This summer marked the 35th anniversary of Running Scared, a buddy cop action comedy starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines. A modest box office success – Lethal Weapon would take the formula to blockbuster levels one year later – upon release, the film has endured in the hearts of 80s kids largely because it was a perennial cable draw and because of Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom.”
The single, written by Rod Temperton, who famously wrote tracks for The Brothers Johnson, Michael Jackson, and Heatwave, peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in August 1986. It is one McDonald’s biggest 80s hits, and if you were in the record stores back then, it was a reason to buy the Running Scared soundtrack.
The music video, in constant rotation on VH1, blends clips from the film with scenes of McDonald, Crystal, and Hines performing the song in a beach bar – tying into Running Scared’s plot, in which the two cops contemplate retirement in Key West. The setting is a perfect match for the music’s tropical feel – think “Kokomo” but a little faster and bolstered by McDonald’s “blue-eyed soul” vocals.
The remaining eight songs on the Running Scared can be described as your typical mix of 80s R&B and pop B-sides, though the producers pulled together big names of the era -- New Edition, Klymaxx, Ready for the World, Kim Wilde, Fee Waybill, and Patti Labelle are all here; and Temperton even contributes an instrumental track. In that way the album mostly follows the blueprint set forth by its 1980s contemporaries. It’s not the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, but it doesn’t have to be, Running Scared’s secret weapon will always be “Sweet Freedom.”
It may not make you want to run off to Key West like it did in 1986, but hearing “Sweet Freedom” can still make you feel like no matter what’s wrong, it’s all going to be okay.