Archive for the ‘Soundtracks’ Category

Like many, I was first introduced to The Plimsouls through the 1983 movie Valley Girl. They appeared as a club house band in the film, where three of their songs were featured. (If only I were so lucky to have had them as the house band at my regular haunt back in the day). The group’s dynamic power pop, garage sound was hard to resist. Well-known on the thriving L.A. music scene for their energetic lives shows, they seemed primed for bigger things but it was not meant to be. Unfortunately, the band disbanded in the mid ’80s due to solo career pursuits.

The group was formed by singer/songwriter Peter Case in California in 1978, after toiling around in two previous bands. They quickly became favorites on the early ‘80s L.A. club scene, and Case was gaining critical attention for his songwriting. They released their first EP in 1980, Zero Hour, which showed promise and received heavy airplay on the legendary L.A. KROQ radio station. Their first album, 1981’s The Plimsouls, managed to capture the vitality of their live shows but had poor sales. They would go on to record the 1983 LP Everywhere At Once, before parting ways due to Case’s pursuit of a solo career. They did reunite in the mid ‘90s and released the album Kool Trash but it received little notice. Case found some success as a folk-rock artist and continues to tour to this day.

Featured prominently in Valley Girl, “A Million Miles Away” was the song that propelled the band into the spotlight. With no record contract in place, the band self-funded the single. After the song was selected for the movie soundtrack, and with a new contract with Geffen, they quickly re-recorded and included on the Everywhere At Once LP.

 

The song “Everywhere At Once” is the reason I bought the cassette of the LP, and played it to ruin. It also appears in the Valley Girl film. From the first guitar chords I was hooked. The song then builds to a rousing, almost perfect power pop anthem.

 

I had a group of friends over for an ‘80s high school movie night this past weekend. Not wanting to go the John Hughes movie route, I chose films not everyone in the group had seen. The playlist for the night consisted of songs solely from the movie soundtracks. The goal was to watch three movies but as conversation and music flowed, time got away and we only got in two movies. The first film up was Valley Girl (which has arguably the best teen movie soundtrack of the ‘80s) followed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the final film on the agenda, The Last American Virgin. The film has a rather interesting soundtrack, where you’ll find arena rock songs alongside new wave classics and R&B love songs. I first came across the movie on late night cable TV, where my sister and I watched it more times than I care to mention.

A remake of an Israeli movie called Eskimo Limon (a.k.a as Lemon Popsicle), The Last American Virgin was released in 1982, within a month of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Unfairly dismissed as another teen romp akin to Porky’s, the film has since become a cult classic. Not to say the movie doesn’t have its share of raunch, which it certainly does, it also has some honest coming of age moments. It also has a surprising twist ending, that I won’t give away here. The soundtrack was promoted just as heavily as the movie, with good reason, as it includes songs from The Police, Human League, The Waitresses, Blondie, The Cars, Devo, U2, The Plimsouls, Oingo Boingo, REO Speedwagon, Journey, and the Commodores. I was really looking forward to screening the film for the group because if nothing else, they would have appreciated the soundtrack. Perhaps another ‘80s movie night might be in order.

Besides the heavy hitters, there were also some lesser known bands who contributed to the soundtrack, such as The Fortune Band. Formed in the late ‘70s, the band had some minor success in the early ‘80s and caught the attention of Columbia Records. They decided to include the band’s single “Airwaves” on the soundtrack. The song is a burst of new wave, power pop with plenty of catchy synth. The video for the song is a low-budget affair and has the band performing in a studio with plenty of cheesy visual effects.

 

The Gleaming Spires also appear on the soundtrack with their 1981 song “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?” (The song also appears on the 1984 Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack). The song was intended to be a B-side but eventually became the group’s only hit. It’s a bouncy, novelty song that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Sparks’ album, a band they would later join. The video has singer Leslie Bohem and drummer David Kendrick making a pie, of all things. After his tenure with Sparks, Kendrick would later drum for Devo in the mid-eighties.

 

I had some friends over last night to celebrate the music and films of David Bowie. The playlist spanned Bowie’s career from the early ‘70s to the 2010s. (It wasn’t easy narrowing down Bowie’s catalog to a three hour playlist). The movie we chose to watch was Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. As we were discussing Bowie’s music in movies, someone mentioned a film I had never heard of – Christiane F. It’s a German film about a teen growing up in a bleak part of West Berlin in the mid-70s who falls in with a drug crowd and eventually becomes a heroin addict. Bowie provided the soundtrack for the movie and also appears in the film. One of the first things I did today was watch the movie on YouTube.

Based on the non-fiction book Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, the film is about a bored young girl sick of her uneventful life who finds excitement inside the walls of the Sound, a popular youth nightclub. While there she meets and falls in love with Detlev, a 15-year-old heroin addict who we later learn supports his habit by male prostitution. By age 14, Christiane is addicted to heroin and has also resorted to prostitution to feed her addiction. The movie, directed by Uli Edel, was released in 1981 and caused a sensation upon its release in Germany. Not only was the story shocking it also brought to light an epidemic of youth heroin addiction that was sweeping across Europe. The movie was also given a somewhat wide release in the US but didn’t make much of an impression, probably due to its grim subject matter.

With how much Bowie’s appearance in the film was promoted, I was surprised that he had so little to do with the storyline. Except for a live concert appearance (which seems somewhat out of place), his music is mostly used as a backdrop to the story. Most likely the studio was trying to cash in on Bowie’s popularity. Although the movie is set in the mid-70s, the soundtrack draws largely from Bowie’s Berlin trilogy recorded a couple of years later. As Christiane first enters the Sound, “Look Back in Anger” is blaring from the speakers, and “Boys Keep Swinging” is played during a gang fight prior to a Bowie concert (both songs from the 1979 Lodger album). Regardless, the music adds to the hopelessness and despair to one of the most disheartening movies I’ve seen in a while.

In the film, Bowie performs “Station to Station” off the self-titled album. Since Bowie was performing on Broadway at the time, some of the crew and cast members were brought over to New York City for filming. If I’m not mistaken, you can see the beginnings of his Let’s Dance look.

 

After Christiane meets some new friends at the Sound, they decide to have some fun by running, and falling, and wreaking general havoc in a subway station to Bowie’s “Heroes.”

 

Back in the early ‘80s, the USA network featured a show called Night Flight on Friday and Saturday nights. The show focused on alternative music (showing videos that were censored on MTV or banned on other programs), cult movies, and documentaries, among other topics. This was in the relatively early days of cable and networks were on the lookout for original and unique material to lure the younger demographic. This is where I saw many music documentaries and cult and B movies, and where I came across a movie called Smithereens (directed by Susan Seidelman years before Desperately Seeking Susan). Released in 1982, it’s a gritty movie about the dwindling New York City punk scene and doing whatever it takes for that “15 minutes of fame.”

The film follows a narcissistic young girl named Wren (played by Susan Berman) on her quest to find celebrity in the NYC punk music scene (only to find the scene has moved to L.A.), and all the toxic relationships and misadventures that go with it. Wren doesn’t necessarily have any talent but doesn’t let that get in the way of ruthless ambition. The film also stars punk legend Richard Hell as a musician in a one hit wonder band (Smithereens) that she desperately wants to hook up with in order to get her ticket to L.A. The film, which had an original $20,000 budget, didn’t fare well with critics upon its release. Despite this, it was the first American independent movie invited to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. It has also gone on to be praised for its realistic look at the slums of the Lower East Village, its portrayal of the early ‘80s music scene, and its great soundtrack.

The soundtrack is a mix of new wave, pop, and post-punk and features several songs from the New Jersey group The Feelies. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack include Richard Hell & The Voidoids (“Another World,” “The Kid with the Replaceable Head”), The Raybeats, Dave Weckerman, and a gem by ESG called “Moody.” Although the movie doesn’t quite live up to its soundtrack, it’s worth checking out as a great time capsule of the period and, of course, the music.

The opening scene of the movie features The Feelies’ “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.” It also shows how Wren illegally supplements her accessories.

 

Wren dancing in slow motion to The Feelies’ “Original Love.”

 

Upon its release in 1980, the soundtrack to the film Times Square garnered more attention than the movie. Not surprising, as it was one of the best soundtracks of the ‘80s and perfectly captured the waning ‘70s punk scene and the emergence of ‘80s new wave. I saw the movie several times as a teen and could relate to its anti-adult authority message (what teen couldn’t), but it was the music that really stayed with me. The film introduced me to Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park,” Roxy Music’s “Same Old Scene,” and the work of Patti Smith. Directed by Allan Moyle, who would later go on to direct Pump Up the Volume, the movie was a commercial failure but has since been rediscovered and maintains a cult following.

The story of the film revolves around two teen girls from vastly different backgrounds who meet in a mental ward and find common ground in their disdain for authority figures. Pamela (Trini Alvarado) is the introverted, lonely daughter of a politician, and Nicky (Robin Johnson) is the tough street kid. They bust out of the ward and go on to form a band (The Sleez Sisters) to vent about their misunderstood lives. They get the attention of a DJ (Tim Curry) who promotes them and they soon find a following among the disaffected youth. Awareness of their differences eventually ends the union, but not before a grand finale show atop a roof in the middle of Times Square.

The soundtrack, released as a double album, has an eclectic mix of artists and covers a wide range of music from rock, punk, disco, and new wave. Artists such as David Bowie and XTC were commissioned to write songs for the film, although Bowie’s contribution was nixed due to conflicts with his record label. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack are The Cure, The Ramones, Robin Gibb, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, Joe Jackson, and Suzi Quatro (yes, Leather Tuscadero from Happy Days). The soundtrack also has original songs performed by the actors in the film, one a duet with Robin Johnson and David Johansen. The production of the film had its difficulties, Moyle being fired over his objections to scenes being cut and the inclusion of some “inappropriate” songs on the soundtrack, but it’s an interesting look at the pre-Giuliani Times Square that doesn’t exist today.

Here’s a clip from the film where Johnson’s character makes her debut as Aggie Doone. The song, “Damn Dog,” was written for the film and would later be covered by the group Manic Street Preachers.

 

The girls doing a dance to the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” on the streets of Times Square.

 

I was recently asked to make a list of 15 movies that had a lasting impact on me. At first I thought this would be an impossible task but after mulling it over, I decided to take five minutes and write down the first movies that came to mind. The British film Breaking Glass was one of those movies, not because it was a great film but because it really laid the foundation for my appreciation of punk and new wave music. I remember seeing it as a kid in the early ‘80s (for some reason it was played religiously on HBO) and it really made an impression on me – the hard-driving music, the fashion, and the anti-establishment message was unlike anything I’d seen or heard before.

Released in 1980, Breaking Glass is the familiar story of a band (Breaking Glass) getting discovered in a seedy bar, rising to fame, and then succumbing to the pitfalls of money and stardom. It’s also a tale about the underbelly of the music industry and the ease of how the most artistically earnest of individuals can sell out. The backdrop of high unemployment, industrial strikes, and general discontent only add to the bleak atmosphere of film. The songs for the soundtrack (produced by Tony Visconti) were written by Hazel O’Connor, who also plays the lead singer, making it the first time a female both wrote and performed a film’s entire soundtrack. The album, which was the basis for the soundtrack, went double platinum and reached #5 in the UK. It also produced numerous hit singles. The soundtrack, with its urgent and energetic sound, impressively holds up after all these years.

The song “Big Brother” has O’Connor speaking out about the perils of conforming to a soulless society. The clip below has stills of the movie, which show O’Connor looking very much like a character out of Blade Runner.

 

“Eighth Day” is the final song performed in the film. It finds O’Connor dressed in a futuristic costume (inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) cautioning of a time when machines and technology will rule the world.

 

A critical and box office failure upon its release in 1984, the movie Streets of Fire has since gone on to obtain cult status, mainly due to the film’s soundtrack. Taking place in an “unknown” place and time and promoted as a rock & roll fable, the movie has a futuristic retro look. There was high hopes for the film and with its fast pace and musical performances that jumped off the screen, it was certain to be a success with the MTV crowd. In the end, it might have been a case of the music being more than the movie.

Directed by Walter Hill, the film stars Michael Pare as the stone-faced hero, a very young Diane Lane as the rock star in distress, and Willem Dafoe as the slithery villain. The soundtrack is an odd mix of rock & roll, Motown, and over-the-top operatic power pop, which adds to the timeless feel of the film. The soundtrack did produce one major hit, Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You.” The song reached #6 on the Billboard charts and had heavy rotation on MTV. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack include Stevie Knicks, The Fixx, The Blasters as a bar band (they forwent the opportunity to perform in the movie 48 Hours to be in the film), Ry Cooder, and Maria McKee of the band Lone Justice.

“Nowhere Fast” is the first track of the film, and features Diane Lane at her rock & roll best. It’s a pulsating, energetic song written by Jim Steinman. The song is performed by Fire Incorporated, a studio band put together for the movie.

 

The final performance of the movie is another Jim Steinman number, “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young,” also performed by Fire Incorporated. The song is bursting with all the melodrama you’d expect from Steinman and provides the perfect ending to the film.