If Days of Thunder had a purpose apart from boring the audience to tears, it was to give the world a theme song that lingers in the memory, as no NASCAR race ever has or ever will. “Show Me Heaven”, though it never charted in the US, was at number one for a full four weeks in Britain in September 1990, and for lovers everywhere it became a lasting anthem, even if the ecstatic couple finally noticed that the unforgettable melody was accompanied by the worst lyric in the world. The slapdash mediocrity of the words was hard to detect at first hearing, because the singer, Maria McKee, knew which phrases it might be wise to cover up. After all, she was responsible for writing them. The original lyric, along with the melody, was written by Eric Rackin and Jay Rifkin, but McKee refused to record the song unless she could improve the words. The idea that the original text must therefore have been even more miserable than what we hear on the record is hard to contemplate. Apart from abject echoes of phrases from other hits (“amazing grace” makes an unblushing appearance), there is the kind of approximate metaphor – even more approximate than the rhymes – that sets the teeth on edge. “I’m shakin’ just like the breeze” means less than nothing: the breeze might conceivably shake something, but doesn’t, in itself, shake. As for the exhortation “Make me breakfast” – some scholars contend that she is singing that, and others that she is singing something even sillier – McKee sensibly makes it unintelligible. Since she must have approved of its wording in the first place, the sonic camouflage speaks well for her subsequent judgment at the mixing board. No, it’s a truly terrible, irredeemable lyric.
Or it would be irredeemable if the melody didn’t lift some of its phrases into the Empyrean, largely by the employment of unexpected intervals, which McKee’s agile voice is fully equipped to make sound effortless. She has big-ballad tendencies, but sensibly holds back from the level of intensity where Céline Dion, say, sounds as if she is giving birth to a suitcase, and there is only one spasm of superfluous melisma à la Whitney Houston. McKee stays true to the main line. The result, impossible to get out of your head once it has been allowed in, is a copybook example of how, in a popular song, the music comes first. But the words still matter, and it is only at those moments when the melodic alchemy is being worked on a verbal phrase which is at least not worse than dross that the song comes to its full life. YouTube has two versions. One of them is the Days of Thunder trailer featuring idyllic visuals of Cruise and Kidman in the glorious dawn of their romance, and the other is McKee’s appearance on Top of the Pops, complete with low-lying dry-ice fumes, coiling and lingering like the mist on top of the amoebic bog into which, you might think, the English language, driven by the hounds of the popular music industry, is eventually fated to stumble, never to reappear.
Watch Maria McKee singing “Show Me Heaven” in the Days of Thunder trailer
Watch Maria McKee singing “Show Me Heaven” on Top of the Pops
[ All four of Clive's suggested clips seem to have fallen foul of the (surely dis-serving?) copyright police, but I found this copy of a stunning TOTP live performance, extant for now at least, but at present unembeddable: our player takes you direct to YouTube with all its adverts and distractions. — Archive Ed., August 2020 ]