Recently, while I was doing some grocery shopping, Night Ranger’s 1983 power ballad “Sister Christian” came over the sound system. As I walked through the deli aisle, I caught myself quietly singing along:
What’s your price for flight?
In finding Mister Right
You’ll be alright tonight.”
“Man, I love this song,” I thought to myself. I mean, who doesn’t love this song? Its one of the best power ballads of the 1980’s. Realizing I didn’t own the album, or even know anything about the band, I went to the record store after leaving the grocery store (I mean, I’m always looking for a reason to go to the record store) and found a copy of Night Ranger’s album “Midnight Madness.” Bringing it home, I will admit I was underwhelmed by the rest of the album. Night Ranger isn’t really my jam. But, damn, that “Sister Christian” is a great number. But what was it really about? When I took some time to run down the rabbit hole on the origins of this song, I discovered an endearing backstory which made me love this song even more.
Formed in San Francisco in the late 1970’s, Night Ranger was primarily known as a hard-working touring band, often working as a supporting act for artists such as Judas Priest, Satanna, Ozzy Osbourne and ZZ Top. Releasing their debut album, “Dawn Patrol” in 1982, they proved popular with fans, although were largely dismissed by critics. It was during this period of their career that “Sister Christian” found its roots.
After a long period of touring, Night Ranger’s drummer Kelly Keagy took some time off to go home to Eugene, Oregon to visit his family who he hadn’t seen for a number of years. Now Keagy had a younger sister, Kristy, who was ten years younger than he was, and was just a little girl when he left home to pursue music. But now, about to graduate high school, Keagy realized how long he had been away because Kristy was no longer the little girl he remembered. All grown up, she was thinking about the things teenage girls think about like popularity, parties and boys. The juxtaposition of the girl Kristy was when he left, and the woman he was becoming reacquainted with, affected Keagy greatly, and he started to put his thoughts into song.
When Keagy brought the song to the rest of the band and sang it for them, they couldn’t make out what he was saying when he sang “Sister Kristy.” You see, Keagy wasn’t the singer (the singer was Jack Blades). They thought he was singing “Sister Christian” which they liked a lot better. However, they felt the sentimentality of the song would ruin their hard rock image, and when it came to choosing the songs for “Dawn Patrol” the band rejected it. But Keagy didn’t let up on the song and they finally recorded the song for their follow up album, “Midnight Madness” although Blades stepped aside and let Keagy take the vocals for it. Well, it was a success, and not only did the song hit the top of the charts, but it also became the biggest hit Night Ranger had, and their signature song. I mean, I can’t name another Night Ranger song. Can you?
So, while most power ballads from the 80’s are cocaine-soaked love ballads about one night stands and groupies, Sister Christian is a big brother’s worldly advice to his little sister. The crux of the song is to hold on to your innocence, and don’t grow up too fast. It really could be the sweetest sentiment ever to appear in a song by a hair band.
But what was the deal with that first line of the chorus? What did Keagy mean by “You’re motoring?” Well, “motoring” was a term that kids in Eugene, Oregon used for a popular pastime of cruising up and down the streets on the weekends in cars. It was kind of a local subculture, and Kristy was part of it. Now we know.
“Sister Christian” had a resurgence of popularity when it was used in the brilliant drug deal scene in “Boogie Nights” and has been featured in a batch of films and TV shows, and is now, apparently, being played at your local supermarket. But it was also a gift from a big brother to his little sister, who forever immortalized his sister in song.