Today’s post is the next installment in my series on rock music in films. The last in the series covered rock in ‘60s psychedelic movies. It was largely centered on soundtracks that included performances by rock bands. Today’s post focuses on movie soundtracks written and performed by rock acts.
One of the best movies of the ‘60s was The Graduate (1967), starring a young Dustin Hoffman. Directed by Mike Nichols, with a screenplay by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, and also starring Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross, it was a coming of age story and a box office smash. The hip vibe of the flick was aided by the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel.
The soundtrack recycled several songs from the first couple of Simon and Garfunkel albums that perfectly reflected the mood of the scenes that used them. But there was one original, the major hit “Mrs. Robinson.” This is the soundtrack version, not the hit that was on Bookends.
A year earlier, Francis For Coppola hired The Lovin’ Spoonful to provide the soundtrack to You’re A Big Boy Now. Interestingly, YABBN tackled a subject very similar to The Graduate – a young man engaged in an affair with an older woman.
“Darling Be Home Soon” is a beautiful song that was covered with a gospel feel by Joe Cocker and was previously featured as a SotW.
The Spoonful also provided the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1967).
There was a trio of films with notable rock soundtracks that came out in 1971:
Harold & Maude – Cat Stevens
Friends – Elton John
Percy – The Kinks
Like The Graduate soundtrack, Harold & Maude’s reused tracks from early Cat Stevens albums supplemented with some new material. The most famous of the two new songs – “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” – was a SotW in August 2013, so let’s hear the other – “Don’t Be Shy.”
Elton John was considered for the role of Harold and was instrumental in connecting director Hal Ashby with Stevens.
Friends was John’s release between Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water.
“Friends” made it into the Billboard Top 40 and the soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 1972 for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. Despite those accolades, the Friends soundtrack album didn’t sell and could be found in the cut-out bins for a couple of bucks for years.
The strangest of these 1971 soundtracks was for Percy, by the Kinks.
“The Way Love Used to Be” is the best of the lot and was later included on The Great Lost Kinks Album (1973). But it must be difficult writing songs for a story that is about a guy named Edwin that loses his penis when a man falls from the sky and lands on him. When he gets a penis transplant, he names it Percy.
All of these soundtracks set the stage for rock music to be used to score films in the years to come. A few examples of outstanding soundtracks by rock musicians are:
Kevin Ayers is considered one of the most influential musicians in the British psych era – along with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.
Ayers started in a band called Wilde Flowers with Robert Wyatt. That group splintered in 1967 – with Wyatt and Ayers forming the Soft Machine and the rest of the band starting Caravan. By 1969, Ayers was off on a remarkable solo career, though he is largely underrecognized here in the US.
Today’s SotW is “When Your Parents Go to Sleep” from Ayers’ 4th solo album, Bananamour (1973).
While many of Ayers’ tracks feature his baritone vocals delivered in a Lou Reed-ish style, WYPGTS is different. It is an R&B inspired cut with a soulful vocal by bassist Archie Legget. Supported by a wonderful horn arrangement and backing vocals by A-list singers Doris Troy, Liza Strike and, Barry St. John, the song takes on a Stax, gospel quality (or maybe Exile era Stones).
Ayers had an illustrious career that allowed him to work with Barrett, Brian Eno, John Cale, Elton John, Andy Summers, Mike Oldfield, Nico, and many others greats.
Today’s SotW is “Oliver’s Army,” by Elvis Costello.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the song, I need to warn you upfront that it contains the “N” word. But it doesn’t offend me – and I hope it doesn’t offend you – because the song isn’t about racism against black and brown people. (Though I admit the fact that Costello had an argument in 1979 with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett that included racial slurs seems to weaken my case.) Still, I maintain the track is an anti-war rant that criticizes how the British government took advantage of enlisting young men with few job prospects into its military back in the late ‘70s when the song was written and recorded. Costello was once quoted as saying “I was upset by the idea that armies always get a working-class boy to do the killing.”
Call careers information, have you got yourself an occupation
If you’re out of luck or out of work, we could send you to Johannesburg
Besides having such penetrating lyrics, it’s handed off to us like a stick of candy floss. You could be forgiven missing the heft of the pointed lyrics amid the pop genius of the music, especially the Abba like piano part (think “Dancing Queen”). The harmony soars on the last verse (“But there’s no danger…) and Costello gives the song a perfect ending when he imitates Ronnie Spector’s trademark Oh-oh-ohs.
But back to the lyrics. Who would have thought these lines, written in 1978, would have any relevance today?
Hong Kong is up for grabs London is full of Arabs We could be in Palestine Overrun by a Chinese line With the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne
And back to that controversial lyric… It was originally inspired by the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but how does that feel today?
Only takes one itchy trigger, one more widow, one less white nigger
Tom Waits once said “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” That’s “Oliver’s Army” in a nutshell!
There are dozens of songs I like by Drive-By Truckers. Today’s SotW is one of my favorites – “I Used to Be a Cop” – from their 2011 album, Go-Go Boots.
No, I’m not trying to be political. The song isn’t about police brutality. It’s about a damaged guy that can’t seem to overcome his demons and keep his life on track.
I got scars on my back from the way my Daddy raised me. I used to have a family until I got divorced. I’ve gone too far from the things that could save me. I used to be a cop, but they kicked me off the force. I used to be a cop, ’till they kicked me off the force.
He screws up every opportunity he’s had and especially regrets losing his job as a cop. He loses his wife and family, his car, and laments that he was too small to play college football. After all of that, he still can’t figure out how to put his broken life back together and move forward.
Used to have a wife, but she just couldn’t deal with the anger and the tension that was welling inside of me. Sometimes late at night, I circle ’round the house I look through the window and I remember how it used to be. I look through the windows and I remember how it used to be.
What I dig most about this track is the groove. On the blog 95 North… The Newspaper, writer D Stefanski sketches it like this:
The song is lit by a moving, fluid baseline and streaks of dark guitar. There is the occasional major chord triumph during the bridge, but only briefly, as it serves to celebrate past experiences of the character, not the present, nor future prospects. This is when we learn he used to play football, and that the police academy “was the only thing” he was good at. In contrast, the dark verses are filled with foreboding, twisted tales of a life that’s disintegrated. Classic tune from the Truckers, indeed. Almost feels like it could’ve been featured in the movie “Taxi Driver”.
The last two minutes of the song is the band jamming over the main riff. It is both haunting and beautiful.
In 1986, Julian Cope released his biggest hit – “World Shut Your Mouth.” It made it to #84 in the US and did even better in the UK where it broke the Top 20 (#19). What’s confusing is that the song was on Cope’s third solo album, Saint Julian, not on his first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984). My post from May 9, 2015, touched on the subject of songs that did not appear on the album of the same name. The SotW that day was “Waiting for the Sun” that appeared on The Doors’ Morrison Hotel (1970), not Waiting for the Sun (1968).
The song is a prime example of ‘80s Modern Rock and has interesting lyrics that are subject to myriad interpretations:
She’s flying in the face of fashion now She seems to have a will of her own She’s flying in the face of fashion now She seems to have it all chromed The time was going so frequently She said if I try harder again She’s flying in the face of fashion now She sells the world annually to a friend
She sings, “World, shut your mouth, shut your mouth Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth World, shut your mouth, shut your mouth Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth”
She always used to live so secretly She’d be seen in and out of the sound She’s taking on the role of the four winds now She’s having tea there out in the crowd She’s flying in the face of fashion now She seems to have a will of her own In lieu of what you’re saying so frequently She seems to have, it all adds up
My interpretation of the lyrics is that it is a song about a woman who became famous but is now rebelling against losing her privacy to that fame. She’s rejecting her public image in order to reclaim her private life; telling the world to stop talking about her and to leave her alone.
Cope is an interesting character. His first brush with fame in the music industry came when he was a member of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s band The Teardrop Explodes. They had hits with “Reward,” “Treason,” and “Sleeping Gas” but I remember them best for “When I Dream” that wasn’t even included on Cope’s greatest hits album Floored Genius: The Best of Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes 1979-91.
But Cope is a complicated man. You might even say he is an eccentric revolutionary, whose interests and talents go far beyond the music industry. He is an outspoken activist and author on many subjects including the occult, archeology (Neolithic culture), and musicology (Krautrock and Japrock).
In 1968, an album called South Atlantic Blues was released on Atco Records by an artist named Scott Fagan. Hardly anyone heard it, though it deserved a listen then as it still does today.
Fagan has the type of backstory that lends credence to the Mark Twain quote “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Born in the US, Fagan was taken to live in the Caribbean by his free-spirited mom – along with her other children, her twin sister, and her boyfriend. But over time, things in their little “commune” turned bad. The boyfriend and aunt left, and Fagan’s mom began to abuse alcohol and enter destructive relationships. (She was married seven times, mostly to alcoholics.)
In 1964, Fagan left the Caribbean and moved to New York. There he looked up one of his songwriting idols, Doc Pomus. (Working with Mort Shuman, Pomus co-wrote several Elvis Presley hits including “Little Sister,” Viva Las Vegas,” “Suspicion” and others.) Pomus was impressed that the young Fagan was able to find him in NY and was even more taken with his songwriting, voice, and good looks. Pomus signed him and took him under his wing. Pomus, Shuman, and Fagan started to work together and came up with “I’m Gonna Cry Til My Tears Run Dry” which was a hit for Irma Thomas, and later covered by Linda Ronstadt. Fagan also played on the same bill at New York’s Cafe Au Go Go with Jimmy James (aka Jimi Hendrix).
So, what went wrong? Well, pretty much everything. First was the record deal. He had a shot at being the first non-Beatles release on Apple Records but got beat out by James Taylor. He was signed by Jerry Schoenbaum to make the album for Atco. But soon after the signing, Schoenbaum quit the label, leaving Fagan without anyone to champion him there.
So the album sank without the benefit of promotion, which is really a shame because it contains some excellent music. Take, for instance, “In My Head.”
On the blog Rockasteria, Ryan Prado writes of “In My Head”:
Fagan’s conscious vocals command attention, ruminating on the hazy inner dialogue of someone coming into his own not just as an artist, but as a man. Fagan sings, “The city street show cracks like a star so I wonder/why is it so strange to rearrange the clouds over and under myself?/and I have always seen the sea as secret lover/but does she want the sky instead?/Oh no; it’s something in my head.” String flourishes and tasteful guitars accentuate the propulsion of what sounds more Motown than sacred psych-folk (as this release is widely incorrectly ballyhooed as), which is one of the first indicators of the album’s otherness. Fagan’s powerful vocal takes are the next.
Another odd twist to this story occurred in 2000, when Stephin Merritt, of the Magnetic Fields, was being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air and mentioned that his father was Scott Fagan. One of Fagan’s ex-wives heard the interview and alerted him to Merritt’s claim. Fagan tracked him down and it turned out to be true. The men finally met for the first time in 2012.
This story does once again prove Twain to be correct!
This next installment of Rock in Films covers the late ‘60s psychedelic films.
By the late 60s, filmmakers began to incorporate rock music into their movies’ soundtracks and plots. Director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) was one of the best and first to utilize rock effectively. The story takes place in “Swinging London” where a photographer inadvertently captures a murder on film and uses his images to try to solve the crime.
The film’s soundtrack was scored by Herbie Hancock, but there is a club scene that features a live performance by The Yardbirds, with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitars, doing “Stroll On” (better known as “Train Kept A Rollin’”).
Riot on Sunset Strip (1067) is a cheesy film that attempts to convey the essence of the LA/Hollywood scene around the time of the ’66 LA riot. It has all the clichés of the day, including a film portrayal of an LSD trip. But it also has numerous club scenes that feature some of the best garage/psych bands of the time, including The Standells, Chocolate Watchband and The Enemies (a band that featured Cory Wells, later of Three Dog Night).
Psych-Out (1968) was a movie starring Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Susan Strasberg. Susan’s character arrives in SF looking for her brother. Although deaf, she is befriended by a hippie commune. Again, there is film portrayal of an LSD trip. The soundtrack includes music by The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm Clock. There’s a ballroom scene where Nicholson’s band, Mumblin’ Jim, performs. In reality, it is the Strawberry Alarm Clock with Nicholson pretending to be part of the group.
Nicholson wrote the screenplay for The Trip (1967), a film that portrays a television commercial director’s experience with – you guessed it – an LSD trip! The movie stars Dern, Strasberg, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Of course, Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson would be back at it a couple of years later to film the much higher quality Easy Rider, but that’s a subject for another post.
The film’s music was provided by Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag, with only one on-screen performance that I don’t think was the Flag. It may have been Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band (did they have a lefty guitarist?) who were originally tapped to provide the soundtrack before getting replaced by Bloomfield. Here’s the psychedelic club scene of the band playing “Fine Jug Thing,” complete with strobe lights, and painted women.
The Monkees decided to upend their squeaky clean, pre-fab four TV image through a film vehicle called Head (1968). Nicholson was involved in this project too, as co-writer and co-producer with Bob Rafelson. Though the flick has an incomprehensible plot, it does have a few gems on the soundtrack including “The Porpoise Song,” and “Circle Sky” that was performed in a concert scene for Head.
Former member of the Be Good Tanyas, Frazey Ford is an artist to be reckoned with. The Vancouver based, country soul artist released her third solo album earlier this year. U kin B the Sun is another leap forward in her creative growth. That’s a huge accomplishment after the giant step she took with her last album, Indian Ocean, when she incorporated Memphis soul into her sound by recoding with the Hi Rhythm Section that supported all of Al Green’s huge 70s hits.
Take a listen to “Holdin’ It Down.”
I held it all together, heavy on my mind I held it all together but I left it all behind I didn’t see you coming, coming down the line Traffic in the atmosphere, salt inside your smile
Lessons I’m unlearning, back and forth in time Coming up all rocky and opening in my mind
I have been holding down long as I can remember You know the only thing I have depended upon has been me Oh well, but I’d like to rest on the shore Before I go back and do more And I’m taking a plane and a car straight to your door
The sap it runs in springtime The thaw begins at night My hips are moving forward I come from a mellow line
Reckless deep abandon Streets that open wide I thought I wasn’t ready I was ready all the time
Ford, quoted on her record label (Kill Beat Music) website describes the lyrics saying, “To me it’s about an embodied sense of female resilience and self-reliance through generations mixed with the urge to rest and trust in another.”
The instrumentation on this song follows the axiom that sometimes “less is more.” I love the way the single root note is pounded in time through the chorus. The sparse arrangement leaves plenty of room for Ford’s expressive vocal.
Check out the rest of Ford’s recordings on Spotify. You won’t be disappointed!
Seatrain is one of those relatively obscure bands that I really enjoy listening to. Their first, eponymous album was called Sea Train (1969). That band was formed by ex-members of the Blues Project, flutist/bassist/songwriter Andy Kulberg and drummer Roy Blumenfeld. They were joined by fiddler Richard Greene who had played with Geoff and Maria Muldaur in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.
The second, eponymous album was titled Seatrain (1970). That’s my favorite and was improved by the addition of Peter Rowan on guitar, but more importantly, lead vocals. Seatrain was produced by George Martin. It was the first rock act he produced after completing his run with the Beatles on Abbey Road. (Seatrain recorded for Capitol Records, as did the Beatles in the US before they formed Apple.)
The country-rock on Seatrain makes some biblical references. The song “Waiting for Elija” alludes to Elija’s second coming. Another biblical story is told in “Book of Job.”
Today’s SotW was the band’s only “hit.” “13 Questions” reached #49 on the Billboard charts.
“13 Questions” flips the typical alien invasion story. This one is told from the perspective of the alien.
Deep in the darkest hour of a very heavy week, Three Earthmen did confront me, and I could hardly speak. They showed me 19 terrors, and each one struck my soul, They threw me 13 questions, each one an endless hole. Thirteen questions, each an endless hole.
If anyone is interested in digging deeper, check out Seatrain’s recording of Lowell George’s “Willin’” – there titled “I’m Willing.” It has a creative arrangement and was on record before either of the two versions released by Little Feat on their first two albums.