Category Archives: Soundtrack

Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #572: Various Artists – ‘Fletch (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita572Record collecting can be a rollercoaster of emotions. On the two vinyl collecting groups on Facebook that I hang around in, I regularly see posts from members who have bought something amazing, for next to nothing, from a charity shop / thrift store / op-shop (depending on where they are in the world).

These minor hauls are usually a random bunch of records, in perfect condition, that somebody has just donated to the store for reasons unknown. The accompanying photograph shows the records in all their pristine glory – first pressings of Beatles records, or a bunch of early Pink Floyd albums, or something unattainable like a plum Atlantic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut with turquoise lettering.

You want to be happy for the person posting their good news, but an overwhelming pang of jealousy kicks in and you want to kill the bastard instead. Why does this never happen to me, you ask yourself, as you recall the countless times you’ve sifted through the records at op-shops across New Zealand and found nothing better than the ingredients for a Nana Mouskouri / Harry Secombe  / James Last mash-up.

Recently my fortunes changed. I visited a new op-shop in my home town; a store that used to be a guitar shop until it closed down last year. I ventured into the shop cautiously and saw a bunch of records displayed on the racks that the previous shop used to display sheet music. There they were, the usual suspects; records that won’t sell in a million years. I picked up a Carly Simon compilation, and quickly put it down when I noticed the $12 price tag. Ouch! A cursory look told me that the pricing was wildly inconsistent – some were a dollar or two, some were over ten bucks.

Then I saw it, the soundtrack to one of my favourite ‘80s comedies – Fletch, starring Chevy Chase. And for the princely sum of two hundred New Zealand cents. It might not be a turquoise Led Zeppelin, but it was something I’d been looking for in the racks ever since I started purposefully collecting records in the late ‘90s.

Of course I could have easily found the record on Discogs, the global repository for record collecting, but there’s something about the thrill of finding a record in the wild. I really couldn’t believe my luck, although I’m sure nobody will share my enthusiasm for such a record.

Released a year after Beverly Hills Cop, the score to Fletch was also composed by Harold Faltermeyer – a very hot property around that mid-‘80s period. The soundtrack collects four songs performed by him, alongside a batch of typically nondescript ‘80s pop songs (a couple of which are produced by Faltermeyer). I even like these songs, by the likes of Stephanie Mills, Kim Wilde and John Farnham, as they’re just so linked to the film in my brain. Whenever I listen to Dan Hartman’s Fletch, Get Outta Town, I immediately think of Chevy Chase commandeering a sports car. Harold Faltermeyer’s Diggin’ In reminds me of Chase snooping around an office looking for clues just before being chased out of the property by a Doberman (if there were two dogs, would they be Dobermen?).

As a comedy of the 1980s, Fletch wasn’t by any means a commercial success. It isn’t Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers or Beverly Hills Cop, but I love it. For me, it symbolises the time when I would record films off the television, to re-watch endlessly, using the VCR in my bedroom. On a four hour tape, I would record Fletch and then wait for months for the 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, to be aired so I could record it straight after.

Hit: Bit By Bit (Theme From Fletch) – Stephanie Mills

Hidden Gem: Fletch Theme – Harold Faltermeyer

Rocks In The Attic #534: Various Artists – ‘Clerks (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

rita534After finding Aerosmith – and starting to unlock the rest of the music world – in 1993, the following year was the first year where I completely submerged myself into this weird new world from the first day of January to the last day of December. As such, 1994 has really ended up becoming Year Zero for me.

If I see an album listed with the year 1994 in brackets after it, it instantly raises my eyebrows like a Roger Moore double entendre. It might not be the most attractive year to have as a starting point – by this time grunge was in a nursing home, and the empty and vacuous Britpop genre was starting to snowball in my native England – but you have to take what you’re given, don’t you?

I can’t remember when I saw Clerks – or even how I saw it – but it instantly became a favourite of mine along with Dazed And Confused from the prior year. Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater really became the spokesmen for those post-grunge, slacker times. They’ve both creeped more and more into the mainstream with every release since, but both of these films were really regarded as the embodiment of the counterculture in the early- to mid-‘90s.
rita534a
Of the two, I feel the most let down by Kevin Smith. His output has been very patchy since, to such an extent that I gave up on him altogether after 2010’s Cop Out. Linklater, meanwhile, has taken the Steven Soderbergh route of just trying to do something different with every film (okay, let’s ignore Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, the Ocean’s Eleven sequels and a few other duffers). Anybody who goes to the effort of directing Boyhood, a film where the principal photography was spread out over eleven years, deserves major respect.

Of course, the magic in Clerks and Dazed And Confused is in the scripts, and both films stand up really well to the other well-scripted comedies I would watch endlessly around this time: This Is Spinal Tap and Withnail & I.

Hit: Clerks – Love Among Freaks

Hidden Gem: Chewbacca – Supernova

rita534b

Rocks In The Attic #351: Jack Nitzsche – ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#351Just after my first child, Olivia, was born, I remember being sat in the maternity centre one quiet morning. It wasn’t visitors’ hours yet, so the place was pretty quiet – just sore mothers shuffling around gingerly, with a few nurses dotted around. I was sat with my wife, and our new arrival, in my wife’s room – and all of a sudden I heard the strains of a familiar song playing in the corridor outside.

I recognised it immediately – Charmaine – the easy listening classic forever associated with mental institutions (and retirement homes), not least because of its inclusion on this soundtrack. I jumped out of my chair with a smile on my face. I opened the door slowly to follow the source of the music.

I stepped out into the corridor, expecting to see Martini, Harding and Cheswick sat at a table, playing cards for cigarettes. Maybe Chief Bromden would be mopping the floor, shuffling past Frederickson and Sefelt, whispering to each other in the corner.

I looked for a nurse, thinking I would see nurse Pilbow. It was still early, so perhaps nurse Ratched wouldn’t be there yet. Perhaps Mr. Washington would be unlocking the nurse’s station, ready for medication time.

I couldn’t find anybody – perhaps they were all outside, in the exercise yard, or in the school-bus, en route to an impromptu fishing trip?

My copy of this record has a big red sticker exclaiming ‘WINNER! 5 Academy Awards’. That’s very important – five academy awards, and the five most important ones too. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and one of the screenwriting awards, in this case, Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s one of only three films to achieve this – It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) being the other two.

It’s a perennial favourite in our house. A film that never gets old, never loses its relevance, never feels dated. It’s my favourite Jack Nicholson performance and a film where everything, absolutely everything is just perfect.

Ah, juicy fruit.

Hit: Charmaine

Hidden Gem: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Opening Theme)

Rocks In The Attic #334: Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#334I haven’t seen Chariots Of Fire, or at least I don’t think I have. If I did, it must have been when it was first on television, which would have been when I was about five years old. It hardly seems the sort of film that would excite a five year-old though.

Almost everything on this soundtrack sounds like Blade Runner. I know the score – and the soundscape – of that film so well, that you can hear certain sections in this soundtrack that he’s rehashed for the later Ridley Scott film. When I finally get to see Chariots Of Fire, I’ll be disappointed if there are no Voight-Kampff empathy tests as part of their University education.

Before I bought this record – for no more than a dollar, from one of my local charity shops – I hadn’t heard anything from the soundtrack except for the main theme (Titles). The rest of the album is just as good, with a lovely electric piano on Abraham’s Theme showing where Zero 7 got some of their inspiration from.

After the excellent opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the main titles of Chariots Of Fire will forever be linked to that great little sketch by Rowan Atkinson. I need to see the film, otherwise I’ll start to think that I have seen it, and that I really enjoyed its humour, especially in that scene when Rowan Atkinson outran everybody on the beach.

That’s the good thing about living in this decade – films at your fingertips. All though growing up, adolescence, and into my twenties, I would wait patiently for certain films to show on television. In the UK, there was a good chance for classic films to turn up from time to time on a BBC2 retrospective. Unfortunately New Zealand television doesn’t have the same mandate to educate viewers – they just show the same action films and rom-coms over and over. There was also that time that TVNZ played Thunderball the week after they had played Never Say Never Again. Idiots!

Hit: Titles

Hidden Gem: Abraham’s Theme

Rocks In The Attic #315: Various Artists – ‘Pulp Fiction (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

RITA#315What a soundtrack! Pulp Fiction came out in 1994 – the year I finished school – so I remember this soundtrack being the – erm – soundtrack to many parties over that summer. Whatever you might think of Tarantino’s films, his soundtracks can’t be beaten for pulling together forgotten songs and giving them another chance in the sun.

Tarantino has definitely lost his way recently – Inglourious Basterds is simply a patronising wish-fulfilment fantasy for the Jews, Django Unchained does the same for African Americans – but Pulp Fiction is almost perfect. I remember hearing so much about it; I bought it on VHS the day it came out. I’d missed it at the cinema (although I did eventually see it on the big screen, on a special screening a few years later), but I just had to see it. I don’t think I had even seen the trailer at that point – just a snippet of the film, the Jack Rabbit Slims dance contest, on Barry Norman’s Film ’94.

This was when I used to work at Tesco, so after my shift I bought the video together with some chocolate with potato chips – and consumed the lot that night (as in the chocolate and potato chips at the same time). I haven’t eaten chocolate and potato chips at the same time since – it is a pretty weird taste, and I can’t remember who recommended it to me – but it’ll forever be linked to Pulp Fiction in my memory.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over that fluffed line when Amanda Plummer repeats her expletive-filled rant at the diners towards the end of the film (‘Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!’ becomes ‘Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every one of you motherfuckers!’) – and I do think it is a mistake, regardless of any well-thought out theories out there (love your thinking, Realiction) – but I’m constantly reminded of it every time I hear the dialogue that opens the soundtrack.

I do like to think though, that if I ever did commit an armed robbery, I’d announce it in Tim Roth’s wonderfully understated “Everybody be cool – this is a robbery!”

Hit: Misirilou – Dick Dale & His Del-Tones

Hidden Gem: Bustin’ Surfboards – The Tornadoes

Rocks In The Attic #245: Various Artists – ‘Top Gun (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#245Is Top Gun one of the gayest films ever made? Yes!

Is the soundtrack to Top Gun one of the gayest film soundtracks ever produced? Yes!

Why do I have it in my collection? I don’t know!

Hit: Take My Breath Away – Berlin

Hidden Gem: Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins