“Wind Beneath My Wings” expresses a lovely sentiment: “you’re my hero, you’re everything I would like to be, whatever I am capable of doing is because of you.” If anyone ever said that to me, I’d be moved beyond measure. Unless they said it by dedicating that damn song on the radio. Almost everybody who sings it does it at a lugubrious dirge-like tempo. If you really love me, you won’t bore me to death.
The song dates back to 1981, when Roger Whittaker recorded it. It first hit the charts in 1983 in a version by Lou Rawls. He was pretty much incapable of doing anything uncool, but skated dangerously close by speaking the first verse rather than singing it, only to redeem that decision by giving the rest of it his trademark swing. It’s the best version of the song, and the other big ones aren’t close.
Gladys Knight and the Pips cut it that year too, under the title “Hero.” The artist who made the biggest splash with the song in 1983 was country singer Gary Morris, whose version won Song of the Year honors from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. Then came 1989, and Bette Midler’s version from the multiple-hanky movie Beaches. Despite being the weakest of the four hit versions, once it got on the radio, there wasn’t much doubt where it was going. It spent a week at #1 in June, part of a musical summer dominated by the likes of New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, and Richard Marx, and snagged the Grammy for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
I was a wedding-reception DJ in the early 90s, and it was there that “Wind Beneath My Wings” earned its place among the World’s Worst Songs. Because it was a massively popular song and a ballad at that, it was a frequent request—but it’s remarkably hard to dance to. Brides liked to choose it for the father-daughter dance, which was good, because that way it couldn’t clear the dance floor. But it was also bad because it’s remarkably hard to dance to. More than once you’d see a father, weaned on sock-hop/record-dance music from the 1960s, trying to sway to a record that doesn’t pick up a danceable beat until two minutes in and then gives it away two minutes later, during the too-long, too-languid drone to the finish.
Let us take a moment here to congratulate Jeff Silber and Larry Henley, for they are the writers of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” (You can read more about the song’s creation here.) In the early 80s, Silbar had been writing songs in Nashville for years; Henley had been in the Newbeats (“Bread and Butter”) back in the 60s. They’re proud of their song, and they can light cigars with $50 bills because of it. That doesn’t mean we have to like it, though.