Song of the Week – Early Soundtracks by Rock Artists in Film

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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:

Mark Knopfler – Princess Bride

Queen – Flash Gordon

Richard Thompson – Grizzly Man

Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas

Peter Gabriel – Last Temptation of Christ

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Turn to Me, Plastic Penny; Lady Samantha, Three Dog Night; Bad Side of the Moon, Toe Fat; Rock Me When He’s Gone, Long John Baldry

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Elton John and Bernie Taupin began writing songs together in the late 60s. Many bands recognized their talent and recorded their songs before Elton John became a worldwide, cementing their songs in rock history. Today’s post recognizes a few of them.

Plastic Penny was a psychedelic pop band from England and included drummer Nigel Olsson who later became a key member of John’s recording and touring band. “Turn to Me” was on their 1969 UK released album, Currency. To the best of my knowledge “Turn to Me” never received a proper recording by John although a demo version does exist and can be found on YouTube.

“Lady Samantha” was recorded during the sessions for John’s first album, Empty Sky but wasn’t included on the original album. Instead it was released as a single in January 1969. Three Dog Night found the song and recorded a version for their second album Suitable for Framing, released in June 1969, more than a year before John would gain stardom in the US with his first hit “Your Song”, released in October 1970 and peaked in the charts at #8 in January 1971.

Toe Fat’s recording of “Bad Side of the Moon” was on an album released in May 1970. The song came from the Elton John sessions but wasn’t on that 2nd album. It was the B-side to the single release of “The Border Song”, another cut from Elton John. It also came out on the live 11/17/70, a radio broadcast from WABC (later WPLJ) in NYC, that was released in the US in April 1971. Toe Fat featured multi-instrumentalist Ken Hensley who left the band to start the hard rock band Uriah Heep.

Long John Baldry recorded two albums with an interesting concept. Each had one side produced by Rod Stewart and the other by Elton John. His 1971 album It Ain’t Easy included a John/Taupin song called “Rock Me When He’s Gone.” This song was written during John’s Madman Across the Water sessions but didn’t make it onto the album. John’s version didn’t see the light of day until the 1992 release of his set of unreleased recordings, Rare Masters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Whatever Gets You Through the Night, John Lennon

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Today the great sax player, Bobby Keys, died at the age of 70. In his honor I’m re-posting a SotW I originally sent out 2 years ago tomorrow – November 3, 2012.

One of my favorite session men is tenor sax player Bobby Keys. Known mostly for his long association with the Rolling Stones – that’s Keys on “Brown Sugar”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and all over Exile on Main Street – Keys also made significant to contributions to recordings by everyone from Joe Cocker, to George Harrison, to Harry Nilsson, to Buddy Holly.

He played the sax on Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender.” That’s him again on Dion’s “The Wanderer.”

Keys rock star lifestyle excesses are legendary. In February he published an autobiography titled Every Night’s a Saturday Night: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m certain it contains some great stories.

My pick for the SotW is John Lennon’s collaboration with Elton John – “Whatever Gets You through the Night.”

I chose this song because Lennon really created a lot of space for Keys to do his thing. (And let’s face it; it’s a really fun song that you probably haven’t heard in a dog’s age.) From the opening note, Keys is blaring away. Then he gets a couple of opportunities in between each verse and chorus to add short solos. He really makes the song.

As a side note, WGYTTN has an interesting story to go along with it. Apparently, in the recording studio Elton predicted it would be a hit. Lennon didn’t agree, so they made a bet. If the song reached #1, Lennon would have to appear on stage to perform it with Elton. Indeed, the song hit #1 on the Billboard charts on November 16, 1974. Lennon made good on his wager and appeared with Elton at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1974.

Enjoy… until next week.