Great Musicians: Maria McKee
I wrote this on Medium in (so they tell me!) 2015 (hence mention of CDs) and I was seriously embarrassed when Maria read it. But I still believe it. She's unbelievably talented and still a role model.
You may know Maria McKee. She did that soundtrack for Days of Thunder. It was called Show Me Heaven and was at No. 1 in the UK for a month. Her 1990 Top of the Pops performance, now difficult to find online, brought back happy memories of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. And that time was a lot longer ago than it should be. 1990. Tom Cruise wasn’t a religious whacko, he was just a very famous Hollywood actor. His appearance in the Show Me Heaven video can only have helped promote the song in an MTV world.
This post was prompted by raking through some old CDs in the loft, and my extensive Maria collection is getting some airtime right now. She is one of those musician’s musicians. Always present, a power house of talent and creativity, but remaining just below the prime-time radar. A female Warren Zevon? Possibly. She combines the best of the darkness with the light, and she also has a wacky sense of humour. Friends with U2 — Bono dueted with her on the wonderful Sweet Jane, a song from the days when Maria fronted a now-forgotten band called Lone Justice.
McKee’s precocity is only apparent when you consider that she was 18 in 1982, the year Lone Justice was formed. Add to that her 1985 No. 1 hit, A Good Heart… what? Oh yes, you may just know it as Feargal Sharkey’s third single, the one that made his career. But it was written by a 19 year old girl. David A. Stewart heard a demo and promised to make the song famous. He did, but not with Maria on vocals. To cement McKee’s position in rock fame even further, the song was inspired at least in part by her relationship with Heartbreaker keyboard guru Benmont Tench. In a bizarre twist, Sharkey’s next single was written by Benmont himself in response to the earlier song. Life just doesn’t get any weirder. To finish this Heartbreakers digression, Lone Justice’s memorable single Ways To Be Wicked was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell.
Life continued without Lone Justice, and Maria forged ahead with her own solo career. Days of Thunder was not her only movie. If Love is a Red Dress was written for Pulp Fiction, the mega 90s-defining Tarantino cult classic. It was the only original song on the soundtrack, which surely confirms Tarantino as a McKee fan. After Tarantino, many more recent international acts paid tribute. The Dixie Chicks covered a song off McKee’s debut album almost note for note. It’s a fabulous song that cannot be improved.
Raw talent, amazing vocals and musical sensibilities combine in Maria McKee to make someone who should have been a global superstar alongside Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush and many others. But something, some ineluctable and invisible thread, pulled her back. Just like Warren Zevon, she is famous within music, but never quite broke through into public consciousness. That is a shame, but you can rectify it immediately. She’s on all the usual outlets. And just in case you doubted her star status, here is a Clive James blog about Show Me Heaven.