Cameron Crowe’s newest movie – Aloha, currently in theaters – has been met with a wave of critical indifference and disappointment, and has scored a less-than-stellar 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics are, I think, especially frustrated because Crowe was once known for some of the most bracing, emotional, original romances to be made within the Hollywood machine. Almost Famous was most certainly one of the best films of its year, his Jerry Maguire was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1996, his Singles is perhaps the most accurate and loving time capsule about the 1990s grunge scene imaginable, and no one can shake the emotional honesty and glorious halcyon heartbreak of his 1989 masterpiece Say Anything…
Say Anything… is, as I stated in a recent installment of Best Movie Ever, Crowe’s best movie. And, in addition to being an indispensable and refreshingly honest look at the way teenage love operates in our lives, and how that love can mature into something more meaningful than mere infatuation, the film also possesses one excellent soundtrack. Cameron Crowe was, as most of us know, once a writer for Rolling Stone, so he has an in-depth knowledge of the way pop music functions in our day-to-day interactions, and he recognizes the significance of listening to one band over another. As such, the soundtracks to his movies tend to be pretty kick-ass. It’s worth noting that Danny Bramson, the film’s music supervisor, is the first name seen in the film’s closing credits.
Check Out: ‘Aloha’ Review: From Here to Atonality
Here in the latest installment of SoundTreks, we are going to take a good long look at the soundtrack record for Say Anything… (produced by Crowe, Bramson, and Jerry Greenberg), and see if the collection that Crowe put together way back in 1989 can hold up as a collection we can still listen to, remark on how it speaks to the film, and finally give a judgment as to whether the soundtrack record is superior to the film.
Track 1: “All for Love” – Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson’s tender ballad – that is, as the title implies, all about love – is the song that played over the film’s credits. The song that plays over a film’s credits usually serves the movie the same way a final paragraph does in your old high school essays: it’s a reprise of your thesis. As such, it’s nice to have such a triumphant, lilting (not to mention very, very 1980s) power ballad as your conclusion. I understand that putting it right up front on the soundtrack record can serve as the record’s statement of purpose, but this song doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the record. I also wonder what separates this song from practically any other Heart ballad.
I would also like to express a general frustration with certain soundtrack records to mix up the order of their songs. It’s rare that you’ll find a soundtrack record that includes its songs in the order they appeared in the film. It can throw off the enterprising collector, who might be looking for a certain song, and will have to do additional hunting even after the soundtrack CD is in their possession.
Track 2: “Cult of Personality” – Living Colour
Now we’re getting into what makes this soundtrack cool. Living Colour was, if you don’t recall, a hard rock band that first appeared in the late 1980s, and combined the driving heaviness of metal with the outward politics of angry hip-hop groups like Public Enemy. Cult of Personality is an awesome song, has an awesome guitar riff, and can pump up any mix. It’s a song about, well, the cult of personality that forms over certain people, and makes comparisons to figures like Stalin and Mussolini.
The politics of the song, however, do not comment on the action of the film in the least. Indeed, within the context of the film, Cult of Personality only plays in the background at a party. The film was hot when this song was brand new. Whoever was curating that party’s stereo was pretty dang cool. Indeed, you’ll see more of that mysterious stereo curator in future tracks.
Track 3: “One Big Rush” – Joe Satriani
This is a very hair-metal sounding instrumental performed by famed guitarist (and instructor to people like Primus’ Larry Lalonde and the legendary Steve Vai) Joe Satriani. In the context of the film, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack’s character) can be seen kickboxing to this lick. Lloyd needs this sort of testosterone-soaked gutbucket shred to get worked up, and you can practically smell the Top Gun sweat on this one.
In the context of the soundtrack, however, it seems a little out of place. We’re only on track three, and we’ve had a tender ballad, a metal classic, and a cheesy montage-ready tune. I feel like Danny Bramson included this track as a way of providing you with something to work out to, rather than as a way of tying his soundtrack together
Track 4: “You Want It” – Cheap Trick
Another one playing at the party scene. I turned 11 in 1989, and I seem to recall that, even in 1989, Cheap Trick was something of an “old guy” band. So in my mind, they have way more in common with the “classic rock” crowd than with their contemporaries. “You Want It,” a song that is definitely not about rape, is, on both the soundtrack and the movie, a simple driving beat to propel the energy in the room, and little more.
Track 5: “Taste the Pain” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Note: Those who listened to Red Hot Chili Peppers in the 1980s were cooler than you. When their record “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” came out in 1991, RHCP moved into the mainstream, and essentially became a defining sound of the decade; not a single white kid my age didn’t know the lyrics to “Under the Bridge.” But they started out much earlier than that, and, at this point in their careers, can easily be lumped in with the ultra-cool post-punkers of the 1980s. Which is – and I will hear no arguments – the coolest era for pop music.
So what does it say that Lloyd Dobler listens to early RHCP in his car while he tries around town? What does it mean that he must repair this cassette because he’s been listening to it so much? It means that Lloyd is fucking cool. Now that you’ve heard it, you’re cooler too.
Track 6: “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel
Despite what Say Anything… has done for this song in the mass consciousness, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is not the most romantic song of all time. That honor still belongs to – and will always belong to – Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight.” But “In Your Eyes” is most certainly on some sort of Top 10 list. Peter Gabriel’s “So” was standard issue in the suburbs in the late, 1980s, so this song was something of a hit even before the movie, being a sincere and vulnerable declaration of how deep love can go, even by merely looking into a lover’s eyes. It’s almost a religious experience. He sees the doorway of a thousand churches.
But Say Anything… propelled “In Your Eyes” into the canon of pop love songs. In the movie, Lloyd and Diane (Ione Skye) have sex for the first time – awkwardly, sweetly in the back of a car – while the song plays on the radio. Later, in the film’s most famous scene, when Diane has rebuffed Lloyd, Lloyd tries to win her back by playing the tune from a boombox hoisted above his head. It was the song that they didn’t even know was their song. The scene actually has a bitterness to it, as Lloyd is deliberately trying to make Diane feel guilty.
My wife, who knows far more about pop music than I, informed me of this piece of interesting trivia. The original choice of songs here was going to be Billy Idol’s “To Be a Lover.” I’ve listened to the song, and it’s not the right choice. It’s too energetic, too sexual. You need something achingly romantic like “In Your Eyes” in that spot.
Track 7: “Stripped” (Live Version) – Depeche Mode
Another track from the party scene. Depeche Mode has always been rather intense, and their electro-grooves can liven up any Goth dance club, or at least break up the constant repetition of Morrissey songs. The question that arises about this track is why Danny Bramson elected to use the live version rather than the album version. Perhaps, since the original was already a few years old by the time Say Anything… came out, the music supervisor felt the need to update it a bit. Offer some variety. I like this one okay.
Track 8: “Skankin’ to the Beat” – Fishbone
Another track from the party scene, although this track is most certainly the redheaded stepchild of the record. Fishbone is a ska band, and this song stands out like a sore thumb next to its moody love ballads and cool underground-ish rock hits. Ska is the hyperactive lovechild of pop and reggae, and it typically appeals to twitchy high school kids. But those who can include ska on a mix tape are perhaps declaring their love of variety. That said, “Skankin’ to the Beat” is not evocative of Say Anything… It’s more evocative of something more colorful and trifling, like Clueless. Oh yes, and we’ll get to the Clueless soundtrack soon enough, dear readers.
Track 9: “Within Your Reach” – The Replacements
Right down at the end of the soundtrack record, we have a song that Lloyd plays in his car after all has been resolved, and he and Diane are preparing to leave town together. This is the declaration of triumph song that comes at just the right time in the record, and at just the right place to recover from Fishbone. It’s just the right sort of relaxed-pumped mixture that can speak to the movie, while also just having a good solid groove.
Track 10: “Keeping the Dream Alive” – Freiheit
I, uh, don’t remember where this appeared in the film. It sounds very ELO-ish. It’s not a good ending to the record. There’s not a lot of information online about Freiheit, which was evidently a German pop group that has cut 17 studio albums since their inception in 1980. This track just may be Crowe and Bramson bragging. They have found an obscure German electro-tribute song (I heard Beach Boys and Beatles in there), and they’re showing off that they have found it. I have no problem with deep cuts, but I would prefer they serve a function.
Track 11: Untitled – Say Anything… Cast
This is a fun bonus track (from the age when bonus tracks were not listed on the back cover) of the cast kind of messing around and rapping. You can hear Crowe directing. I love little tidbits like this. It adds so much personality to the record and to the movie.
Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the Film?
The film, hands down. Say Anything… tells a winsome and honest story about the time in your life when love is the most intense. The soundtrack gives hints of that winsome feeling of aching romantic longing, but is more a schizophrenic mix tape constructed by a lovelorn teen with a short attention span. It could be argued that this is a mix tape that a teenager would make. I hear a mix made by either a sensitive teenage boy who loves metal and male rock, but with a softer side who can still weep over “In Your Eyes.” I suppose more accurately, the record is a mix tape made by a particularly cool teenage girl attending high school in the late 1980s. And there are far worse approaches to making mix tapes.