Speaking of music, one of those dreaded yet masochisticly compelling Rolling Stone lists popped up the other day, this time covering the top 25 soundtracks of all time. In fairness, it wasn't as heinous as I was expecting, but there were some glaring omissions, to say the least. Music and film are like peanut butter and chocolate. The combination, when done well, is luscious and kinetic.
Since part of the reason I write in the first place is some strange moral compulsion to right the cultural wrongs of the world, I figured I would contribute my own personal list of superb soundtracks. The key difference with this list, other than being naturally quality, is that I refuse to put anything in numeric order. How art hits you can be really mercurial, all depending on your mood, the position of the moon, how the postman looked at you, etc etc. So with all of that in mind, here's just a taste of some of my favorite movie music!
“Repo Man.” Alex Cox's cult film, in a lot of circles, is almost better regarded for its soundtrack than the film itself. (Though don't get me wrong, the film is great. How could anything with Harry Dean Stanton, Fox Harris and Zander Schloss be bad?) Staring off with the mean title track by Iggy Pop, the rest of the album is a like a paen to early 80's West Coast punk, including such titans as The Circle Jerks, The Plugz (God love Tito Larriva!), Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Fear.
Speaking of punk rock soundtracks, I would be remiss to not mention either “Return of the Living Dead” or “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.” The former was actually my early introduction to bands like The Cramps and The Flesheaters. That alone is terrific, but it also features the indomitable The Damned, 45 Grave and an early incarnation of synth-outfit SSQ, which later on morphed into the solo career of Stacey Swain aka Stacey Q. It's a great soundtrack for one of the most fun and well-made non-Romero zombie films.
“The Great Rock & Roll Swindle,” a film whose origins begin with being the aborted Russ Meyer project “Who Killed Bambi?” ended up being one fascinating mess of a music film. There are moments of greatness within the film, with some of the the highlights being Steve Jones romping in a neon bed with a half-naked lovely in gold undies to “Lonely Boy,” only to have coitus interruptus via a talking dog (!), the tribal-disco fusion band, The Black Arabs, doing a “Stars on 45” type medley of the Pistols hits and, of course, Sid Vicious beautifully butchering the old standard “My Way.” The latter has become particularly iconic and a great example of how one can really deconstruct something old, hence making it new. Especially when it is the musical equivalent of using a ball peen hammer and some crazy glue. Which is never, ever a bad thing!
Of course, Tenpole Tudor's "Who Killed Bambi?" does have a huge place in my heart.
One of the most striking soundtracks to have emerged in the last thirty years is absolutely Mitchell Froom's work for Stephen Sayadian's post-nuclear masterpiece, “Cafe Flesh.” Released as “The Key of Cool,” Froom's score, much like the images and story it is accompanying, are not easily forgotten. It's jazzy, infernal and is in dire need of being back in print. One of my dreams is for not only “Key of Cool” to get a nice, new re-release, but for “Cafe Flesh” itself to get the loving, uncut and remastered treatment it so desperately deserves.
The soundtrack for Richard Elfman's “Forbidden Zone” was an absolute staple of my latter high school years. While I loathed high school, this film and soundtrack both were one of the balms that got me through. At the time, I had only seen the film once, renting a severely out-of-print copy from the long defunct Hauser Video, but it was love at first site and sound. It is a great insect-in-the-amber document of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, right before they became less Cab Calloway and more New Wave as Oingo Boingo. Anyone who loves black & white film, expressionism, old music, nudity, dancing frogs, Susan Tyrell, Herve Villechaize, the Kipper Kids, my beloved Joe Spinell and Danny Elfman dressed up as ole scratch himself the way that I do, must pick this up.
Absolutely one of the most underrated films and soundtracks ever has to be Bob Rafelson's “Head.” Better known as the one film the Monkees ever did, “Head” is one of the most exquisitely edited, subversive, dark humored rock films ever. It initially flopped, with one of the biggest factors being their fans expecting something just like the TV show: cute, zany and fairly safe. Instead, they got the ole “the money's in, we're made of tin” soft shoe, Vietnam war footage and Timothy Carey at his most intense and out-of-bounds. (Okay, what am I saying? Carey was always that magnificent!) The music matches the proceedings inch by inch, with the absolute highlight being the haunting “The Porpoise Song.”
Some honorable mentions that I will write about at a later date include:
“Urgh! A Music War”
“Bram Stoker's Dracula” (Not counting the Annie Lenox song. The score itself is gorgeous and much better than Coppola's muddled effort.)
Anything Italian between the late 50's and mid 80's
Anything with the names Les Baxter or Angelo Badalamenti attached.
There's obviously way more, but consider this piece to be a little bit of a taste of the proper. Now as a bonus, here are two of my favorite songs from a movie.
The first is Mort Garson's theme from Larry Hagman's “Son of Blob.” I have no idea how the film is, but I do know that this song is a little slice of esoteric heaven to my ears. I never need happy pills as long as I have access to this delight. Also, Mort Garson was a genius whose library is itching to be rediscovered.
The second is from the original “In the Heat of the Night.” Featuring the uber-fantastic Anthony James, “Owl on the Prowl” is like a hillbilly version of Sam the Sham's “Little Red Riding Hood.” In other words, awesome. (Also, this is for a friend of mine, whose taste surpasses even my own.)
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