”, a hit co written by Hartman, it seemed that his solo career would finally be taken seriously. His “I Can Dream About You” smartly encompassed all that he knew about the pop music business in one dynamic album.
I Can Dream About You seemed to cover all the bases. The title song, it’s biggest hit topped the charts and was shortly followed by an equally dynamic song that leaned heavily towards R&B. “We are the Young” contained that youthful exuberance and rebellion that made Footloose so popular, but did it with more urban savvy that included a funky bass line – so funky that it landed Hartman on Soul Train.
That savvy extended to other styles of pop and rock. By this time in the ’80s, new wave was still big and was represented with “Electricty” featuring Nona Hendryx. Other great songs like I’m Not a Rolling Stone captured the energy of Rick Springfield styled pop rock. There was even a homage to the Motown sound with “Name of the Game”.
I Can Dream About You offered a little bit of something for everyone as a snap shop of pop circa 1984. The rock, pop and occasional soul overtones were possible due to a writing collaboration with Charlie Midnight, famous for his work with rock stars like Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Nicks.
After proving that he could be a star in his own right, Hartman’s star seemed to fade. The reasons were unknown exactly, but it’s easy to speculate that his sexuality and declining health may have played a part. The mid ’80s was not a great time to come out and for high profile pop stars like Dan Hartman, doing so could spell the end of your career.
Sadly Hartman passed away due to an AIDS related brain tumor. He left a pop legacy that extends well beyond the success of Can Dream About You. As often is the case the star that burns brightest often burns the least amount of time.