In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel release a “song” titled “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” on their album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.
The track was intended to juxtapose the quiet, peacefulness of the traditional Christmas carol against the disturbing events that were dominating the news at that time.
Simon & Garfunkel sing “Silent Night” as a news broadcaster (voiced by announcer Charlie O’Donnell) summarizes the headlines of a mock report of events that actually occurred, though not all on the same day. Mention is made of a civil rights march, the Vietnam War, and the Richard Speck mass murder of nurses (among others).
It has occurred to me many times over the years that this could be updated with equal effect every year since Simon & Garfunkel executed their concept. In fact, in 2019, Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple ran with the idea and recorded their own update, with The Nationals’ Matt Berninger taking the announcer’s role.
Their version addressed the Sackler family, of Purdue Pharma, avoiding criminal charges for their role as major contributors to the opioid crisis, the murder of Botham Jean, and the first Trump impeachment.
I hate to be such a bummer on this special day, but sometimes a dose of reality helps us to be grateful for all the joy in our lives.
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:
I wanted to write something patriotic to honor our Independence Day. There is so much turmoil today that we need something to bring us – all Americans – together. After quite a bit of thought, I decided on Paul Simon’s “America”, originally on the Simon and Garfunkel album Bookends.
The song was used to great effect in one of the Muscarella family’s favorite movies, Almost Famous. In the “America” scene, Anita Miller (Zooey Deschanel) is leaving home to become an airline stewardess. Her mother (Frances McDormand) and little brother William (Michael Angarano) stand watching as the car is packed for the journey. Before she takes off, Anita whispers to William… “One day you will be cool. Go look under your bed. It will set you free.”
Everyone needs a big sister like Anita!
“America” evokes Anita’s yearning for freedom and mobility. It is a travelogue of a bus trip across the US. True Americana. References to real places (Pittsburgh, Saginaw), roads (NJ Turnpike), and the nostalgia of Mrs. Wagner’s Pies.
First Aid Kit recorded a beautiful version of “America” that is today’s SotW.
But what really grabs me today is the first two lines of the final verse. That’s when the previously playful road trip (“Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces”, “She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy”, “I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera”) turns somber.
Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
These lines seem to capture the anxiety and isolation many of us are feeling in these times of COVID-19, racial tension, and economic insecurity.
First Aid Kit performed “America” live, at the Polar Music Prize (a Swedish music award), in front of Paul Simon in 2012. Simon was so moved, he gave them a standing ovation and seemed to be close to tears.
If their performance was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.