Sunday, 7 June 2015

"Lights, Camera, SOUNDTRACKS: The Ultimate Guide To Popular Music In The Movies" by MARTIN C. STRONG with BRENDAN GRIFFIN - A Review Of This Superb Book

“...Love Me Tender...” 

The key thing to note about Martin Strong's Movie-Music tome (yet another truly amazing body of work) is to 'not see' the word SOUNDTRACKS emblazoned in the centre of it's 10" x 8" cover. What you need to focus on is the subtitle below - "The Ultimate Guide To Popular Music In The Movies". This needs some explaining...

This 2008 large-sized paperback publication on Canongate (UK) does not give you endless discographies on every Soundtrack ever released (what book could) - but instead largely deals with 'music within movies' and the artists who contributed to those scores (an impressive 900 + Pages). This can be confusing. In a book with the word SOUNDTRACKS at its very centre - fans will be astonished when they go to the Index at the rear to 'not find' names forever associated with Film Music like John Barry, Roy Budd, Bernard Herrmann, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin, Thomas Newman, Alan Silvestri, John Williams and Gabriel Yared - but instead find references to T-Bone Burnett, Willie Hutch, Daniel Lanois, Penguin Café Orchestra, The Ramones and Neil Young. So what do you get? Like his two Folk Music Volumes (see reviews) - Strong has chosen to break his monster work into three separate sections:

1. Rock Movies/Musicals and Pop Fiction - Pages 1 to 420
2. Rockumentaries and Performance Movies - Pages 421 to 594
3. Pop/Rock Scores and Blaxploitation - Pages 595 to 906
4. Index - Page 907

Inside each entry you get details like year of release, film-company, director, stars, music soundtrack listed and a properly great appraisal of the movie and the music contained within. Take for instance Barry Newman's ubercool "Vanishing Point" from 1971 - you get a soundtrack review that touches on Strong's staggering knowledge on Mountain, Delaney & Bonnie and Big Mama Thornton whose music peppers the film. The "FM" soundtrack entry provides stuff about Steely Dan and all the other artists involved (even has vinyl discographies for selected artists too). There's three different sets of eight-page colour plates (one for each section) breaking up the endless facts and details and feature artwork for soundtracks like "Almost Famous", "Stardust", "The Girl Can't Help It", "Slade In Flame", "Buena Vista Social Club", "Down From The Mountain (concert from O Brother, Where Art Thou?)" and Badly Drawn Boy's "About A Boy" as well as photos of musical icons featured throughout the book like Jimmy Page, Nick Cave, Curtis Mayfield and Tangerine Dream.

And while you would expect to see entries on obvious monster-music-movies like American Graffiti, The Blues Brothers, The Commitments, Dirty Dancing, Easy Rider, 8 Mile, Evita, Fame, Footloose, Good Morning Vietnam, A Hard Day's Night, Love Me Tender, No Nukes, Purple Rain, Rock Around The Clock, Saturday Night Fever, The Wall and Woodstock - you also get Coolsville and Retro Fun in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Crow, Earth Girls Are Easy, Empire Records, Grand Theft Parsons, High Fidelity, Natural Born Killers, O Brother, Where Are Thou?, Pretty In Pink, Pulp Fiction, Repo Man, Reservoir Dogs, The Rutles, School Of Rock, Stomp The Yard, This Is England, Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine and Wayne's World. And how good is to see minor masterpieces like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (Beatlesmania), "Shag: The Movie" (Sixties Dance Craze) and "This Is Spinal Tap" (Metal Spoof) be given decent entries of their own.

You get superlative biopics like Walk The Line (Johnny Cash), Ray (Ray Charles), The Doors (The Doors), Bound For Glory (Woody Guthrie), Lady Sings The Blues (Billie Holliday), That'll Be The Day (Buddy Holly) and Great Balls Of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis). And how cool is to see Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in a guide like this along with Orbital, Sigur Ros, Serge Gainsbourg and Vangelis.

Rockumentaries include The Last Waltz (The Band), Let It Be (The Beatles), Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (Chuck Berry), 101 (Depeche Mode), Renaldo And Clara and No Direction Home (Bob Dylan), Concert For George (George Harrison), Rainbow Bridge (Jimi Hendrix), The Song Remains The Same (Led Zeppelin), Let's Make Love In London Tonite (Pink Floyd), The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (Sex Pistols), Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads), Rattle And Hum (U2), The Kids Are Alright (The Who) and 200 Motels (Frank Zappa).

The Blaxsploitation section features the Soul, Funk and Social Consciousness of James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack and Mario Van Peebles to name but a few. You get entries on Shaft, The Payback, Cleopatra Jones, The Harder They Come, Black Caesar, Superfly, Across 110th Street, Hell Up In Harlem and WattStax. But weirdly this section also has stuff like Simon & Garfunkel's superb inserts into "The Graduate", Bowie's work on "The Buddah Of Suburbia", Keith Emerson's keyboards on "Nighthawks" and Willie Nelson's country contributions to "The Electric Horseman".

What's also fascinating is to see the double-association entries (first the film then the artist most closely associated with it) - Buffalo 66 (Vincent Gallo), The Namesake (Nitin Sawhney), Aguirre Wrath Of God (Popol Vuh), Paris, Texas (Ry Cooder), Local Hero and Brooklyn Bridge (Mark Knopfler), Gladiator (Lisa Gerrard), Chelsea Walls (Jeff Tweedy of Wilco), Birdy, Passion: The Last Temptation Of Christ, Long Walk Home and Rabbit-Proof Fence (Peter Gabriel), The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) and One From The Heart (Tom Waits).

It has to be said that the omissions and inclusions will infuriate - you find frivolous crud like "Popeye" is given a detailed entry but the brill retro Fifties Rock 'n' Roll of "Back To The Future" isn't here. While I can dig Prince's fabulous funk in "Batman" - do I ever want to read about Howard The Duck or Xanadu. But these are minor niggles in a book that I know I will be dipping into for years to come and still finding something interesting to read about.

So if you want your "Leningrad Cowboys Go America", "Expresso Bongo", "Purple People Eater" and "Young, Hot 'n' Nast Teenager Cruisers" explained in detail - look no further than this fabulous splurge of info on Music in Movies.

Even if it frustrates at times (the split layout) - I love this Martin Strong reference book and can only imagine the years it took to research and collate. Both he and Brendan Griffin deserve your fistful of dollars - they genuinely do. Genius and a Yellow Submarine thrown into the bargain...

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