Last night I had the strangest dream…
Break My Stride, a perky pop smash from 1983 is suddenly a big deal on TikTok, the social media app where users share short, quirky videos of themselves lip-syncing, cooking or just being silly.
No-one’s sure how the song, a one-hit-wonder from the era of Manic Miner and The A-Team, went viral. But it has.
Thousands of users have shared the song, and compilations of the clips are racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
Here’s how it works: You text someone the lyrics to Break My Stride, one line at a time, until they figure out what’s going on; then you film yourself dancing in front of the text chain.
It sounds ridiculous – it is ridiculous – but the results are often hilarious.
Teachers have been pranked by their pupils, and cheating boyfriends have met their comeuppance. One user sent the lyrics to a man who’d been lurking in her DMs. Other recipients simply recognise the song and join in the fun. Compilations of the clips have been watched more than 100,000 times on YouTube.
“This has all come as a surprise to Matthew Wilder, who wrote and recorded the song 37 years ago.”
“I’m astonished and I’m thrilled,” he tells the BBC. “It’s that simple.”
It was his brother who first alerted him to the trend, about two weeks ago. “He’s got these Google alerts that pop up, so he forwarded one to me,” says the musician.
“I looked at it and shrugged and didn’t really think much of it. But then the messages started flowing in more and more frequently and I began to realise a phenomenon was beginning to occur.”
The singer says Break My Stride has been played more than 62 million times on TikTok; and the influence is spreading. The track has recently popped up on Spotify’s Viral 50 and Apple Music’s Top 100 charts around the world, giving it a whole new lease of life.
“It’s very difficult for me to keep up,” says the 67-year-old, who’s been working with Sony Music’s legacy team to “help me navigate” the song’s sudden resurgence.
That led to him setting up his own TikTok account to interact with fans, and posting his own version of the meme (while wrapped in a duvet). Meanwhile, a YouTube video depicting the song’s lyrics as modern-day text messages has been hastily thrown together.
Those lyrics are undoubtedly the key to the song’s virality. “Last night I had the strangest dream,” goes the opening verse, “I sailed away to China / In a little rowboat to find you / And you said you had to get your laundry cleaned“.
Wilder says the song was actually written in frustration with his record company at the time, Arista.
“I’d been on the label for a couple of years without making any headway,” he explains. “There was a lot of frustration in that time of my life and Break My Stride was reflective of that.”
The song’s chorus, “Ain’t nobody gonna break my stride / Nobody gonna slow me down,” is widely believed to have been directed at Arista’s boss, Clive Davis, who, when he heard it, sent Wilder a memo stating: “Interesting song, but not a hit”.
In turn, the singer asked to be released from his contract, and took the song to Epic Records, where it became a worldwide hit, reaching number four in the UK and five in the US.
Did it feel like he’d proved Arista wrong?
“It seems so,” laughs the singer. “It seems to come back and prove them wrong over and over again.”
However, he’s reluctant to explain the references to China and dirty laundry, saying: “To get deeper into the specifics would be a wrecking ball for people who’ve found a whole other way of interpreting the song.”
Instead, he says, the song connects because of its “spirit of defiance”.
“It speaks globally to the human condition of frustration. That, coupled with the quirkiness of the melody and the groove. Everything about it is just a little bit left of centre.”
In the end, Break My Stride turned out to be Wilder’s only significant hit; but that’s not the end of his story.
He’s won Grammy nominations for his work on the Disney animation Mulan, and as the producer of No Doubt’s breakout album Tragic Kingdom.
“That was a tough record to make,” he recalls. “It took us a year-and-a-half.”
It’s no secret that songs like Don’t Speak and Happy Now were inspired by singer Gwen Stefani’s painful break-up with the band’s bassist Tony Kanal.
Less well-known is the fact that her brother, Eric, who had been the chief songwriter, quit mid-way through the recording sessions to become an animator on The Simpsons, leaving Stefani to pick up the reins.
“There was a lot of controversy,” says Wilder. “The band I knew when I first met them and the band they became… they went through a sizeable evolution.
“But half-way through the making of the record was when tunes like Don’t Speak and Just A Girl started to reveal themselves, because Gwen was taking on more responsibility and having more of a voice. There was a real shift.”
By coincidence, all three of Wilder’s most successful projects are back in the spotlight this year.
As Break My Stride catches fire, Disney is gearing up to release a live-action version of Mulan, with Wilder’s song Reflection due to “play a big role” in the movie. Meanwhile, No Doubt have hinted at plans for a 25th anniversary tour of Tragic Kingdom.
The singer is watching all of this unfold from Europe where he’s following his son, an operatic tenor, on tour with the Orfeo orchestra. And he couldn’t be happier to see his work reach a new audience.
“The fact that all these things have such a long life and are able to come back and be appreciated again and again, speaks to the depths of what we were capable of doing.
“I’m thrilled. To go beyond that would be overstating or repeating myself, but I’m thrilled.”