The 80’s and 90’s saw the explosion of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Previously, soundtracks usually consisted of the film score (yawn), or a few songs by one artist (See: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Graduate, or the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever). But by the 80’s, movie studios and record labels were often owned by the same media conglomerate, which quickly realized that a soundtrack featuring a smattering of singles from their artists could be inserted in their films and soundtracks for double the exposure. That’s the kind of corporate synergy that brought us the ingenious food holocaust that is the KFCTacoBellPizzaHut combo restaurants.
Conveniently, I went from kid to teenager to young adult right as the soundtrack phenomenon was taking off before file sharing came along and set fire to the music industry, then urinated on its smoldering ashes. Do they even bother to release a soundtrack to whatever crappy movies come out now, like Eight Fast Eight Furious and Transformers Fourteen? But back in the glory days, sometimes a huge movie was made even hugelier by an awesome soundtrack that absolutely everyone buys. Like Cocktail or The Bodyguard. Sometimes, however, you are left wondering, years later, why you own the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves soundtrack.
I believe I can trace the rise and fall of this once-great marketing tie-in, as well as the musical autobiography of my young life, by going back through the soundtracks I have owned and examining what worked and what went the way of Corey Haim. Or Feldman. Whichever is the dead one. And thus I give you, my life in original motion picture soundtracks in two parts. Come back tomorrow for part 2:
Part I. The elementary and Junior High years
Your first love is always the best. And this movie, about a group of lovable scamps having a great adventure while searching for the treasure of One Eyed Willy without ever realizing that that is a euphemism for a penis, is certainly the best.
Highlights: I had a casette of this soundtrack, which was very Cyndi Lauper-driven. Whoever could have known that, with her shrieking/yelping voice and fashion sense that implied she was bereft of at least 4 of the 5 senses, her time in the spotlight would be short lived?
Lowlights: Whoa, REO Speedwagon, Luther Vandross, AND Richard Marx were involved? Was this a kid’s movie, or the soundtrack to all of your parents’ early ’80s makeout sessions?
Verdict: The movie in a landslide. Someday, when they finally make Goonies II and we are all highly depressed to see the original cast ravaged by the lapse of 30 years before realizing that we have been as well, maybe there won’t be any REO Speedwagon on the soundtrack. Until then, if you have a copy of this album, kill it with fire.
The movie that resurrected the Batman franchise came with the album that marked the end of the Prince franchise. This is officially the first album I bought with a “parental advisory” sticker on it, which my 11 year old self accomplished by placing my thumb over the warning when placing it in my mom’s shopping cart. My malfeasance was rewarded with an album of out of context samples of dialogue from the film scotch taped over phoned-in lite funk.
Lowlights: Seriously, “Batdance” is one of the worst songs ever to become a hit. Did someone give Prince a sampler, a copy of the movie, and 10 minutes to make a song? Batdance evokes the campy Batman TV series of the 60s where everyone dances frolics about like fruitcakes for no apparent reason. But without the fun. Also, “Arms of Orion” is babyshit.
Highlights: I remember that there’s a spoken word joke on one of the songs for no apparent reason. “A woman asks her lover why his organ is so small. He said, I didn’t know I was playing in a cathedral.” To an 11 year old, that was funny. Also, with only 9 songs, the album was mercifully short.
Verdict: The movie goes down as a classic revival of a legendary franchise. Nearly every copy of the soundtrack is now part of an island of plastic garbage the size of Ohio floating off the Japanese coast. And even the environmentalist part of me is perfectly OK with this. The movie wins.
Wayne’s World (1992)
This was the first soundtrack I remember that was so successful, they released a second volume “inspired” by the movie.* That is, “here are a bunch of other songs, that largely have nothing to do with the movie, but you’re gonna buy it anyway.” The movie and soundtracks were all smash hits and inspired numerous spinoff projects and products (“Huh. Wayne’s World boxer shorts… Wayne’s World toilet paper…”) of diminishing quality until poor Dana Carvey died of shame, as well as typhoid.
Highlights: Queen had the vision to record “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the 70s, and it took 20 years for anyone to figure out how to pay cinematic tribute to it. If anyone ever pretends to be too cool to like this song, please hit them in the face with a brick for me. Ok, what else do we have (scans track list). Um, there’s some Jimi Hendrix here. That’s good, right?
Lowlights: The rest of the album is a pastiche of the unlistenable. Dream Weaver? Not one but TWO songs by schwing-bait Tia Carerre, including a mangling of the proto-punk classic Ballroom Blitz? Late career Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath songs? Now I remember why a colony of spiders has been living in this cd case for the past 15 years.
Verdict: I can watch the movie again and laugh. I can look at the album’s track listing again and laugh. Only one of those is a good thing. Again, victory for the film.
* The sequel soundtrack features Robert Plant covering “Louie Louie,” plus songs from Dinosaur Jr., the Gin Blossoms, Four Non Blondes, and the Village People. This is the soundtrack equivalent of the Chewbacca Defense.
After the raging hard-on of financial success that was Wayne’s World, both the studio and an adolescent me figured the SNL crew could do no wrong. We were both wrong. Wrong was done. I guarantee that nobody has voluntarily watched this movie in 15 years. But mainly out of inertia, I still own the soundtrack.
Highlights: Amazingly, this soundtrack produced an enduring hit single that is played every single day on alt rock and classic rock radio, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Soul to Squeeze.” The Peppers no doubt fired the manager who convinced them to allow this song to appear on this album. Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” is a nice happy song too, right?
Lowlights: Everything else associated with the entire concept of the Coneheads movie. Was there a plot? Unknown. What would happen if you listened to the final song on the soundtrack, which is entitled “Conhead Love?” You’d die immediately of some type of hemorrhage, yes?
Verdict: Jesus, teenagers really will go see any movie (and, prior to file sharing, would buy any album). No points will be awarded, and may God have mercy on your souls.
Jurassic Park (1993)
I was 14 years old when this movie came out, everything about it was the tits. (Also the tits at that particular age? Tits). From the 70s to the 90s, John Williams had his hand in every bigtime summer blockbuster and made crowd pleasing pop classical music that put Andrew Lloyd Webber and his prancing cats and/or Jesus to infinite shame. John Williams was great. Know what else was great? FUCKING DINOSAURS.
Highlights: I mean, remember that scene where Newman is eaten by the little dinosaurs that shoot gooey venom? HELL YES. Was that historically accurate? DON’T GIVE A HELL. Musically, all I really remember is the theme song, but that’s ok, because everyone on earth can probably hum that theme song.
Lowlights: If you were in band or orchestra in the early ’90s, you probably had to play these songs several million times for pops concerts. But don’t blame John Williams for that, blame your band director. Also, yourself, because you were a nerd.
Verdict: I just don’t know. On the one hand, a soaring pop-classical score from a soundtrack legend. On the other, holy crap a T-Rex ate that bad guy and you could hear the crunching in Dolby Digital surround sound! Yep, the winner is the movie.