Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tone Deaf: A Page From The Junk Cinema Song Book

Greetings, music lovers! When movies learned to talk, they also learned to sing. Hollywood has given us countless musical memories over the years and provided us with songs that have become American classics: "(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow", "Singin' in the Rain", "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" and "New York, New York", to name just a few.

But what about the flip side? Junk cinema lovers can't resist a tacky tune, whether it is warbled by a no-talent teen idol (like Christopher Atkins or Arch Hall, Jr.) or a chart-topping super group of dubious artistic merit (The Village People, anyone?). So the next time you want to add to your play list, consider including some of these ear-bending moments from junk cinema's treasure trove of musical monstrosities.

"You Light Up My Life" from the film "You Light Up My Life"(1977). Taking its place along side "Feelings", "Muskrat Love", "Baby I'm-a Want You", "Cherry Pie" and "Afternoon Delight", this Debbie Boone ballad has the distinction of being one of the worst songs were written. Although it's supposedly about Debbie's love for Jesus, that's still no excuse. After all, there are plenty of songs extolling religious reverence--"Ava Maria" and "Amazing Grace" come to mind--that don't turn your stomach or burn your brain cells. "You Light Up My Life", on the other hand, does all that and more.

Believe it or not, this saccharine little ditty caused quite a stir at the Academy Awards back in '77. Nominated for "Best Song"(!) honors, it was announced with much fanfare that joining Deb on stage would be "eleven young ladies" from the John Tracy Clinic for the Deaf who would be signing the tune's lyrics--thus ensuring that hearing impaired viewers would be just as nauseated as everybody else. No sooner had this production number began, however, than the phone lines lit up in anger. Turns out the moppets were not affiliated with the John Tracy Clinic for the Deaf, but hailed from Torrance, California. Worse, their signing was pure nonsense. Red-faced, the Academy later apologized.

However, at least one person liked Debbie's number: host Bob Hope, who commented admirably, "That Debbie Boone sure is something."

The movie "You Light Up My Life", by the way, bombed with critics and audiences and barely lasted in the theaters willing to show it. The tune, however, was the biggest selling single of the decade-- proof that the 1970's were a truly foul decade.

"Burning Rubber Tires" from "Pod People"(1983). This hilariously inept, badly dubbed and strangely fog shrouded flick is about a bickering rock group and their deadly encounter with a furry, ambulatory, long-snouted critter from outer space. Before the band members start meeting their maker, however, we are treated to their latest recording session, where they are laying down the tracks for their next hit single, "Burning Rubber Tires". The exact lyrics of this tune are lost to history--and the singers. While three female back-up singers twist with wild abandon, temperamental perfectionist lead singer Rick warbles about "feeling the wind in my eyes" because "my system's ready to go."

Fans of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" have made "Pod People" one of the show's most beloved episodes, especially for the once-over they gave this musical interlude. With Joel playing Rick (and Crow, Gypsy and Tom glammed-up as his back-up singers), the SOL crew sang their version of what they believed "Burning Rubber Tires"s lyrics might be: "With a pickle mind/we kick the nipple beer/steady as a goat/flyin' over trout/ hideous control now..."

"Pod People" was made in 1983 in Spain to cash in on the world-wide success of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial". It's original title was "Los Nuevos Extrsterrestres". The opening and closing scenes from "Pod People" were pinched from the 1985 film "The Galaxy Invader". The best critique of this movie and its signature tune is delivered by snippy Rick himself. After the group finishes the song, the sound engineer asks Rick how he felt the take went. Rick smiles, makes the "OK" sign and the declares, "It stinks!"

"Vickie" from "Eegah!"(1962). Looking for a dreamy love ballad? Well, you won't find one here. Arch Hall, Sr.'s do-it-yourself junk masterpiece (he wrote, produced, directed, starred and created the sound effects) about a cave man's love for a Palm Springs teen queen is also a showcase for the dubious talents of his son, Arch Hall, Jr.

Cursed with a face only a mother could love and a body with all the dexterity of Gumby, Arch Hall, Jr., as teen hero Tommy, is given every opportunity to make an ass out of himself and he does not disappoint. No doubt the highlight of Arch Jr.'s performance is when he sings poolside for girlfriend Roxy (Marilyn Manning, a secretary who had previously worked in an office building Arch Sr. owned). While Rox splashes about in a hotel swimming pool, a deeply sunburned Tommy plays the guitar and yodels the tune "Vickie". The song's lyrics are as follows:

"I love you, Vickie/ you know I do/my whole life has changed/though the first day we meet/was my last day with you...

"Vickie/oh, Vickie/ what have I done?/Why can't we make up?/ We could have/ so much fun...

"If you don't love me/ I was a fool/ Oh, Vickie/You are my love...

"Vickie/Oh, Vickie/I'm so alone/If you could just talk to me/If I could just call you/on the phone/ Would you give one more chance/to a fool?/Oh, Vickie,/ you are my love..."

It's important to note that while Arch, Jr. is caterwauling this masterpiece of teenage angst, an unseen heavenly chorus of female voices are heard in the background singing "ah-h-h." Not only are these unseen gals in tune (something Arch isn't), but their melodious harmonizing would be better suited for a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta than Arch Hall, Sr.'s drive-in hoot fest. Never the less, Arch Jr. solders on to the tune's end, no doubt deeply grateful nobody pushed his amps in water or shot him.

Of course, junk cinema fans know "Eegah!" isn't the only place Arch, Jr. sang "Vickie". As a dumb hick turned singing sensation in "Wild Guitar", Arch also warbled this tune in one of his character's many TV appearances. Only in this flick, instead of an adoring poolside audience, Carolyn Brandt (Mrs. Ray Dennis Steckler, wife of Arch's "Wild Guitar" co-star and dad's protege) performs an eye-popping interpretive dance with a scarf while Arch tries to keep a straight face.

It's a relief to know Arch, Jr. didn't sing in his pop's next pictures "The Sadist" (as a sniveling psycho holding a group of teachers hostage) and "Deadwood '73" (where he is mistaken for Billy the Kid) and settled down to a respectable career as a commercial pilot.

"Are You Happy In Your Work?" from "I Accuse My Parents"(1944). Meet Jimmy Wilson, a recent high school grad who is stuck with parents who gamble, cheat and get stewed on a regular basis. Hoping for a better life, Jimmy takes a job in a shoe store where he meets singing star Kitty Reed (Mary Beth Hughes, a B-movie starlet of note). When his neglectful parents decide they'd rather party at the beach with their friends than help Jimmy celebrate his 18th birthday, he hightails it to the Paradise Nightclub to catch Kitty's act. It's there Kitty belts out this ditty about work place contentment, "Are You Happy In Your Work?":

"Are you happy/in your work?/Do you never, ever shirk?/Does your morning menu/really send you on your way?

"Are you grateful/ you're alive?/ Is your day full/ 9 to 5?

"Livin' in the rhythm/ that I'm speakin' of/ you'll be happy in your work/ if you're in love..."

Since working in a shoe store doesn't pay so good, Jimmy starts doing odd jobs for Charlie Blake on the side, who happens to be the town's crime boss and Kitty's sometime boyfriend. When Jimmy finally figures all this out, he's forced to go on the lam when an "errand" ends in gun fire. After a series of convoluted events, Charlie is dead and Jimmy is put on trial. It's there he tells the judge the whole mess is the fault of his drunk folks. Believe it or not, the judge agrees with Jimmy(!), suspends his sentence(!) and releases him into the custody of his drunk folks(!). Jimmy and Kitty are reunited and everybody lives happily ever after.

This little exploitation gem also features the tunes "Love Came Between Us" and "Where Can He Be?". It ends with the judge lecturing the audience on good parenting skills. Let's hope they listened.