2017 February 20 • Monday

For the 453rd Soundtrack of the Week we look to a biker movie off-shoot: Wild Wheels, a movie about the thrills of dunebuggies! A bunch of different bands are on the record but the composer credited on imdb (4.6 rating, sample user review: "Even if you like trash, you might still find this one boring and unwatchable") is Harley Hatcher, a pretty rad name for a biker movie soundtrack composer.

Looks like just another movie, doesn't it? But it's also another step down the road that leads to The Sidehackers.

Most of the songs sound familiar, like they're deliberately based on radio hits of the time. A few of them are performed by Don Epperson, who stars in the movie. "Sittin' by the Highway" has a Rolling Stones-ish riff with strings and a sunny blues feel as well as some not very original lyrics about having lost at life and love and being at loose ends.

Epperson's second number, "Jailer Let Me Go Home", is a catch and lilting country song, short and simple and likable.

"How I Fell for You" is also countryish and lilting, and is comfortably in the familiar pop zone of the album.

The fourth and final song from the star is "A Hurt in My Heart", which sounds like it's aiming for Charlie Rich's zone but can't reach it. Epperson's voice just doesn't have Rich's weight, depth, resonance and smooth honeyed darkness. (Who else's voice does?) The arrangement is also somewhat saccharine.

Terry Stafford does two songs. "Wine, Women and Song" starts out agreeably stupid and base but tries too hard to be smart with longer phrases, too many chords and excessive instrumentation. The organ's okay but the horns aren't helping here. "Night Ride" is simpler and better, too square to have much of an impact but with the potential, at least, to be eerie and dreamy. A band called The Thirteenth Committee gets a couple of numbers also. The first one is "I Hear Music", which is such a phony, upbeat, "groovy" flower power sort of thing that it's actually slightly depressing. They fare better with "Makin' Love", whose aggressive, double-picked distorted guitar, harder edge and intensity make this more of a sex song than a love song. The male and female duo of Bille and Blue get two songs as well. "I Can't Blame Myself" got to me. Something about the fingerpicking guitar and psyche-folk feel. It didn't strike me as any more authentic or original than the other songs but I liked it more. When they come back for "Playin' Hard To Get" they impressed me again. They've got a solid sound, their voices blend well and there's a good guitar solo on this one. The next group to get a couple of songs is The Three of August. "A Thousand Butterflies" has a cool, almost deranged keyboard sound and some unexpected minor chords. I liked it. "Merry Go Round" also had cool organ sounds and some genuinely affecting vocal performances, with a nostalgic and ethereal male/female call and response. Good melody, too, one of the better songs on this record. Finally there's The Saturday Revue's "Holiday Rider", which is a pleasantly simple song that doesn't try too hard and reminded me a bit of The Kinks. The liner notes are by Carole Curb, sister of Mike Curb who did a few biker/hot rod movie soundtracks. One of them, The Wild Angels, gets name-checked here, though we're told that Harley Hatcher's music "surpasses all earlier soundtracks".


2017 February 13 • Monday

The 452nd Soundtrack of the Week is Xanadu. This was destined to happen.

It starts out with Olivia Newton-John's "Magic", a pretty well known song that I've always loved, especially the melody.

Cliff Richard, an important name to those of us who love The Shadows and early British rock and roll, joins Olivia Newton-John for the seventies gold pop love song "Suddenly".

This is followed by "Dancin'", which alternates between an Andrews sisters-ish 1940s era swing number with a more overtly sexual and aggressive '70s rock song, ultimately merging the two into one song, overlaying the different styles on top of each other. Xanadu doesn't get a lot of respect, it seems to me, but the construction of this song is at least a little ingenious and more sophisticated than it had to be.

Olivia Newton-John gets another solo number, "Suspended in Time", a heartfelt song that, like "Magic", has a robustly lyrical melodic line and some unusual twists and turns.

After this is the Newton-John's duet with Gene Kelly, another pastiche of swing-era music with some emotive string writing and orchestrations that come from mid-century Sinatra arrangements. This is the least interesting song on the record but it demonstrates how good these two voices are.

Then it's time for the Electronic Light Orchestra and "I'm Alive". This is a pretty impressive blend of Beach Boys, disco, prog, psyche and who the hell knows what else (bits of The Who and Pink Floyd, I guess) and I love it but wish it had more urgency somehow.

"The Fall" is a more straightforward song from ELO, also with a lush sound that suggests a moving multitude of bright colors.

ELO slows things down for "Don't Walk Away", an emotional number that builds up gradually and sustains intensity for a long time.

"All Over the World" is a return to a more triumphant and energetic sound, celebratory and invigorating.

For the finale, ELO and Olivia Newton-John join forces for the title song, whose melody I've always loved. Again, I wish ELO had a little more drive in its rhythm section, a deeper, more open drum sound perhaps. The music has a lot of layers and balancing all of the different elements must have been challenging, but it might have benefited from a little shagginess, a little less control.

I still love it, though.
2017 February 10 • Friday

The following preview has been approved for Specific Audiences.

It's the All Region Player CD.

At some point this will all be available online for free.

First, though, it will be available for sale at the Downtown Music Gallery as a limited edition of a hundred hand-numbered copies. 100% of the money will be donated to the Downtown Music Gallery. Nobody else gets a penny from sales of the CD.

Pretty much every musical thing I've ever done has ended up involving soundtrack music one way or another. The first band I was ever in, Game of Death (originally called A Better Tomorrow, both names being movie titles), was a more or less free improv rock band whose performances and jam sessions inevitably lurched into covers of music from James Bond or Dario Argento movies or the theme from Mission: Impossible.

Sooner or later there had to be a band that only played soundtrack music. All Region Player, with Ben Gallina on bass and Andy O'Neill on drums, is that band.

We've been playing for a few years and have about 80 pieces in our repertoire. We went into the studio for two days of recording live and while I was hoping to get around thirty of those cut, we ended up with fifteen.

Of course this meant leaving out so many favorite themes and composers. Maybe we'll do another CD one of these days.

We're going to play at the Downtown Music Gallery next month to celebrate the release of this CD, the first new Gutbrain Record since 2008's Submarine Pictures!


2017 February 06 • Monday

A few weeks ago while browsing the soundtrack selection in a record store, I came across this CD: Akademia Pana Kleska by Andrzej Korzyński.

It was clearly a soundtrack. I'd never heard of the title or the composer. The nationality and date were also unknown to me.

What to do?

Collectors have methods. Mine is very simple. It involves one easily answerable question. "Does the record contain a track called "Werewolf Invasion"?

In this case, yes. And so it's our 451st Soundtrack of the Week.

This record covers a lot of ground, from strong synth textures to delicate orchestral constructions with wind chimes and other percussion trading petite figures with reed instruments.

"Werewolf Invasion" is a straight-up synth rock number and I could easily imagine it accompanying a werewolf invasion. It's followed by the menacing and somewhat chaotic "Wolves Take the Castle", which is more of a flute- and timpani-driven piece.

There are some old standbys on this soundtrack, too, like the classic Middle Eastern market cue. How many times have you heard that one? Probably at least as often as you've heard an old west saloon piano cue.

It's a great selection of music, composed for what's apparently the most popular Polish children's film of all time. The blend of synthesizers with acoustic instruments comes off especially well.
2017 February 03 • Friday

The 21" Screen by Edwin Fadiman, Jr., is interesting more as a mid-twentieth century artifact than as a novel that one would read for its own merits.

You can ignore the cover and the copy. They misrepresent what happens inside. Lundy doesn't really have a problem with fame. He always wanted to be a writer but was blocked, after writing one good short story that was published by a respected literary magazine.

He's a famous television personality but he's no more the "idol of millions" than is, say, a CNN anchor. Lundy lives in New York City and walks the streets and takes taxis without anybody so much as noticing him, much less recognizing him or asking him for autographs or anything.

His dream of being a writer might be just that, a fantasy. It's not very clear. He never demonstrates inspiration, ideas. When he's young, in the 1930s, he spends a lot of time sitting at his typewriter, trying to use what he's soaked up while walking around Manhattan all day, bits of people and situations. But later in the 1950s, when his midlife crisis is taking place, he doesn't have any impetus to write at all, just an image in his head of doing it.

Is he "a cheating husband, an indifferent father and a ruthless lover"? Definitely yes to the first two. He's married but has a younger girlfriend who lives in Greenwich Village. He has a teenage daughter but he never wanted children and he's never had much to do with her life and never wanted to.

Ruthless lover? Well, by the standards of mid-century prurience, which this book must observe, there has to be sex and there really should be rape. So there's a scene where he and his girlfriend are going to have sex, he can't get it up, he goes and drinks a bunch of Scotch, gets it up and then has kind of rough sex with her when she thinks it's not going to happen. It's described as violent and unkind but more selfish than nonconsensual.

The one real bonafide rape in the book is when Rex is raped by his wife, which is how they end up having a child. He's passed out drunk and she makes it happen.

Also for the presumed purpose of titillation, their teenaged daughter is in a relationship with an older lesbian. This subplot exists only to jazz things up for the reader and to give the character of the daughter something to do and another something for Rex to struggle with.

The only sacrifice Rex had to make on his way to becoming a highly paid television personality was to change his name from Lundt to Lundy. At one point he cries out about this loss, but it's just a sidenote, really. It's not central to the story, as the loss of Nick Charles's original Greek name is in Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man.

The 21" Screen reads like its author likes the activity of writing but doesn't have a strong purpose. There are too many fussy little words and observations that are like shiny clutter.

For example, the action at a busy Greenwich Village bohemian speakeasy is described as going "drunkenly, swimmingly, phonily". That word "phonily" hits the floor with a loud clunk.

At another point, Rex recalls "those incredibly dusty, incredibly crowded Third Avenue antique shops". Those "incredibly"s oversell his memory and strike me as lazy scene-setting.

And on the same page Rex "pursued a shadow child through the adyta of his memory", which is both trite and some pretty high-falutin' literaturizing if you ask me. Is it really the best way to say whatever needs to be said here?

So there's over-attention to detail, overdone prose, irrelevant asides and observations but the writing is actually still good. The sentences have an agreeable rhythm and you can feel the author's confidence and pleasure.

The writers of thrillers should take note of Fadiman's description of the closest we come to a villain in the piece, Rex's boss at the network. He doesn't have a physical handicap or deformity or scar or birthmark or disease, he doesn't speak with an accent, he's not deranged, there's nothing remarkable about where he came from or what he looks like. It's made clear that he cares about winning and making money more than he cares about anything else and his introduction is the most effective scene in the whole novel.

It's not a remarkable novel but it's a window into a time and place. Hell, it's worth reading just for these lines about Manhattan: "Apartments were dirt-cheap, more than plentiful. Most landlords would gladly give you a month or two rent-free, giving you in effect the apartment for less than the stated rent, without noting the fact formally on the rent roll of the property".

The first line is "Karen Donnel straightened her back and sat stiffly on the hard-backed chair". (The recurrence of the word "back" in "hard-backed chair" is typically infelicitous, right there in the first sentence.)