Saturday, 22 September 2012

AAA Songs (More Or Less) Exclusive To Film Soundtracks (News, Views and Music Issue 163 Top 5)

In honour of this week’s review of an album released to cash in on a movie soundtrack (only one of these songs actually appears in ‘Easy Rider’...and then its in a different version!) here are five notable AAA soundtrack spin-off songs. Now its worth noting that we’ve already covered AAA films on a couple of other top ten articles by now, so there’s no all-one-band soundtracks listed here (no acting-with-music films like The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, no mock-documentaries on one artist like Neil Young’s ‘Journey Thru The Past’, no all-music soundtrack albums released separately under a single artist name like Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Storytelling’ or concert films like ‘Pink Floyd at Pompeii’, because that would be covering old ground – and cheating – all at the same time). We’ve also restricted artists to one entry each because, well, to be brutally honest I’m a bit pushed for time this week what with ATOS forms and all, but we can always return to this article and expand it in the future if enough people ask for it. Right, that lot over with, here are five exclusive-at-the-time-to-soundtrack-albums for you to enjoy!

Simon and Garfunkel “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine (Alternate Take)”/”Mrs Robinson” (Instrumental) (Available on ‘The Graduate’ soundtrack album)

The Graduate is an interesting film. Despite the hoo-hah about the poignancy and the lyricalness of Simon and Garfunkel’s recordings, I never thought they worked that well in the film (hard as it tries, ‘The Graduate’ isn’t that complex a film and doesn’t really meet the multi-generational confrontation that so often happens in the choice of soundtrack songs). That said, unless you really knew your music in 1967 chances are you’d never heard of Simon and Garfunkel and the fact that this album of orchestral instrumentals and two new versions of one old song and one soon –to-be-properly-released song charted high alongside the first three previously released S+G albums, all at the same time, means that we fans are indebted to the movie for making mainstream success of what till then had been a (still sizeable) cult. You can count on one hand, maybe one finger, the amount of ‘other’ films willing to give the whole of a precious soundtrack over to a not that well known audience and the bravery works: the film was undeniably a good thing for S+G and the soundtrack gave the film an air of respectability it might not otherwise have been awarded. Modern fans might be disappointed with the soundtrack album today, which doesn’t have much you won’t already find on the ‘Sounds of Silence’ and ‘Parsley, Sage,. Rosemary and Thyme’ albums, but there are two forgotten gems. ‘The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine’ has always been one of my favourite of the duos songs, a sarcastic take on how the logical next step of a consumerist society is to have one big computer with buttons to press and flashing lights but doesn’t actually do anything. It sounds better here than on ‘Parsley, sage’ too, thanks to a rawer early mix complete with fuzz guitar and more of a sense of urgency. As for the film’s most famous moment, ‘Mrs Robinson’ (not written with the film in mind and originally titled ‘Mrs Roosevelt’ till the film makers asked for a change and got lucky with the song’s agenda of generational divide), you get to hear it twice – once in the single version we got to know and love that also appeared later on the S+G album ‘Bookends’ and once as a rather bare demo, a near-instrumental played to just Paul’s acoustic guitar and some do-do-do-do-do-doos for good measure. It’s well worth seeking out by committed fans, even though its barely 90 seconds long.

Cat Stevens “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out”/”Don’t Be Shy” (1971) (Available on the ‘Harold and Maude’ soundtrack album and most Cat Stevens Greatest Hits Compilations)

Cat was already a star after ‘Tea For The Tillerman’, but being associated with this cult film about a teenager obsessed with death until he meets a lively elderly lady, arguably did his career no harm. Like ‘The Graduate’ much of the soundtrack is made up of previously issued Cat Stevens songs, although for my money they fit the film rather better, with Cat’s more soul-searching songs like ‘On The Road To Find Out’ and ‘Trouble’ well placed throughout the film. With only two ‘philosophical’ Cat Stevens albums to choose from, they managed to persuade Cat to fill in the gaps and he came up with two of his most childish songs, both played to just a simple acoustic guitar backing. ‘Don’t Be Shy’ is textbook Cat, quietly urging the listener on to their goals however much they might fear the hurt and rejection if things go wrong, while ‘Sing Out’ is a delightful nursery rhyme singalong about how all of us have our own destinies and we should stop trying to ape everyone around us (if ever a singer-songwriter loved the theme of ‘uniqueness’ its Cat Stevens). Surprisingly, neither song made it to Cat’s next album ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ the same year, despite the fact that – like all of Cat’s albums – it runs to not quite half an hour (at a time when most albums were 40-45 minutes). As a result they’re currently available on CD only on best-ofs – ‘The Very Best Of Cat Stevens’ is your best bet if you want to search for them.

Art Garfunkel “Bright Eyes” (1977) (Available on the ‘Watership Down’ soundtrack album and Art’s 1979 album ‘Fate For Breakfast’)

So much more than a film about bunnies (as its so often seen), the adaptation of Richard Adams’ watershed book ‘Watership Down’ is, if anything, even darker and harsher than the original. Despite the cleverly drawn details of rabbit life this is really a book (and film) about human societies living together and touches on several deep subjects – such as death. In the film Art Garfunkel’s biggest hit (in Britain anyway, it never charted in America!) comes just at the moment when warren leader Hazel appears to have died. The liveliest rabbit in the film, the thought that this most sparkling of characters might have died inspires one of Mike Batt (he of the Wombles)’ better songs, similar to his striking song for the Hollies ‘Soldier Song’. Art’s vocal is perfect for the breathy, rather dreamlike haze that fills the gap between living and dead and the result is a perfect movie moment, slightly ruined by the rather basic way Hazel comes back to life in the next scene. Huh, all that emotion for nothing! By the way, his brother Fiver is clearly the best character in the film and should have been given his own ‘theme’ (something suitably dreamlike and hallucinatory, like early Pink Floyd psychedelia). At the time the song was exclusive to either the single (with an instrumental ‘Kee-haw’s Tune’ on the back, in honour of the seagull the rabbits befriend) or soundtrack album, although Art did release it on his next record, the patchy ‘Fate For Breakfast’. Eerily, this song about death appears to be cursed, at least a little: Art’s longterm girlfriend committed suicide months after its release (see our Garfunkel review on news and music 161 for more) and Stephen Gately, the former member of Westlife who sang it on the children’s TV series re-make in 1999, died shortly after at a very young age. That said, both Batt and Garfunkel are fine at the time of writing and they are the two most associated with the song!

Paul McCartney “Spies Like Us” (1985) (Available as a single; currently unavailable on CD)

I was song to write about the superior Macca soundtrack song ‘Did We Meet Somewhere Before?’, a song from the late-Wings period that almost made it onto the film soundtrack of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ before ending up on the slightly less glamorous ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’. However, as it never appeared on any soundtrack album, I can’t currently find which Macca CD it came out on as a bonus track (I never did own most of the ‘McCartney Collection’ CDs as my copies come from the issues before that) and I’ve never seen either film I’ve plumped for a minutely more common song. ‘Spies Like Us’ is a surprisingly primitive pop/dance song from Macca that’s very mid-80s, all booming synths and drums, but still deserved better than to have been dropped from the film at the last minute (a James Bond spoof about a couple of spies, one of which is Chevy Chase, it has two good jokes an hour apart). Fans might know the song best from the ‘McCartney Collection’ DVD which features the promo video featuring clips from the film and opening with a rubber-faced McCartney back in Abbey Road being chased by the two ‘heroes’ of the film across that famous Abbey Road crossing. Unloved by many, and something of a flop as a single after the success of ‘No More Lonely Nights’, many fans will tell you this is the nadir of McCartney’s releases. That said it makes for a useful stepping stone to more successful attempts in the same medium, notably the three ‘Fireman’ albums and the under-rated 1989 B-side ‘Ou est le Soliel?’

Neil Young “Philadelphia” (1993) (Available on the soundtrack album ‘Philadelphia’)

Many film fans talked about what a brave guy Tom Hanks was to appear in a film about Aids during a period when the illness was still little understood and treated with public scorn and miscomprehension (its effectively the chronic fatigue of its day in terms of mangled misinformation and blocked research and funding and I hope the naysayers of both illnesses feel pretty bad about themselves in decades to come). What went unsaid was how brave a whole great handful of leading musicians of the day were giving their time and energy to the exclusive songs on the soundtrack and risking being associated with what could have been a deeply unfashionable film. Neil Young’s song is, naturally, my favourite moment on the album (and film) and is one of his moody piano ballads, a song every bit as good as the ‘purple period’ in Neil’s career at the time suggests. The narrator of the song thinks he knows ‘what life’s all about’ before something unexpected shakes up his life, inspiring one of Neil’s best ever vocals, sung at a higher pitch than normal and as a result more fragile and wobbly than ever. It’s a strong moment in a strong film, which sadly Neil hardly ever plays in concert nowadays and never appeared on any of his own solo albums. The soundtrack album of ‘Philadelphia’ is a fairly common sight in record shops though (especially second-hand ones) and shouldn’t be too hard to find online either.

And that’s that for another week. Join us for more music-related mayhem next week!

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