In May of 2020, I started a series of posts under the theme of Rock Music in Films. I notched eight posts in the series through May 2021. But the series isn’t complete. I have a few more ideas and today I resume after nine months – this time featuring films as vehicles for rock stars.
This idea was “invented” by Elvis Presley. The Beatles and other British Invasion groups took advantage of the medium to enhance their popularity. But those were all covered in earlier installments of the series.
Take note – my idea of films as vehicles for rock stars doesn’t include movies that simply star rock musicians. The film has to feature their music as a key component. So, Madonna’s Desperately Seeking Susan and David Bowie’s Labyrinth are out. Bob Dylan’s music was critical to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, but his acting role was too insignificant to qualify as a vehicle for him. That one’s out. Mick Jagger starred in Performance and sang the excellent “Memo From Turner” but that’s his only song on the soundtrack. Out.
So, what films do meet my criteria? One great example is The Harder They Come (1972), starring Jimmy Cliff. I know, this film features Reggae music not rock. But by my definition, Cliff is a rock star!
The title tune is terrific, but the best song on the soundtrack is “Many Rivers to Cross.”
“MRtC” has a gospel feel and an amazing vocal performance. It is even more spectacular when you consider the legend that it was recorded in one take at the end of a session where the backing musicians had never heard the song before! In Wikipedia, Cliff is quoted as saying “I started singing, the band came in, and that was it. Once. That was it.”
The title tune is terrific, but the best song on the soundtrack is “When Doves Cry.”
“WDC” was written as a metaphor (doves being the bird of peace) for the dysfunction in relationships – in this case, the discord between his mother and father coming full circle in his own relationship.
How can you just leave me standing Alone in a world that’s so cold? (So cold) Maybe I’m just too demanding Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold Maybe you’re just like my mother She’s never satisfied (she’s never satisfied) Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like When doves cry
“WDC” received a wonderful cover by Patti Smith. You can’t keep a great song down.
The underappreciated One Trick Pony (1980), by Paul Simon, was also a film vehicle for a rock star. I know, many of you don’t consider Paul Simon a rock musician. But by my definition, he is a rock star!
The key song on the soundtrack is “Late in the Evening.”
Steve Gadd’s drum groove and the spicy Cuban horn charts (arranged by Dave Grusin) drive it. No one would dare cover it!
Atlanta Rhythm Section (also known as ARS) was formed in 1971. The band was formed by combining members of The Candymen (sometimes backing group for Roy Orbison) and Classics IV (whose hits included “Spooky”, “Stormy”, “Traces”). They served as the session band for Studio One in Doraville, GA. They had substantial success in the ‘70s when their brand of Southern Rock was in vogue.
The band’s first five albums – ending with Red Tape (1976) – were not very successful, except with a loyal group of fans that followed the band in concert. Then 1976’s A Rock and Roll Alternative changed everything. It included the Top 10 hit “So in to You” and was given five stars in the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979). Champagne Jam (1978) followed and offered another Top 10 with “Imaginary Lover.”
ARS toured extensively and was a very successful live act. They released an album to document their live prowess called Are You Ready! (1979). It included a 15 minute version of the concert favorite “Another Man’s Woman”, the third time they released the song on an album. The first was on their debut release – a five minute track on the eponymous Atlanta Rhythm Section (1973). To me, the definitive recording is the closing cut on Red Tape (1976). Coming in at about 10 minutes, it is tighter and has more energy than the live take, but still leaves room to show off the band’s soloing skills. It is ARS’s “Free Bird.”
As Tom posted, Chick Correa died this week. We’re of a similar age, so we’re both wowed (I suspect) about how big an audience jazz music had at some shows in the mid 70s. When in the mid 70s we were going to shows featuring Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra in arenas, not clubs.
And Chick Correa’s life story is mixed in with that cultural moment.
I don’t know the details of the way jazz embraced rock in the 70s, or maybe rock embraced jazz. I do have all the records. Chick Correa was a piano player then who played on the big jazz albums of that time and made his own albums, which got into a lot of Scientology stuff (which isn’t totally disqualifying) but makes you look more closely.
But let’s get back to the music. This is a track Correa plays electric piano on, one of his first with Miles, in which Miles adulates his second wife, a giant soul performer and personality, Betty Davis. I didn’t know this one (there is a lot of music out there).
Meet me in the middle of the day Let me hear you say everything’s okay Bring me southern kisses from your room
Back in 1979, singer-songwriter Steve Forbert had a Top 20 hit with “Romeo’s Tune” from Forbert’s second album, Jackrabbit Slim.
The sweet love song is driven by a lively piano riff played by Bobby Ogdin who was the pianist in Elvis Presley’s TCB band.
But the final arrangement of the song didn’t come easy. It was originally slated to be on his debut album, but he wasn’t satisfied with the recordings from those sessions and decided to hold it back. Over the next year, he tried various arrangements before he came up with the final with help from the album’s producer, John Simon.
Simon was responsible for producing several of my favorite records – The Band’s Music from Big Pink, The Child is Father to the Man by Blood Sweat & Tears, and Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel. He also produced the hit “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle (written by Paul Simon).
Forbert dedicated the song to Florence Ballard, of the Supremes, on the Jackrabbit Slim album cover, though it isn’t about her. He has often said that the track is about girl he knew when he was a teen but has never identified her by name.
On a side note, Forbert played Cyndi Lauper’s boyfriend in the video for her song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Meet me in the middle of the night Let me hear you say everything’s alright Let me smell the moon in your perfume
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.
Some of us are living in a city that relies on mass transit, the subway and the bus (and for some of the Dolls, the Ferry). But those things are gone for those of us who don’t have to go riding, riding, riding.
So much is lost because of the pandemic and the way we respond to it.
I wonder if we’d be better off if we didn’t shut down, or we did as we did. I know my mother, in an assisted living facility is alive. For those in Sweden, which didn’t shut down, many more are dead.
So, do your best. Right?
For me, Little Richard, was a guy on late nite commercials. Great songs, like those of the Big Bopper. But familiarity meant we cared less, partly because all we got was the big songs.
But as I grew up, I found other stuff. I wrote about one of those here. Listen to this!
Not a rocker, exactly, but as great as a transitional blues-rock-soul cut as you can imagine. When Little Richard died today I went back to his first album, which finally was released after something like six big hit singles (it was a different world then, or come to think of it maybe it was the same world then with the different one sandwiched in between).
I won’t argue this was the best, but listening to it I’ll say rock hasn’t moved an inch.