Dean Cushman was a college senior spending a semester in Sweden in 1988 when he heard a song on the radio called “The Look” that immediately caught his attention.
“It was obviously really fun and catchy, but I loved the vocals, they really speak to you,” he told HuffPost on the phone this week.
Those striking vocals belonged to Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle, better known as the Swedish duo Roxette.
Fredriksson died Monday at age 61 after a yearslong battle with cancer. Her legacy includes providing vocals on iconic songs like “The Look,” “Joyride” and the smash hit “It Must Have Been Love,” which provided the soundtrack to that memorable scene in “Pretty Woman” when Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, tearfully drives away from the Beverly Wilshire. The group, which formed in 1986, earned its first Billboard No. 1 hit with “It Must Have Been Love,” and went on to sell more than 80 million records worldwide.
But Cushman is no ordinary Roxette fan. If it weren’t for him, Americans may have never even encountered Fredriksson and Gessle, and the duo’s songs may have never catapulted to the top of the U.S. charts.
The story, which has become a bona fide music legend, truly begins after Cushman returned home from studying abroad to Minneapolis, where he dropped off the Roxette CD he bought in Sweden at his local radio station, KDWB.
“I’d heard it can take a while for European bands and songs to make it over to the states and I thought a lot of people would like it, so I just decided, ‘Why not? There’s no reason not to,’” he said. “I did it because I wanted to share the music.”
A week later when the station still hadn’t played the CD, Cushman returned to retrieve it, as it was his only copy and he wanted it back.
“That’s when the program manager, Brian Phillips, decided he would take a listen,” Cushman said. The station played the duo during a show that pitted two songs against each other and then gave listeners the chance to offer feedback.
“After that, it just went crazy,” Cushman recalled. “I was hoping for maybe some airplay for fun maybe around Minnesota ― I didn’t expect the national and international impact. I think [Phillips] said they made more than 100 copies of that one CD for all their sister radio stations around the country.”
Soon after, demand for Roxette’s music exploded in the United States ― and so did its popularity. The group had four songs hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, with nine total songs making the top 100. The group also made history as having the first song to go No. 1 as a cassette single, according to Billboard.
Cushman himself received a bit of notoriety in the United States for his part in launching the band here, but most of the attention he garnered was in Sweden. When he went back to visit again, he met his now wife, who is Swedish. Though they didn’t necessarily bond over a shared love of “The Look,” his celebrity status, however modest, still may have helped their relationship. “I may have showed off a bit,” Cushman said, laughing.
Aside from improving his love life and providing a bit of excitement, Cushman says the role he played in helping Roxette explode onto the American scene didn’t change his life substantially. He says he was studying computer science at the time, and now, at age 53, still works in the field today. Friends will occasionally text him when they hear Roxette in a commercial, and he gets called for the occasional interview about his fateful connection to the band, but otherwise not much has changed. Still, he has fond memories of that part of his life, especially getting to meet Fredriksson and Gessle several times.
“The radio station initially set up a meet and greet [with the band] ― we had a party,” he said. “It was really fun. Everyone was really psyched and just like, ‘This is crazy! How is this happening?’ [Fredriksson and Gessle] were really friendly ― really nice to talk to.”
And while he didn’t have a close personal relationship with Fredriksson, Cushman told HuffPost he will miss the singer and “feels proud” of the initiative he took to get Roxette’s songs played on the radio in the United States.
“It’s sad ― she is such a great artist,” he said. “I think [her death] needs to sink in a bit. Not that I talk to her, but I am going to miss her. I really like the fact that her music still stands the test of time and will live on.”