I Start Counting & Primitive London (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Tomorrow sees the release by the British Film Institute of director David Greene’s I Start Counting! Underrated when it first came out in 1970, the movie has since established itself as a genuine cult favourite. This is largely down to Jenny Agutter giving one of the best ever performances by any teenage British actor, although its reputation has also been enhanced by the growing interest in the music of Basil Kirchin, whose score is remarkably evocative of the era.

It did surprise surprise me to learn that Kirchin had originally wanted Cilla Black to contribute the vocal for the movie’s theme tune. Thankfully, he didn’t get his wish. Instead, an unknown teenager called Lindsey Moore took on the singing duties. According to legend at least, this came about as a result of Lindsey accompanying her mum (Basil’s singer/arranger/composer pal Barbara) on a visit to the studio where he was recording. Having mentioned that her daughter was looking to start a career as a singer, Basil, on the spur of the moment, suggested that Lindsey give the song a try and handed her a microphone.

What a wonderful job she made of the opportunity. It’s this demo that was used as the musical introduction to the film:

We hear many variations of the theme throughout (although I didn’t start counting them) and there’s a few other less successful tracks, which were Basil’s attempts at mimicking the pop music of the day. They Want Love sounds like a band who thought the high point of The Beatles’ career was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, fronted by a singer who wanted to be Tom Jones. These were left off the soundtrack album.

Now, we all know that Dusty Springfield was one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, don’t we? I’m guessing that through Barbara Moore – who was for a time one of Dusty’s backing singers on her TV show – Dusty became aware of the theme song and fell in love with it to the extent that she covered the track on her 1972 See All Her Faces album. While it’s always a real pleasure to hear that voice, I reckon this is another case of the original is best.

This BFI release comes with a number of special features, and these include Worlds Within Worlds, a 33-minute look at Basil Kirchin’s pioneering career by Jonny Trunk, whose label Trunk Records, has helped bring Kirchin’s work to the attention of new generations of music fans, releasing several of his albums of his soundtracks and library music. In recent years, Brian Eno, Jarvis Cocker and Thurston (definitely no relation to Lindsey) Moore are only three of the musicians who have also talked up Kirchin’s talent publicly.

During the feature, Trunk mentions that a definite similarity exists between two of Kirchin’s cues for Primitive London and Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver score, written 12 years later.

Primitive London is a curious mondo style documentary that examined life in the capital in the mid-1960s. ‘The beat,’ we’re advised, ‘is off-beat.’

Director Arnold Louis Miller combines the seedy with the sanctimonious. Any supposedly salacious visuals are always accompanied by a lecturing and moralising narration. Men and women flock to a cabaret club to watch ‘exotic’ dancers, a young woman gets a tattoo – a real rarity at the time – and for a reason I couldn’t totally understand, we visit a kendo dojo. We’re introduced to mods and rockers, beatniks and Soho strippers. Britain might not have moved into full swinging mode just yet but we are shown a swingers’ party in suburbia with ‘car keys dropped into a brandy glass.’

Somehow rated X on its release, this is an interesting enough time capsule but easily the best thing about Primitive London is Basil’s score. Here is one of those musical cues that resembles the main theme from Taxi Driver, listen out for the distinctive 21 note melody that both pieces feature.

If you want to hear Herrmann’s theme for Taxi Driver, click here.

For my review of I Start Counting! click here.

For more on Trunk Records: https://www.trunkrecords.com/

Submarine (Soundtrack Sundays)

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If I told you that that Submarine was an independently made coming-of-age drama, then you might not be surprised to learn that the protagonist of the story, a 15-year-old navigating his way through a stormy adolescence in South Wales, is an outsider. Of course, he is.

Wide-eyed and clueless, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a wannabe great mind who, again predictably, is lovestruck as the film begins, devoting much of his time to daydreaming about Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a girl in his class who is occasionally moody and often mischievous. She even enjoys bullying ‘in moderation’, which makes Oliver uncomfortable, although as he tells himself: ‘I must not let my principles stand in the way of progress.’

Director Richard Ayoade (super-nerd Moss from The IT Crowd) doesn’t take too long before displaying a fondness for a cinematic reference, possibly to reflect the fact that Oliver also sees himself as a budding cinephile.

Jordana’s favourite item of clothing is a red woolen coat probably because Ayoade wants to later reference Don’t Look Now. The film even employs some bold intertitles that could have come direct from an early Godard film and come to think of it, maybe Oliver’s not too obscure object of desire’s bob is a nod to Anna Karina in movies like Godard’s Vivre sa vie.

Then again, it might be that Yasmin Paige already had a bob when she auditioned for the part and that the film’s wardrobe assistant got a good price on the red woolen coat and it looked pretty timeless, fitting in with a movie that didn’t want to be tied down too specifically to an exact period, even though Oliver’s parents go see Crocodile Dundee, meaning it must be the mid-1980s.

Maybe the coat is red because of Jordana’s sometimes fiery temperament. Or maybe there’s a combination of reasons behind it? I bet Oliver over-analyses film too. Let’s move on.

Oliver is persistent in his quest for Jordana, and this pays off. They tentatively become an item, and his dad Lloyd (Noah Taylor) gives him a copy of a mixtape cassette with some songs that he used to listen to when he was Oliver’s age and embarking on his first relationship. I had him down as a bit of a prog or folk rock man myself, but these songs are written and sung by Alex Turner.

Ayoade had previously made three promos – Fluorescent Adolescent, Crying Lightning, and Cornerstone – for The Arctic Monkeys and so inviting Turner to provide some new songs for the soundtrack was a natural choice. And a good one. Turner submitted five tracks, six if you count Stuck on the Puzzle (Intro) and Stuck on the Puzzle as separate. Okay, let’s call it five and a half. Reflective, broody and sometimes dreamy in a similar vein to his fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley, these were released as an EP in the Spring of 2011 by Domino, the first solo work by Turner. Here is Stuck on the Puzzle:

Oliver ‘n’ Jordana begin seeing more and more of one another. She likes watching things burn, while on an early date, he drags her to his local arthouse cinema to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent from the 1920s. There’s a boy that knows how to show a girl a good time. Although at least she probably enjoyed the ending.

Having succeeded in his pursuit of Jordana, Oliver next attempts to repair the disintegrating marriage of his parents. And when I say disintegrating, I mean disintegrating to the extent that mum Jill (Sally Hawkins) somehow finds her new neighbour – and old boyfriend – Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) a more exciting prospect than Lloyd. This despite his spike topped mullet being the worst hairstyle in cinema since John Travolta’s dreads in Battlefield Earth. Not only that, but he’s also a motivational speaker, giving seminars to the gullible on his system of Psychic and Physical Excellence.

Saying that, Lloyd is far from perfect hubby material. He can be one morose individual, although he has his moments. He enjoys marine biology related facts, such as the ocean being six miles deep (really?) but smelling something distinctly fishy about his wife’s blossoming friendship with Graham sends him spiralling into depression.

Soon, Oliver’s going to join him in the feeling miserable stakes after a Billy Liar moment where he self-sabotages his chances of being with his dream girl. He might justify his actions but deep down he regrets them and reckons it might be best to put down his innermost thoughts on paper. Being a misfit, he does this in a classroom. I would have thought that as a film fan, he would have realised that whatever he writes will inevitably come to the attention of a teacher and lead to his total humiliation in front of the whole class including Jordana. Schoolboy error you might say.

Soppy git that I can be, as the movie edged towards its conclusion I found myself rooting for Oliver and hoping he could fix things with Jordana.

Okay, I never remotely bought into the potential Jill/Graham romance and thought Ayoade tried too hard to demonstrate his directing chops at times.

Submarine is not nearly as accomplished and individual as Rushmore. Neither is it as funny as Gregory’s Girl, albeit there’s a very amusing spoof of Open Uni programmes from the 1970s with an uncharismatic Lloyd presenting, and during one of Oliver’s voiceovers, there’s a clever visual gag where he discusses a biopic of his life and what the production would be able to afford. I won’t give that one away.

As coming-of-age dramas go this was a very solid effort for a debut. It avoids the cloying kookiness of many American dramas exploring similar territory. The two young leads were well cast with Yasmin Paige being especially good. Both actually look the age they’re depicted as onscreen, which is also a plus, while Alex Turner’s music suited the mood of Submarine perfectly. I’ll likely be in a pretty damn small minority, but I prefer the songs here to just about everything he’s ever recorded with The Arctic Monkeys.

‘If You Ride Like Lightning, You’re Gonna Crash Like Thunder’ (Soundtrack Sundays)

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This week, a couple of tracks from The Place Beyond The Pines, the second of which is something really special, one of the most mesmerising pieces of music you could ever hope to hear.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance in 2012, The Place Beyond The Pines is a recommended watch, even though I never quite believed in some of the events that take place. On first seeing it, I stepped out of the cinema not even knowing if I was supposed to or not. It’s a film consisting of a triptych of stories and might have worked better with just two. There’s a massive coincidence and some far too obvious foreshadowing.

On the plus side, the direction was often striking and the acting was very strong across the board, with Ryan Gosling the standout in one of those man of few words roles that he specialises in. He plays Luke, a fairground motorcycle stunt performer who zigzags around a circular metal cage at great speed with two other daredevil riders. On discovering he has fathered a son while in Schenectady, he decides to quit his travelling job, win back Romina (Eva Mendes), the mother of his baby son, and become part of a family.

He also decides that, in order to make enough money to help achieve these goals, he should begin robbing banks. His actions will have wide ranging ramifications, even down through to the next generation.

Eva Mendes is superb too, and Ben Mendelsohn displays why when Gosling directed his own movie – Lost River in 2014 – he was so keen to get the Australian involved.

But the best thing about the film is its use of music.

Composed by Mike Patton, one time singer of Faith No More (a band that failed to ever remotely interest me), the score is surprisingly impressive with The Snow Angel and Schenectady particularly effective – the latter with its brooding, twanging guitar wouldn’t have felt out of place in something by David Lynch.

There’s also Fratres For Violin, String Orchestra And Percussion by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian minimalist adored by Hollywood, while Suicide’s Che injects an instant jittery intensity to a scene where Luke prepares to commit his first raid. Another highlight is Please Stay by The Cryin’ Shames, a ballad I’ve previously judged to be borderline saccharine, but which works beautifully in its context here.

A tail-end of Merseybeat combo, they hooked up with Joe Meek and scored a hit early in 1966 with this Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard song, which had originally been recorded by The Drifters – featuring backing vocals by Doris Troy and Dionne Warwick’s sister Dee Dee Warwick, no less.

Arranged by Ivor Raymonde, the father of Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, this would be the final chart hit produced by Meek before he shot and killed his landlady, before turning the gun on his own head and committing suicide.

It’s been claimed over the years that Meek also pointed a gun at the head of Cryin’ Shames’ singer Charlie Crane in order to achieve the vocal take that he craved but really, does this sound like a man singing while under extreme duress?

Time now for Ennio Morricone’s Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri – not to be confused with Ninna Nanna Per Adulti, which I previously featured here.

Originally written for Cuore di mamma, a 1969 Italian movie directed by Salvatore Samperi, A Mother’s Heart, to give it its English title, was very much of its time, inspired by Jean-Luc Godard and politically confusing. Or maybe I only found it confusing as I watched it on YouTube with auto generated English subtitles. These resembled reading a William Burroughs cut-up novel.

In The Place Beyond The Pines, its first appearance accompanies Luke spending an idyllic day with Romina and his son Jason, imagining all three living together happily ever after.

Morricone’s simple but sublime lullaby acts as a clear counterpoint, conveying an overwhelming sense that these good times are never going to last. It’s used again later with similar results, introducing the same almost unbearably poignant sense that as hope blossoms, bad things surely loom ahead.

This is Morricone at his brilliant best.

My Little Red Book (Soundtrack Sundays)

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My Little Red Book x 3

I’m guessing it must have been a big deal to Manfred Mann to get the chance to record a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song for What’s New, Pussycat? This big budget comedy extravaganza starred Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, and more fantastic looking women than just about any movie I can think of.

Always destined to be one of the most heavily hyped comedies of the 1960s, the buzz around it was also aided by the success of the theme tune with those swashbuckling vocals by Tom Jones, whoa, oh whoa, oh whoa, oh whoa. Sorry that should really have been WHOA, OH WHOA, OH WHOA, OH WHOA! (no holding back there, Tom). This was a sizeable hit on both sides of the Atlantic and earned a nomination for an Oscar in the Best Original Song, albeit it didn’t win.

Manfred Mann’s My Little Red Book on the other hand was a minor hit at best. In the film, it follows a snatch of a slowed down instrumental take of the tune that bears more than a passing resemblance to the theme song of grimy British sitcom Steptoe and Son. My Little Red Book then soundtracks Peter O’Toole’s Michael grooving with Paula Prentiss’ Liz in a Parisian club, while being spied on by Doctor Fassbender, played by Peter Sellers in a terrible wig and a red velvet Austin Powers suit. Come to think of it, didn’t Bacharach appear in the Powers movies?

What's New Pussycat - Peter O'Toole & Paula Prentiss

If you think the piano sounds as if Bacharach could be playing it, then you’re correct.

As the band began their recording session in Abbey Road’s Studio 2, Burt Bacharach dropped by accompanied by then partner Angie Dickinson. The thought of the consummately gifted songwriter and beautiful actress watching on combined with the clock ticking in the studio, made the keyboard man more than a wee bit nervous. After failing to nail his piano part a number of times, Burt suggested he play along with him. This didn’t go quite to plan either. As Manfred explains it: ‘Burt looks thoughtful, and after a pause, with tact and crushing sympathy says: “Manfred why don’t I play it and you tell me what you think?” ‘

Manfred thinks he won’t better it. So it is Burt on the piano that is used on the single and original soundtrack. Not that Bacharach was ever that keen on that version. ‘It’s just a very nervous sounding record, he once told Ken Sharp in a Record Collector interview. ‘They were uncomfortable with that song.’

Manfred Mann re-recorded the track for their Little Red Book of Winners album, improving it with added flute, a very prominent Hammond organ and more passionate delivery from Paul Jones.

Burt meanwhile put out his own version on the B-side of his take on What’s New Pussycat? Released under the moniker of Burt Bacharach & His Orchestra featuring Tony Middleton, I do love those glorious horns, bombastic drums and Middleton’s flamboyant vocals which soar wonderfully at one point. I bet you could spin this on a Northern Soul night and fill the dance floor.

What’s New, Pussycat? proved to be one of the highest grossing movies of 1965 and one of the most popular comedies that had ever been released (although I’ve never been a huge fan myself, it does have its moments but just tries too hard for my liking).

Arthur Lee of Love was one of the many cinema-goers to see it. He taught his band the song from his memory of it at the cinema, and he struggled to remember it entirely accurately. The track lost Bacharach’s sophistication, but gained a jerky garage band stomp and urgency. Wow, does that bass throb.

On the original, Jones didn’t sound emotionally shattered. Lee does.

Chosen to open the LA quintet’s eponymous debut album in 1966, the track was also issued as a single (and decades later was included on the end credits of High Fidelity).

So how did Burt regard this one?

‘There were a couple of chords that were wrong and it would have been better with the right chords,’ he complained in the same Record Collector interview quoted earlier. ‘But I liked their energy on the song and I liked that it was a hit.’

Here they are playing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand:

Finally, Interstellar Overdrive. Why? Believe it or not the seeds of this psychedelic freakout originated when Syd Barrett heard early Pink Floyd manager Pete Jenner humming Little Red Book – which Jenner only half-remembered and couldn’t remember the name of. Guitar in hand, Syd began strumming along. So was born the principle melody of a track that became a live favourite of the Barrett-led band. And we all know this was the peak of Pink Floyd, don’t we?

I do find it amusing that, even unknowingly, the madcap young prince of London’s lysergic underground scene created this psychedelic freakout via a tune penned by the bow-tie wearing smoothie king of easy listening.

Not that the two songs sound alike.

Here’s a snippet of Interstellar Overdrive live at what looks like a quiet night at the UFO Club in 1967. Had all the regulars had taken off on the hippy trail to India or Tibet to find themselves by this point?

Scott Derrickson chose Interstellar Overdrive to feature on the soundtrack of his film Doctor Strange, which I haven’t seen and have little desire to ever see.

What’s Up Pussycat? is released on blu-ray by Eureka Masters of Cinema on 02/12/19. For more on the film: https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/whats-new-pussycat/

Sex & Blood & Rock ‘n’ Roll: Suck (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Suck (2009)

I picked up a copy of Suck yesterday in a local charity shop. It’s one of these films that I’ve been afraid to watch up until now – not because vampire movies ever scare me but because I’m an Iggy Pop fan and when critics bothered to review Suck they tended to put the boot in. In short, most of them thought the film sucked. Hopefully, Iggy wasn’t part of a cringeworthy failure.

Time to pour myself a glass of Eldorado and stick the disc in my blu-ray player. Or, to put it another way, it’s time to suck it and see.

First seen at the 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival, Suck is a Canadian music comedy/vampire/road movie/love story with a little stop motion animation thrown into the mix too. It was written and directed by Rob Stefaniuk, who also stars as Joey, the leader of The Winners, a band who in the ten years or so of their existence have failed to make much of an impact in the world of rock. Yes, their name is ironic.

Now they’re on the verge of splitting up and even their manager advises them to fire him in their best interests. He reckons they’re getting too long in the tooth, geddit?

That same night, bassist Jennifer (Jessica Paré), falls prey to Queeny, a mysterious vampire who looks like a cross between Marilyn Manson and the Mad Hatter. She becomes one of the undead, and acquires an icy and alluring charisma that immediately attracts attention whenever she’s onstage. And not only from newfound fans but also Eddie Van Helsing, a hopeless vampire hunter who’s afraid of the dark, played by Malcolm McDowell.

Could the band be about to finally achieve their dream of stardom?

Jessica Pare - Suck

Suck is maybe most notable for the famous musicians in the cast. In addition to Iggy, there’s roles for Alice Cooper (hooray), Moby (boo), and Henry Rollins (meh).

And if by any chance you’ve been wondering who America’s most gnarled rocker is, after seeing this you’ll likely agree that Iggy just edges it over Alice – and he proves how indestructible he is when, even after he’s had his throat slashed, his veins can still be seen visibly pulsing as he lies on the ground dead. Okay, that is probably just a production gaff.


So, what of the music on the soundtrack?

Well, there’s snippets of David Bowie’s cover of Here Comes the Night, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ by The Velvet Underground and Iggy’s Success, none of them used very imaginatively. And then there’s plenty of music from The Winners. Most of this is generic fictional movie indie rock band tracks which didn’t leave much of an impression on me, but then something strange happened. I kinda fell in love with one of their songs.

So Close It Hurts is entirely atypical of the kind of thing The Winners generally play and if I’d came across this without knowing anything about it, I’d maybe have imagined some obscure Power Pop act from some place like Providence, Rhode Island, who once supported The Cars in 1978. They would be called something like The Harmonies. Or The Pleasures. Well, Power Pop acts did tend to give themselves the most bog standard of names, didn’t they? Actually The Winners might have been an ideal name.

Written by Rob Stefaniuk and John Kastner and performed by Rob Stefaniuk, John Kastner, Chris Phillips, Mathias Schneeberger, Tomas D’Arcy, this is So Close It Hurts (with added lyrics and other distractions by the uploader):

You may have picked up on the hommage to the cover of Electric Warrior at the end of that video, which is maybe a reference to Marc Bolan who on that album’s best track Jeepster, sang: ‘I’m just a vampire for your love / And I’m gonna suck you.’ It’s not the only hommage to a classic album cover, so if you decide to watch Suck, look out for the others.

The verdict?

Suck doesn’t take itself remotely seriously and doesn’t overstay its welcome either. It’s better than I expected, albeit I obviously had fairly low expectations beforehand and more than one glass of Eldorado during its runtime. Iggy and Alice both give creditable enough performances and I did laugh a couple of times, although some of the comedy fell flat.

A fun watch for a Friday night when you’ve got nothing else on.

Trivia: If you’re wondering how such a low-budget movie managed to de-age Malcolm McDowell so convincingly, then here’s yer answer. Footage of him from Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 film O Lucky Man! was spliced in through the use of CGI.

Too Old To Die Young (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Too Old To Die Young Soundtrack

If you ever happen to switch on your TV and come across a movie that you don’t know which has moody, damaged characters who say very little, hypnotic scenes with colourful palettes with red to the fore and plenty of visceral ultraviolence, chances are it’s been directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

The chances are also that you will experience a strong reaction to what you’re seeing.

‘Polarization, to me, is the key,’ Refn explained in a recent interview. ‘That’s the definition of success.’ He also claimed that creativity is not about being likable, which is good to hear in an age where many virtue signalling filmmakers seem keener on providing an inspirational message that promotes social justice and diversity than telling a fascinating story. Not that social justice or diversity are bad obviously. But characters behaving horrendously do tend to make for better drama. And there are plenty of characters behaving horrendously here.


In Too Old To Die Young, dialogue is sparse and the pace slow. Frustratingly slow at times. I watched Refn’s Pusher trilogy recently and it was striking how fast moving it was in comparison. And that characters spoke as near as dammit naturalistically. Another big difference was the lack of a Cliff Martinez score. And of the scores he’s composed for Refn: Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon being the first three, this is very probably the best.

Here, though, I want to feature some existing tracks used in the series.
In the final episode, one of the main characters decides that it would be good to dance to Goldfrapp’s Ooh La La. On her own, for the complete length of the song.

Ooh La La is certainly a great synth glam stomp to shake your stuff to. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky is sampled, and there’s a strong echo of Canned Heat’s On The Road Again. Some early Giorgio Moroder and T.Rex have been thrown into the mix too, and I reckon I can detect a trace of Elvis in places and even an echo of Suicide in the keyboards. And I adore those disco angel vocals from Alison Goldfrapp.

Here’s the song live from Later… with Jools Holland:

Refn’s latest work is a sometimes brilliant and sometimes exasperating ten part series that explores the seedy underworld of crime in LA, and which occasionally takes up the story in Mexico with a drug cartel bigwig called Jesus (Augusto Aguilera). I’m sure Nicolas Windup Refn took a great delight in giving a brutal killer with a (dead) mummy fixation that particular name.

And believe me, you won’t have a friend in this Jesus.

If there’s a central character, though, it would be LAPD sheriff Martin Jones (played by Miles Teller), who is in a relationship with a seventeen year old high school senior, Janey (Nell Tiger Free). Janey has a brilliant mind, and according to creepy father Theo (William Baldwin), she’s a ten in the looks department too. Oh, and as this is California, having sex with Martin is illegal due to Janey’s age, although this doesn’t overly concern Theo.

Outwith his police work, Martin is also forced to carry out hits for Damian, a Jamaican American gangster, who loves vintage ska. Martin later comes into the sphere of Diana DeYoung (Jena Malone) a victim’s advocate, who feeds former FBI agent Viggo Larsen (John Hawkes), information about paedophiles that she has learnt about through her law work.

Viggo acts on this by killing the names he is given. Martin discovers this and luckily for Diana and Viggo, he believes that if a child abuser is killed, it’s a victim-less crime.

Does Martin believe in Homicide? Yes, he does. Absolutely. Does Theo like dad dancing to 999’s Homicide at a party for Janey’s eighteenth birthday? Yes, he does.

Produced by Martin Rushent (Buzzcocks, Human League), the sixth single by 999 was released by United Artists in October 1978 in Britain. Here it is live on The Old Grey Whistle Test, just as the craze in Britain for tight pink trousers apparently reached its peak:

Sadly, Homicide isn’t a part of the soundtrack album. Neither is Prince Buster’s ska classic Ten Commandments (okay, the lyrics are far from classic). Barry Manilow’s Mandy didn’t make the cut either – hurrah, but a nostalgic dirge called Elvis and Marilyn did – boo.

The Leather Nun are included, so hurrah again.

The Leather Nun were one of those acts whose name suggested that mainstream success was never very high on their agenda. The Sound of Young Sweden in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the band specialized in causing offence, especially with their live shows, where they were often accompanied by strippers with live adult movies being projected.

TOTDY utilises F.F.A, which doesn’t stand for Fast Filmic Action. If Grace Jones had teamed up with Bowie’s Lodger era band, they just might have come up with something not unlike this.

That’s Jesus with the whip, incidentally, in the video below and the brunette in the red leather trousers is Yaritza (Cristina Rodlo). Death follows Yaritza around to the extent that she proclaims herself ‘The High Priestess of Death’.

Maybe death is only following her around due to her cartel connections. But this theory doesn’t somehow seem to have occurred to her.

Here is a clip of F.F.A as it was used in episode 8. I didn’t mention the slow pace, didn’t I?

If you’re coming to Refn for the first time, then I’d recommend that you try Drive first. This series does resemble Drive in many ways, although Miles Teller is marginally less magnetic as Ryan Gosling and Jena Malone is nowhere near as good an actor as Carey Mulligan. But if you like Drive, you at least have a chance of enjoying Too Old To Die Young. If you dislike Drive, then watching this series will be a waste of thirteen hours of your life.

Nicolas Winding Refn could do with ditching the idea of letting himself be influenced by tarot readings from Alejandro Jodorowsky, but there is much to enjoy in the series from a psychedelic shooting rampage to a surreal skit on the crucifixion of Jesus (no, not the cartel Jesus) through to Monkee Puppet, a real cheeky little monkey who believes that ‘peace is only for hippies’.

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood & Charlie Says (Soundtrack Saturdays)

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood & Charlie Says

As I write Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood has just premiered at Cannes, where it received a six minute long standing ovation. I’m looking forward to buying a ticket and stepping into a cinema for the tenth time to one of his films, albeit I would have to admit that I’m just a wee bit apprehensive about how he might rewrite history on this occasion, even though Sharon Tate’s sister Debra co-operated with the director and is thanked in the credits.

The first four Tarantino releases in particular are among my very favourite films and a big part of why I lap them up so much is because QT possesses such an amazing knack for coming up with ingenious juxtapositions of soundtrack and visuals.

Who else would have thought to accompany a scene where a razor wielding madman tortures a cop in a warehouse while shuffling along to a catchy 1970s pop song, sung by a guy from Paisley with a bad case of Bob Dylanitis?

His choices are certainly seldom obvious, making it almost futile trying to guess what sounds he might utilise in any upcoming work – so, maybe perversely, a few months back I did briefly try to guess which tracks he might conceivably choose for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.

With its late 1960s setting, he was surely spoiled for choice. The first song I thought of was Love and this stunning slice baroque/psych pop from Forever Changes. Here’s The Red Telephone:

By a complete coincidence, I’ve just heard this gem used on the soundtrack to Charlie Says, a newly released film that has much in common with Once Upon a Time.

Charlie Says is the latest film by Mary Harron, a former regular at CBGB and journalist for Punk and NME. Previously, she’s directed films featuring subjects like Valerie Solanis (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Bettie Page (The Notorious Bettie Page) but she’s still best known for her controversial adaptation of American Psycho from 2000.

Here, she gives her take on a real-life American psycho, Charles Manson, and the methods he employed to manipulate and control three of his ‘family’ in particular, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel.

As the movie opens all three are imprisoned in an isolated cell block and about to meet feminist tutor Karlene Faith (whose book The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten, this is largely based on). Faith attempts to persuade the brainwashed Mansonites of the grotesque error of their collective ways. They prove, however, stubbornly devoted to the maniac they view as a messiah.

To an uncomfortable extent, each of the guilty young women are portrayed as victims of Manson. Then again, I have read some writers dredging up excuses for Manson and painting him as a victim himself, arguing that he grew up disadvantaged and spent far too much of his younger life in reform schools and prison.

Dr Who Matt Smith as Charles Manson

The fate of these three prisoners – who seem largely interchangeable for long periods of time – never managed to grip me. Once you’ve embraced the idea of a race war against black people and then repeatedly stabbed completely innocent people over 100 times, including a heavily pregnant woman, before daubing graffiti on the walls with the blood of the dead, then my sympathies are unlikely to be aroused.

The best thing about Charlie Says is former Dr. Who, Matt Smith, who convinces as Manson whether he’s instructing his acolytes on how to help ignite ‘Helter Skelter’ or just roaming around outdoors and strumming on an acoustic like a second-rate Tim Hardin.

The soundtrack also includes The 13th Floor Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me and Peace of Mind by Blue Cheer, which sounds great over the end credits.

Pitt Robbie Dicaprio

Judging by the music used on the trailers for what is supposedly his penultimate movie, Tarantino has chosen some of his tracks due to Sharon Tate/Charles Manson connections.

Here’s a chaotic and very 1960s video of one of his selections. This is Paul Revere And The Raiders’ Good Thing, which somehow manages to feature both go-go dancers and a spot of vacuum cleaning:

Good Thing was produced by Terry Melcher, who had considered recording some of Manson’s music and making a documentary about his ‘Family’, neither of which he proceeded to push ahead with. Manson had met the producer at Melcher’s home at 10050 Cielo Drive, where musician Mark Lindsay, the lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders, also lived.

Melcher later severed all ties with Manson after witnessing Manson start a fight with a stuntman at Spahn Ranch, the primary residence of the Manson Family for much of 1968 and 1969. Shortly after this, Melcher moved from Cielo Drive and the owner leased the luxury home to director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate. You’ll know what happened next.

The sheet music for Straight Shooter by The Mamas and Papas was found by cops on the music stand on the piano in this residence, close to the slaughtered body of Tate. Polanski and Tate were friendly with the band, although Polanski at one point began to suspect John Phillips of sleeping with Sharon and even imagined that he could have been somehow involved in her murder at one point. Inevitably, paranoia was rife in the wake of the deaths.*

Phillips also was offered the chance to record with Manson but luckily declined. Of the Mamas and Papas, though, only Mama Cass (played by Rachel Redleaf) is listed by IMDB as appearing here.

Cass was questioned by the police in the aftermath of the murders, having also been visited by Manson and his followers beforehand and she was especially shook up as she was friendly not only with Tate but with the three other victims of the massacre: Jay Sebring, Woytek Frybowski and Abigail Folger.

I have read that José Feliciano’s version of California Dreamin’ also makes an appearance in Once Upon a Time, as does Neil Diamond with Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show and The Rolling Stones’ Out of Time.

Manson Family connections? Not that I’m aware of.

The complete soundtrack details are yet to be confirmed, so the final song that I know will be appearing is Bring a Little Lovin’ by Los Bravos, a track that was co-written by Glasgow-born George Young (the big bro of AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus). How’s this for a muscular bassline to help kick a tune off?

Will The Red Telephone feature? Or the Monkees, who I also thought might be in with a shout of making the soundtrack? Or Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky? (actually that was released two months after the Manson murders) Or how about The Archies’ Sugar, Sugar?

Probably not but hey, but the print shown at Cannes is unlikely to be Tarantino’s final cut of the movie and he has hinted that he would like to add some material. So, go on Quentin, you know you couldn’t go wrong with a bit of Sugar, Sugar.

Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood will be released in Britain on 15 August 2019. For more on the film click here.

* Polanski also later admitted that he briefly suspected that his martial arts instructor and friend Bruce Lee could have killed his wife. Yes, that Bruce Lee, who had recently taught Sharon Tate some fight moves for her role in The Wrecking Crew. He’s played by Michael Moh in Once Upon a Time and, judging from the trailers, this looks like a perfect choice.

A final piece of trivia. It was on a stay at Polanski’s ski chalet in Switzerland that Lee later picked up the iconic yellow suit that he wore in Game of Death, the inspiration for Uma Thurman’s outfit in Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Mean Streets (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Mean Streets.jpg

If asked, I’ll say that The Ronettes’ Be My Baby is very likely the greatest pop song ever recorded. Not only that, its use on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets is one of the finest uses of any track in the history of cinema.

I’m guessing you’ve already seen the film. Harvey Keitel as Charlie wakes up. He’s alone in a spartan looking room where a crucifix hangs on the wall. Outside a siren blares and an interior siren seems to blare in his head.

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

Anxious, he rises, examines his face in a mirror and then goes back to bed. Scorsese gives us three rapid jump-cuts of Charlie’s face and as his head crashes back down on his pillow, Hal Blaine’s celebrated drum beat kicks in – three thuds of a deep bass drum, then another single hit on the snare, bolstered by some handclaps. Enter the startling vibrato of Ronnie Spector, cooing the opening lines: ‘The night we met, I knew I needed you so / And if I had the chance, I’d never let you go.’

As she sings, we see some handheld and grainy 8mm home movie footage of what we can only guess were happier times. A dapper Charlie at a baptism, hanging around with some buddies, and smiling while talking to a priest. All still soundtracked by The Ronettes.

Even in an age of Shirelles, Supremes and Shangi Las, Be My Baby stands out as something very special.

In his biography Good Vibrations, Beach Boy Mike Love wrote of the effect Be My Baby had on bandleader Brian Wilson: ‘When we’d go to Brian’s house, he would play that song over and over again, comparing it to Einstein’s theory of relativity.’

‘I felt like I wanted to try to do something as good as that song and I never did,’ the man who wrote the music for California Girls, Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) and Caroline, No later admitted to the New York Times. ‘I’ve stopped trying. It’s the greatest record ever produced. No one will ever top that one.’

He is likely right. There isn’t a single click of the castanets too few or too many. The record is perfection. I’d go as far to say that if you’re just embarking on a relationship and wondering whether to take things further, ask the person what they think about Be My Baby. If they don’t absolutely love it, forget them, make your excuses and say goodbye.

That’s the only relationship advice I’ll ever give on here.

Here’s some footage of The Ronettes, shot in 1964, in (very appropriately) Little Italy in NYC, the setting of Mean Streets – okay, much of the film was shot in L.A. doubling for the neighbourhood where the young Scorsese grew up.

On discovering that Hal Blaine had died last Monday, I immediately thought of Be My Baby and that iconic and much copied drumbeat, even though it’s estimated that over the course of his magnificent career he played on over 35,000 recordings, 40 of which made it to number one in America.

A version of Hal made an appearance in the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy – a far better film incidentally than Bohemian Rhapsody – where, during a break from recording, he tells the young Brian Wilson: ‘You name them, we’ve played with them. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke. Everyone. And we all studied at goddam conservatories for Christ’s sake but you, you gotta know… you’re touched, kid. You’ve blown our minds.’

‘More than Phil Spector?’ Wilson asks sheepishly.

‘Phil Spector has got nothing on you,’ Blaine replies, smiling.

Brian’s ecstatic. Instantly buoyed for when he returns to work on the session.

Here’s some more Hal, although that’s not him on drums on this clip, but rather Dennis Wilson, who looks like he hasn’t fully recovered from too much partying the nightbefore. But it is Hal hitting those drumsticks. From Pet Sounds, this is God Only Knows:

On hearing of his death, Brian Wilson observed: ‘Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success – he was the greatest drummer ever.’

Ronnie Spector, who once said that she felt like she’d gone to heaven when she first heard Blaine’s drumbeat on Be My Baby, also paid tribute to the man, thanking him on her Facebook page for ‘the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings… and so many others throughout his incredible career ‘.

Hal Blaine (born Harold Simon Belsky): 5 February 1929 – 11 March 2019.

Across 110th Street (Soundtrack Sundays)


Across 110th Street

The Blaxploitation era gave the world of cinema some of the its finest theme tunes. Three stand out, though.

Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning Theme From Shaft from 1971 with Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts’ uber funky wah-wah riff and those gorgeous Stax horns; Superfly, which showcased Curtis Mayfield’s honeyed falsetto coo and powerful anti-drugs message. Then there’s Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street, which not only opened the film of the same name but also Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. And it closed that one too.*

A New York set crime drama directed by Barry Shear and released in 1972, Across 110th Street featured a number of other songs written and performed by Bobby Womack (and his band of the time Peace), as well as a soul-jazz musical score from J.J. Johnson, a man mainly known as a trombonist. I know little about Johnson, but it’s been said that he did for that instrument what Charlie Parker did for the sax.

A protege of Sam Cooke, whose voice obviously inspired his own vocal stylings, Bobby Womack delivers his finest moment here, his world-weary croon giving the lowdown on life in Harlem, ‘the capital of every ghetto town’, lyrics that reflect the world of central character Jim Harris. As he puts it himself: ‘Look at me! You’re looking at a 42 year old ex-con nigger with no schooling, no trade, and a medical problem! Now who the hell would want me for anything but washing cars or swinging a pick?’

Harris is one of two low-level Harlem criminals who, dressed as cops, rob the Mafia of over £300,000 in a daytime raid on a flat in a busy tenement flat. The heist goes wrong, and in the hail of machine gun fire, three local black mobsters and two Mafia footsoldiers will be gunned down, while in the aftermath, as the thieves make their getaway, two members of the NYPD will also lose their lives.

Two cops are central to the movie. The first is Captain Frank Mattelli (Anthony Quinn), a fifty-something cop hanging on to his job desperately, fearing he’ll be replaced by a younger man. His fists play an important part in any investigation, and he’s also shown to be in the pay of a Harlem crime kingpin who refers to himself as Doc Motherfucking Johnson, played memorably by a gravel voiced Richard Ward.

The other is Lieutenant William Pope (Yaphet Kotto), a younger and more even tempered cop, who is keen to observe police protocol at all costs and who has been put in charge of the case, largely because he is black. Yes, Matelli’s obviously the bad cop to Pope’s good. But the Italian-American is never one dimensional and, like Pope, he desperately wants to see justice achieved.

As this pair attempt to solve the case, the Italian Mafia – aided and abetted (sometimes grudgingly) by their local black gangster associates – also want payback. Sadistic mob lieutenant Nick D’Salvio (Anthony Franciosa) is tasked to get the money back. He wastes no time in tracking down the thieves, first coming across weak link getaway driver Henry J. Jackson (Antonio Fargas), who draws suspicion on himself by immediately heading out for some flamboyant whoring and touring on the streets of Harlem with his ill-gotten gains.

He meets the kind of grisly end that makes you think that the remaining two thieves, Jim Harris (Paul Benjaman) and Joe Logart (Ed Bernard) might be better being caught by the cops.

Across 110th Street - still

Sometimes Across 110th Street resembles an old episode of Kojak, which maybe isn’t surprising as Barry Shear had forged his directing reputation on TV shows such as Police Women and Police Story. He does, though, demonstrate some real flair throughout the film and he excels at action scenes – and there’s plenty of those to enjoy. This is where Johnson’s score proves most effective too.

Despite the two songwriting sources, the music is unified nicely with Johnson tracks like Harlem Love Theme and Harlem Clavinette echoing the theme tune, while there are also an instrumental tale on it and an Across 110th Street pt 2.

Here’s Bobby solo on Jools Holland’s Later with the title track:

* In a different version of the song. It also was used by Ridley Scott in American Gangster from 2007.

Bad Times at the El Royale (Soundtrack Sundays)

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bad times at the el royale

We open in an empty hotel room in the late 1950s.

A man in a trilby and trenchcoat enters and begins to cram all the furniture to one side of the room. Then he rolls up the carpet and begins ripping up floorboards. He hides a duffel bag under the floorboards and then restores order to the room. He answers a knock on the door, a gun in his hand. It isn’t a fellow guest to complain about the noise. Moments later one of the two men is dead. The camera remains static throughout this series of jump-cuts.

Fast forward ten years and a Studebaker Commander enters the driveway of the El Royale accompanied by Edwin Starr and Twenty-Five Miles, a top ten Billboard hit in 1969, later to become a Northern Soul favourite. I’m really liking this movie already.

Once thriving, the hotel is now on the slide. Smooth talkin’ vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) gives a potted history of what was once ‘Tahoe’s best kept secret’ to two other guests waiting to sign in. These are a kindly priest Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo).

This trio are soon joined by a hippy chick Emily Summerspring played by Dakota Johnson. Peace, love and understanding, though, aren’t uppermost in her mind during her stay. She’s not alone in this respect.

It’s safe to speculate that writer/director Drew Goddard watched Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight as he began work on his screenplay. It has a definite Tarantino feel: hyper-stylized, non-linear, with sudden bursts of shocking violence and a fine ensemble cast playing characters who aren’t always who they claim to be. And, of course, a killer soundtrack including America’s second biggest selling single of 1967. Here’s a very young and gravelly voiced Alex Chilton fronting Memphis quintet The Box Tops with The Letter:

Once ensconced in his room, Sullivan phones his wife and talks (in a completely different accent than before) to her and his young daughter. As he does so, he begins to disassemble the phone. He is checking for bugs and not just in the phone but across the whole room.

Before too long, he has discovered a secret passageway that looks into a line of rooms via a series of two way mirrors. He walks along it and observes the other guests. Not surprisingly, none of them have their feet up relaxing.

When Sullivan’s stay is ended prematurely, the film begins to go slide downhill. And there’s still a long, long time before the closing credits start to roll.

Much is made throughout the film of the fact that the California/Nevada state line runs right through the El Royale. It’s a hotel of two halves with rooms on the California side a dollar more expensive per night. Likewise, the film is a film of two halves.

We get flashback after flashback and not all of them are essential to pushing the plot forward. Just one example: Did we have to see an obnoxious English producer giving Darlene an ultimatum over her career? As Elmore Leonard once put it: ‘All explaining in movies can be thrown out, I think.’

Goddard even breaks up a crucial action sequence to give us a flashback concerning a character who has so far hardly spoken.

By the third act when Thor, I mean, Chris Hemsworth rocks up as barechested cult leader Billy Lee, attempting to channel Charlie Manson and Jim Morrison in equal measures, I was losing interest fast. Great abs, shame about the one-dimensionality.

‘I’m just tired,’ Darlene tells Billy Lee before a spin on the roulette table that will have more serious consequences than a few dollars changing hands. ‘I’m just bored of men like you.’ I’m bored by this man too. I’m bored by the whole film at this point.

I’m bored by this man too. I’m bored by the whole film at this point, even by Cynthia Erivo’s much praised voice when Billy Lee forces her to sing. She’s good but far from exceptional. And if you want to know what an exceptional soul singer sounds like, the El Royales’ jukebox supplied just that earlier, when Darlene chose to play Bernadette, sung by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops.

Goddard’s dialogue never sizzles like Tarantino’s. He obviously doesn’t believe in the old screenwriting maxim that there shouldn’t be more than one big coincidence in a film. Worst of all, the movie is just far too long at 141 minutes.

It does look fantastic throughout, though, and why Seamus McGarvey’s neon noir cinematography didn’t earn an Oscar nomination remains a bigger mystery to me than the identity of the politician filmed surreptitiously at the El Royale – clearly designed to kickstart a heated debate much like the contents of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.

In the acting department, there are a number of fine performances. Best of all is Jeff Bridges, who is superb as he confesses to Darlene that ‘My memory isn’t quite as it was,’ even though he claims his mother and her father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a point when that disease was not known to the general public.

Hopefully Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood will be a more successful realisation of the late 1960s in America as the hippy dream was plunged into disillusionment and fear.

Here’s Deep Purple and their cover of Billy Joe Royal’s Hush, a track selected from the jukebox by wildchild Ruth Summerspring.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood will be released July 26.

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