It’s Your One Way Ticket to Midnight: Heavy Metal (The Soundtrack)

Heavy Metal is a genre, a lifestyle, an excuse to wear studded leather, a conduit for pent up teenagers to express their anger, a convenient target for parents to blame their children’s aberrant behavior on, a reason for Marshall stacks to exist, the arena of fraudulent satanism, the cause for bat heads to be bitten, the scourge that brought us pointy guitars, an undefinable sound, the second-best reason for men to wear makeup, a Steppenwolf lyric, and the only explanation for the career of King Diamond. But, most importantly, Heavy Metal is a movie and a soundtrack. By far the best thing about 1981, an otherwise execrable year for all things cultural and political, was the release of the animated feature which spawned possibly the best movie score in the history of cinema (with the possible exception of A Hard Day’s Night). Three noted scholars of the film, Sean Beaudoin, Joe Daly and Jamie Blaine convene at a local diner to get deep-nerd over gravy fries and black coffee, breaking down the meaning of the film, as well as the soundtrack, song by song–always staying faithful to the original tracklist. 

 

 

JD: I just couldn’t get past the Heavy Metal poster. I was thirteen years old and in the final throes of a heroic Doors obsession. I’d read the Jim Morrison bio something like ten times in a row before pulling my head out his Nietzschean quicksand and reminding myself that L.A. Woman was not the death knell of rock and roll. My attitudes on sex, drugs and rock and roll were frustratingly stunted; Jim was the biggest rockstar in the world to me and he didn’t want to even be one – a mindset that made my fifth grade KISS obsession feel hopelessly naive and childish. I’d grown to see big time rock and roll as a somber, brooding affair fueled with depressive drinking and shitty, self-indulgent lyricism. But then I saw that Heavy Metal poster and it grabbed the attention of every single one of my raging hormones, with its blonde heroine holding a sword in the air with her gigantic chest bouncing in all its cosplayed splendor. At the top I remember the poster promised “mystery,” “magic,” “sexual fantasies” and “evil.” It reminded me that rock and roll is best enjoyed over-the-top. I was all in.

SB: Yeah, that tag line! No doubt it was only on posters intended for head shops, electronics stores, and video arcades. Amazingly, my very small and conservative home town had a head shop all through the 80s. Actual cities within an hour’s drive didn’t have head shops, and if they did it would’ve been burned down by the local Rotarians within a week. I think it’s possible that ours was allowed to exist because the alderman and activist parents genuinely had no idea what it was, or what glass pipes and nitrous canisters were for. Anyway, I had one of those friends whose parents didn’t care one iota what he did, and so he worked there and we’d hang out in the back sometimes, although I parked my car about a mile away, terrified of being spotted. There was a rack near the register with the latest issues of High Times, Omni, National Lampoon, Al Goldstein’s Screw, Hot Rodder, and Heavy Metal. I’d sometimes leaf through HM, but mostly to look at the ads for Genuine Barbarian Broadswords and Cerwin Vega speakers.

JMB: I saw Heavy Metal on USA’s Up All Night when I was a kid. Or maybe Cinemax. I sat four inches from the TV with one hand on the channel changer in case my mom walked in because there was tons of cartoon boobage and gratuitous gore. Peppermint Records had the soundtrack in the cutout bin with a sticker on it that said all your favorite artists for one low price! It looked forbidden and cool so I bought it and laid in bed at night listening to the Heavy Metal soundtrack about a zillion times. And y’know, my small southern town had a head shop too. I loved the mystique, the smell of ozone and incense, Xenon Pinball in the far back corner, that laid-back air of acceptance. The era that romanticized drug use was followed by one that exposed the scab-picking, dirt-poor reality of drugs. Like most things in life, the fantasy was far better than the reality.

JD: Man, that’s so, so true. It was around then that I began immersing myself in rock history, beginning with No One Here Gets Out Alive, that insane (and later debunked) Jim Morrison biography. I wanted so desperately to have the kind of “adult” problems that twentysomething stoners had. And as I would later learn, “Be careful what you wish for…”

SB: I probably came to the soundtrack through Blue Öyster Cult in eighth grade or so. It was whispered about in certain quarters, older kids who no doubt possessed valuable secrets, knew about diminished chords, and could brag convincingly about carnal experiences. For some reason the fat double album always seemed to be on sale at Record World, which was also a big enticement. At the time I really dug Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s chops, and would defend him on the bus and in hallways against disdainful metalheads who insisted “Godzilla” was just a novelty song. No way! He’s about to stomp a nuclear plant in B-flat! Can Jimmy Page with a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound pull those high-tension wires down? Anyway, having the album in my room had a dangerous and furtive quality to it, definitely hidden in the back of my growing stack of albums. If Mom ever checked, I was sure she’d never make it past John Barleycorn Must Die, or Rick Wakeman’s No Earthly Connection. I knew the soundtrack like the back of my hand long before I ever saw the movie. We didn’t have cable, but the next town over had a Crown Cine that ran a series called Midnight Madness on Friday nights. The rotation was basically the same for years: The Wall, The Song Remains the Same, The Warriors, Rocky Horror, Scanners, and Heavy Metal. There’s really nothing like seeing a movie at midnight in a theater full of addled teenagers, when it feels like the rest of the world is asleep.

JMB: Ah, geez Scanners. That’s another whole post.

SB: Scanners was a lot more complex than given credit for, taking on issues of mental illness, big pharma, and eugenics. Plus, you know, the head-exploder scene, which my friends and I rewound and rewatched trying to figure out exactly how they did it, laughing giddily at the sheer audaciousness. In any case, I once owned a copy of the novel Scanners, and read it several times, not something I got around to doing with the early John Updike novella based on Heavy Metal, although I’ve heard it’s excellent. Oh, and before we start, I want it on the official record that 70% of the time I listened to HM, it came screeching distortedly through an enormous early-80s dual cassette Pioneer boombox that featured Hi-Speed Dubbing, Ultimate Bass Boost, and a six-band equalizer that not only failed to affect the output in any way, it probably wasn’t even hooked up to anything. For me, the HM soundtrack is inexplicably linked to boom-box culture, and my total infatuation with massive, portable electronics.

                  

THE SOUNDTRACK: SIDE ONE

 

“HEAVY METAL” — SAMMY HAGAR

JMB: Tight pants and lipstick! Sparks flying in the dead of the night! 50,000 watts of power when they shoot out the lights! Who writes lyrics like that anymore? FM radio is dead, gone and forgotten and Sammy Hagar is on the Food Network. Let’s get this out of the way: it’s Heavy Metal as in the sci-fi/fantasy magazine, not the musical genre. That’s why Devo is on a “Heavy Metal” record. Is Hagar metal? No. Did he rock once upon a time? Never harder than this. “Heavy Metal” atones for all Van Hagar’s synthetic sins. By the way, Sammy cut this song twice. The soundtrack version has some sort of weird compression that makes it extra spacey and way better. Also, he wrote it with the dude from Survivor.

SB: As far as I’m concerned, outside of Montrose (“Bad Motor Scooter”!), this is Sammy’s only good song. Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but Sammy’s HM is way out of the scope of his usual oeuvre, a genuinely killer tune. The riff is so satisfying, hulking and uncomplicated in the best possible way. And I was crazy about the little bass breakdown before the solo, rewound and listened to it endlessly. If “Three Lock Box” makes me want to get a PhD in Classical French Composition, Sammy’s “Heavy Metal” makes me want to red-line a ‘71 Chevelle into highway stanchion with a smear of airplane glue across my upper lip. It’s your one way ticket to midnight…

JD: Yeah, no way around it – this is one of Sammy’s finest moments and the crazy thing was this was a throwaway track from his big label debut, Standing Hampton. That’s the one that opened with “I’ll Fall In Love Again,” which appeared on another classic 80s soundtrack – Vision Quest. But the next two tracks on that record were “There’s Only One Way To Rock” and “Baby’s On Fire,” which, along with the opener, were a positively monstrous volley of taut, pummeling riffs and arena-sized, chest-beating choruses. Nothing remotely original across the three of them – just meat and potatoes hard rock but I remember thinking that Sammy was destined for the Pantheon of Zeppelin after that release. The fact that “Heavy Metal” was tucked away in the middle suggests that Sammy didn’t see much upside to showcasing it and of course, its failure to chart would have proven him right.

JMB: I don’t like smart rock. Rock and Roll should be gloriously stupid. 

SB: Yes, gleeful moronicism is underrated. There’s nothing satisfyingly ironic about deconstructing “Cum on Feel the Noize”, but you sure can improve your commute by just grooving to the riff.

JD: Amen. Deconstructing vapid, feel-good rock might have felt clever to the culture fetishists of the Noughties, but it’s really just a tedious form of jerking off for clicks. “Heavy Metal” is on a few of my running playlists and I can assure you, I’ve never felt like deconstructing any of the songs on any of my running playlists, ever.

 

“HEARTBEAT” — RIGGS

JD: Riggs just released that one album and then the band promptly disappeared. Not surprised after reacquainting myself with this or by “Radar Rider” later on in the album. I saw scores of live rock shows in the early 80s and while I can’t recall the names of most of the opening acts, I can confidently say that “Heartbeat” sounds like every single song that those bands played, mushed into one steaming tower of turgid 80s cliches. The people who threw the horns at this track were the sort of people who loved The Firm.

JMB: Who is Riggs? Where did they come from? Where did they go? Ultimately, I don’t want to know. I like to think they’re exclusive to the Heavy Metal universe. At some level I understand that Riggs is sub-par Aldo Nova. But at the nostalgic level — if given the chance to remove their two songs from the soundtrack, would I? No way. It’s all part of the magic.

SB: Wikipedia says Jerry Riggs was in a band called Raggedy Ann in 1979, which is all you really need to know. It also says he took over for former frontman “Don Train”. Is that the best name in the history of rock, or is it a weird confluence of Don Cornelius and Soul Train? And is Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon named after the man who had the stones to pen this horrible song? It sounds like the B-side of a single that .38 Special was too embarrassed to release in Japan. Even as a preteen halfway through The Fountainhead and convinced there was a deeper meaning to “The Priests of the Temple of Syrinx”, I knew this was an absolute bar-band cash grab.

JD: Jerry Riggs did find brief redemption playing with Pat Travers though. Although some might rightly point out that as far as career high points go, playing with Pat Travers isn’t exactly fast-track-to-Rock-Hall-type stuff.

 

“WORKING IN THE COAL MINE” — DEVO

JMB: Devo’s HM doppelgangers in the space-age saloon scene play “Through Being Cool,” which I believe would’ve been a better choice for the soundtrack? Not that I’m complaining. I just remember thinking Why is Devo singing a Judds song?

SB: I disagree. I think this is an excellently weird choice, and perfectly placed. Interestingly, I always thought they were doing a Lee Dorsey cover. The locomotive/coal sifter backing track has a pure motion to it, the feeling of space dust in your face while jetting between asteroids. Also, I’ll take this opportunity to make the claim that Devo might be the most underrated band in the history of popular music, which still has yet to catch up to them.

JMB: The world remains not yet ready for Devo. “Girl U Want.” That’s another whole OCD Pop Culture post right there.

SB: When “Taarna” enters the mercenary bar to slice off a few heads and the HM version of the Star Wars cantina bar band are playing Devo, do you doubt for a second that it’s a preferred choice in off-world dive jukeboxes across the galaxy, and even once hit #22 on the Rigelian charts? Also, possibly worth broaching at this point is that the HM movie is sorta terrible. Why do I remember it so fondly? I mean, I also still love it in a nostalgic and elemental way, but…not sure it’s aged so well.

JD: For me, this was where the soundtrack went off the rails. While Riggs’ contributions fell dramatically short of my definition of “heavy metal,” this tune filled me with a sense of deep deflation. It was obvious that the producers had no idea what heavy metal was and that they were just throwing in whatever up-and-coming flavors were available, and cheaply-purchased. I mean, I get that they needed something weird, and no disrespect to Devo, but this was a miss. The correct answer here would have been “Inna Gadda Da Vida.”

JMB: ….Slayer’s version!

SB: Which they would have re-titled “In The Garden of Eatin'” Speaking of which, why are all the sex scenes so utterly un-erotic? How come the only heroic female in the entire file is a mute? Am I answering my own questions about the disconnection of nerdy sci-fi/metal pervs during a decade in which Burt Reynolds was considered a paragon of masculinity?

JD: Right? You know the guys who wrote Weird Science were eminently familiar with Heavy Metal.

JMB: Wow, really? I’ll have to watch it again with that in mind. I do know that Heavy Metal is the second most played midnight movie of all time, only behind Rocky Horror. Rocky Horror is pop culture royalty. Seventh grade girls have parties and sing “Let’s Do the Timewarp.” No one sings songs from Heavy Metal. No one reenacts scenes. No one dresses up as Harry Canyon or Captain Sternn. No one talks about it except for animation geeks. And us, I suppose.

 

“VETERAN OF THE PSYCHIC WARS” — BLUE ÖYSTER CULT

SB: What exactly are “shakes”? They keep singing “Please don’t let these shakes go on”, which is kind of a downer. Also the line “We’ve been eating up our brains” doesn’t make me want to go to Six Flags and ride the ÖysterCoaster. And what’s with the John Phillip Sousa drum beat?

JD: When this song plays in the movie, any far-fetched hopes that a linear plot would emerge were dashed on the shiny crystals beneath. I mean, holy shit. Dude lands a corvette on the house, gives his daughter a glowing orb, which then eviscerates him. Then it starts pumping the girl’s brain full of grim, futuristic cityscapes that make Blade Runner look like Couple’s Retreat. But when the orb announces itself as “the sum of all evils,” chills of the good variety ran down my teenaged spine. BÖC didn’t get mired in the cartoonish imagery of Pentagram, Lucifer’s Friend or even Sabbath; they just wrote smooth, ultra-addictive jams like “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and “Career of Evil,” and left you wondering just how serious they really were. That ambiguity made that band and this song utterly perfect for the scene.

SB: Everyone reading this, as well as you two guys, should immediately download BÖC’s second album, Tyranny and Mutation. I guarantee you’ll come back here and say, “Why in the fuck have I never heard this?” and then “This album is fantastic!” and then “It sounds nothing like Blue Öyster Cult, though…” and then, “In fact, it sounds like the great lost ‘73 southern-fried psych-boogie masterpiece I’ve been waiting all my life to own and worship. But hey, if you’re feeling cheap, just download “Hot Rails From Hell.”

JMB: BÖC’s song for HM was “Vengeance (The Pact)” but producers thought it gave away too much of Taarna’s plot, which is wonderfully ridiculous in itself. “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is the better cut. It’s trippy and actually far more insightful to the plot of this movie because it makes no sense at all. It just sounds cool. BÖC also recorded a song called “Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver” for the soundtrack. That means there were almost three title tracks! I like to just pretend there are. In fact, you can create your own side five of this LP, if you wish. Not that I’m that dorky. Okay, I am.

SB: We desperately need a side 5!

JMB: Are you opposed to three BÖC songs?

JD: Opposed? I insist on it. Seriously, “Career of Evil” would fit perfectly in about ten scenes in this movie.

SB: Totally agree. Followed up by “Baby Ice Dog” that Patti Smith gets a songwriting credit on. And then probably four songs by Adam Bomb. Please tell me you remember Adam Bomb.


JMB:
The Adam Bomb who auditioned for KISS and was told he was too pretty and would upset Paul Stanley? Who could forget?

 

 

INTERMISSION

At midpoint we break to mention that the Heavy Metal film had two soundtracks — the album rock compilation discussed here and the Elmer Bernstein score which was nominated for awards and remains highly acclaimed in symphonic circles. Ironic, huh?

 

In addition, we note the sequel, Heavy Metal 2000. Although it featured Billy Idol, Bauhaus and Pantera, as well as exciting new animation technology, neither movie nor soundtrack come anywhere near the spirit of the original.

 

 

Talks continue for a third installment. We hope future filmmakers consider that every act featured on the ’81 original is still around in some form. 

 

THE SOUNDTRACK: SIDE TWO

 

“REACH OUT” — CHEAP TRICK

JD: When Frehley’s Comet came out and I hear that tune “Calling To You,” I knew it sounded super familiar, but couldn’t place it. Then a couple years back, I was listening to the HM soundtrack on a run and it hit me- “Calling to You” has got the same verses as “Reach Out.” Which makes sense because Tod Howarth was in Cheap Trick and later joined Ace Frehley for the Frehley’s Comet album.

JMB: Whoa! You’re right.

SB: That’s an excellent observation. It’s dead on! And you know what else is weird? I mean aside from half of SCTV doing voices for the movie? The fact if you ignore the intricate plot lines, depth of emotion, and deep character development, for a movie about the future, HM has almost nothing in it the resembles actual future technology. No hints of rudimentary internet or cell phones or tablets, no contemporary weapons or Teslas or tasers, not even a George Foreman grill. It’s all just recycled Star Trek stuff, random buttons and blinking lights. I mean, even the professor and his alien minions that find the buried Loc Nar use a bulldozer and a couple of metal detectors.

JD: Quick aside- is it just me, or is Loc-Nar nothing more than a thinly-veiled weed metaphor?

JMB: Would the makers of Heavy Metal make weed the true source of all evil? I thought it was a metaphor for teenage boy hormones. Sean?

SB: Well, Loc-Nar is almost an anagram for Narco. But also Lorca! Have you ever read Frederico Garcia Lorca? He was this crazy Spanish cat, pals with Dali and Buñuel, and wrote all this super futurist and surrealist stuff. So I’m laying my cash on the money line and saying it’s an homage to him. Unless the idea of anyone touching the Loc-Nar immediately disintegrating into a pile of green lard is a parable about the 1977 Bat Out of Hell tour.

JD: Oh man, that’s dead-on. Yes.

JMB: The SCTV thing is nuts. It’s hard to see the Den sequence the same after you realize this big, bald, muscle-bound warrior is the voice of Uncle Buck. I mean, John Candy does, like, six characters in this movie. The DVD documentary admits it’s just a bunch of cool drawings that they took pictures of one frame at a time. These are all positives in my book.

JD: Total positives. And a pretty blatant ripoff of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion as well, with the snow-haired Taarna as the vengeful, sword-swinging badass. While I had no problem accepting that HM drew generously from recycled sci fi tales, the SCTV tie-in was just plain weird. Somebody gave me the complete SCTV catalog on CD a few years back. Sadly, that show will never enjoy the esteem it so richly deserves. Totally subversive in a way that feels quaint today.

SB: So does it prove that to most teenagers, and still not quite mature metalheads cruising around town in jacked-up Novas that “The Future” has nothing to do with theoretics or technology or philosophy, it’s a just a chance to smoke space dope, drive fast, be appallingly violent, and commit sex crimes? I mean doesn’t that sound the pitch for like a concept album/rock opera by W*A*S*P?

 

“HEAVY METAL (TAKING A RIDE)” — DON FELDER

SB: Just for starters, it bears noting that the original title of this song was “You’re Really High, Aren’t You?” That’s not a joke.

JMB: Don Felder is my favorite Eagle. I know that sounds like I’m trying to be contrary and arch like when people say Ringo is their favorite Beatle but I don’t like Doolin’ Dalton Desperado country Eagles. I like rock Eagles. And since this track features Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt this is my favorite Eagles song.

SB: I don’t take that as contrary, I take it as a matter of taste and refinement. Joe Walsh is my favorite Eagle, solo Joe Walsh is also my favorite Eagle, and I’d rather listen to the very worst James Gang song for three weeks straight than “Lyin’ Eyes”, “New Kid in Town”, “The Sad Cafe”, or “Witchy Woman” ever again.

JMB: Why isn’t Joe Walsh on Heavy Metal? He’s on Urban Cowboy and Fast Times. Is he not space-rock enough? “Space Age Whiz Kids” could have worked? “The Confessor?” There has to be a story behind this.

JD: Joe Walsh absolutely should be on here! From sheer drug intake alone, he makes a great candidate for a movie about trippy futuristic worlds and a dark, dystopian future bereft of light or hope. He’s the most metal Eagle by a long shot. But I’ve got to give Felder credit for this tune. It could have been a weak, liquidy Eagles throwaway demo, but it’s not half bad.

SB: Forget Taarna, Joe should have been the one flying through the clouds, sword aloft, screaming for vengeance. Or at least another line of space coke. Sure, his Maserati goes 185, but that bird had some serious horsepower.

JD: Oh my god. We need a Photoshop guru to make this happen. Anyone?

 

 

“TRUE COMPANION” — DONALD FAGAN

SB: It’s odd that a Fagan tune with the signature Steely Dan sound and abundant marimba is also the most convincingly futuristic thing on the entire album. This is definitely what robots will groove to in the distant future, a beautiful, airless, silicone composition. It’s funny, as a big Steely Dan fan, how often I heard them slagged in relation to the inclusion of this song on the album. Not to mention as an almost daily intellectually lazy and snobbish aside. I can understand a certain backlash to them being brutally overplayed along the line of Wings and other bands stuck in drive-time hell, but it’s not their fault. Steely Dan is only the most lyrically inventive, literate, and interesting pop band of the 70’s. Not to mention having recorded almost every track in their entire career with 15-20 of the best studio musicians in the business. Their recordings are lush and airtight, almost always sounding technically better than anything that precedes or follows them during any given commute. Fagan was a true visionary, and aside from Devo, is probably the only other act that really demands to be associated with this project out of sheer prescience and innovation.

JMB: And if you despise Steely Dan? Well, here’s everything you hate expanded. All the Halcion Polyester jazz-brunch from that one guy who’s less Steely and more Dan. That being said, the Heavy Metal soundtrack is so perfectly cartoon schizophrenic that Steely Dan fits quite nicely between Devo and Black Sabbath.

JD: I could never hate Steely Dan. They are amazing. And perfectly-rated, I think. I’m not a prog rock fan at all though. To really command my attention, a song needs to make me feel like fighting, fucking, crying or driving fast. This song evokes none of those. Very little in prog does for me. This sounds like a fanboy ripoff of Captain Beyond. But credit where credit’s due, it probably turned a few metalheads and rockers on to the possibilities of prog. Speaking of soundtracks, Steely Dan is on the soundtrack to FM, which I used to have on heavy rotation back when it came out.

SB: Wait, are you saying Steely Dan is Prog?

JD: Yeah, I think I skipped thoughts without tying them together. I wouldn’t say they’re prog, but they’re not definitively not prog either. Maybe crossover prog? I think a Steely Dan fan would dismiss that characterization with prejudice, but a prog lover would find much to love in SD and I think there are strong prog elements in much of their work. Or is that just the coffee talking?

JMB: We should do the FM soundtrack next!

 

“CRAZY (A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT) — NAZARETH

JMB: This is Appetite before the Destruction, the genesis of vintage Guns. Nazareth never sounds this sleazy anywhere else. It’s like finding some secret missing link.

JD: The world doesn’t know a bigger Nazareth fan than you. Why do you think they never went huge?

JMB: Ehh, I like the notion of Nazareth better than the reality of Nazareth. I don’t think they had the hooks?

SB: I don’t think calling your best album “Raz A Manaz” and then using a weird colored font that made it both unreadable and like a Bay City Rollers “Best of” comp at the same time probably helped a whole lot. But I dig this stuff, raw and gutty.

JD: Self-sabotage at its finest. They were like Pentagram- they had an interesting chemistry and the potential to break from the hard rock herd but they never made the leap. Sad!

 

THE SOUNDTRACK: SIDE THREE

 

“RADAR RIDER” — RIGGS

SB: The second Riggs offering, on the other hand, is excellent. I’m pretty sure it was one of the first tunes to introduce me to possibilities of overusing random guitar pedals. Plus, the rocket lift-off vocal effect is very cool. If Taarna on the album cover riding a dragon-bird and whistling Stevie Nicks is secretly the proto-feminist statement of the future, this was a horny pre teen gutbucket for boys to close their eyes and imagine pinning the throttle of a space-Harley while leaning deep into the curve around Neptune. I read that they tried Don Felder’s version of HM during the opening credits first, which would have been interesting, but later replaced it with “Radar Rider.” In the end it was probably a smart move, this being the perfect launch pad for all the heads riding the first wave of their chosen intoxicant.

JMB: Urban Cowboy struck in 1980, Heavy Metal in ‘81 and Fast Times at Ridgemont High in ‘82. All exec produced by Irving Azoff. All feature various Eagles and Irv’s other pets. Where does Riggs play into that? How did they land two cuts on HM? Of all the artists here, Riggs gives me the most to ponder. A story too good not to tell: Irv loaded Urban Cowboy with his own artists. Texas honky tonks were playing Bocephus and Coe, not Linda Ronstadt and Boz Scaggs. They tried to make Travolta two-step to Bonnie Raitt. He refused. Irv threw a fit. The soundtrack sold a billion copies.

JD: I saw that movie visiting family in Maryland and ended up on a year long country jag. Which was weird, because I was also coming up on Pink Floyd, the Who and the Doors, so switching gears into Johnny Lee and those others always felt like a guilty pleasure. That’s a great story about Irv. Always regretted never making it to Gilley’s.

SB: If anything, Urban Cowboy pushed me to Buck Owens and Jimmie Rogers and Roy Acuff and Johnnie Lee Wills. So, I owe Irv a shot of Old Overholdt.

JD: Then my friend, you saw that movie for free, because it repaid your investment with a vast trove of American riches. I practically mainlined Buck and Jimmie in the mid-90s.

 

“OPEN ARMS” — JOURNEY

JMB: Journey in the 80s were not known for “Don’t Stop Believin’” as much as “Open Arms.” So why give this song away on an R-Rated T&A cartoon long before it was even released as a single? And why a song so obviously last slow dance at Winter Prom? It serves an important purpose however. This provided a spot to fantasize about which song I would replace “Open Arms” with. Screaming for Vengeance era Judas Priest? Billy Squier? Rush? So far I’ve come up with Stevie Nicks and Ronnie James Dio dueting on “Battle of the Dragon.” I don’t think you can get any more sci-fi/fantasy than Dio and Stevie Nicks.

SB: Yes, this bad boy is way out of place. And pretty unbearable. Which in a way makes it work. Too farfetched to assume they planned on it being totally alien in a considered intellectual way, instead of a cash-in or a favor owed? In any case, the perfect replacement song must be identified. While I think your Stevie J Nixio suggestion is top notch, I’m going to suggest Bowie’s “Panic in Detroit”. HM definitely needs an injection of dirty Bowie.

JD: Bowie was way too cool for HM. And I say that with a deep reverence for both. But he would have been a great character. Maybe some ghastly malevolent hybrid between Smaug and Cold Miser.

SB: A heart-eating future robot mercenary who also happens to be a duke of a certain thin-ness and white-ness?

JMB: Rock & Rule was a Heavy Metal-esque cartoon featuring Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Blondie that came out a few years later. They tried to be cool where Heavy Metal was dumb. Rock & Rule sucks.

SB: Actually, I’m going to change my choice. Is there any question that Red Rider’s “Lunatic Fringe” is the perfect replacement song on this soundtrack? I mean, it’s like a velvet glove cast in iron in terms of sound, style, lyrical content, riffage, off-brand band cred, and overall paranoid twangy cartoonism.

JD: Enter Vision Quest!

SB: Exactly!

JMB: Rush “Subdivisions” always seemed like a good choice to me. Triumph might be better? They were Canadian. “Children of the Sun” by Billy Thorpe might be too on the nose. “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” by April Wine, maybe? I’d settle for Meat Loaf and Cher but that version of Cher where she’s dressed in the gold bustier with metal wings coming out of her head.

JD: To the song at hand, this is one of those tunes that unites metalheads, pop fans and most strains of classic rock. It’s an overly-dramatic cup of watery pulp but damned if I don’t spin the volume knob all the way up when I hear it.

SB: On the other hand, Throbbing Gristle’s “Blood on the Floor” might have been just the palate-cleanser side three required.

 

“QUEEN BEE” — GRAND FUNK RAILROAD

JMB: I like to imagine the guiding gist for the producers of this soundtrack was the question: Can you picture a silver-haired chick in a leather bikini riding a pterodactyl to this song? It’s a stretch here. The chorus is far too happy. Irv must’ve owed Grand Funk a favor.

SB: Yup, there is absolutely zero danger here. I think the first Butthole Surfers EP was out in ‘83, maybe they should have held off production until then.

 

JMB: Much as I love Gibby Haynes, I cannot imagine piloting a pterodactyl or intergalactic krull freighter to any of his songs. 

JD: Seemed to be a clear case of, “What’s a cool song title to go with this sequence of a large-breasted heroine flying on a reptile?” “Um… what about Queen Bee?” And can we all acknowledge that Grand Funk Railroad is one of music’s great three-part misnomers? They were far from grand, they transported neither people nor goods along and their funk factor was nanoscopic.

JMB: That comment cannot be topped.

SB: Except with another tureen of this excellent gravy.

 

“I MUST BE DREAMIN’” — CHEAP TRICK

SB: You know what’s funny? Listening to this album when you were thirteen with the door closed, terrified that your mom would walk in and catch you with it vs. sliding in the DVD thirty years later with the door closed, terrified your 12 yr old daughter will walk in and catch you with it.

JD: Wow. Another bonus point for having dogs- they don’t judge me for what I watch. Well, they probably do, but the speech chasm between us allows me to remain blissfully unaware of their withering assessments of my cultural pursuits.

JMB: My wife, who is an extremely open-minded person, once watched about five minutes of Heavy Metal before exiting with a, “Baby, this is one you should watch by yourself.” But we’re supposed to be talking about Cheap Trick. Cheap Trick on Roadie sounds like Cheap Trick. Cheap Trick on Heavy Metal sounds like suspiciously like Robin Zander backed by Riggs. I’m not complaining.

SB: Yeah, I like it too. I wish Robin Zander had made an album with Can.

JD: Cheap Trick can do no wrong in my book. Well, most of the time, anyway. Here they could have done with a bit less synth and a bit more power chords.

 

THE SOUNDTRACK: SIDE FOUR

 

“THE MOB RULES”– BLACK SABBATH

JMB: I’m guessing the producers heard Sabbath’s Dio debut Heaven & Hell and thought this could be the entire soundtrack right here! “Children of the Sea,” “Neon Knights,” “Lady Evil,” the title track — all perfect. Unfortunately, they got a track that while certainly not bad Sabbath, never seemed to be the right cut. Not starship castles and alien dragons Dio-tastic enough. “Sign of the Southern Cross” would have been good. “Country Girl” or the colossal “Falling Off the Edge of the World” maybe?

SB: “Mob Rules” does kind of fit the alien’s unrepentant slaughter though, right?

JD: Yeah, it’s an epic, epic song with a curious placement. And JB, you’re so dead on about song choice. We’re talking about Dio! If you want spacey songs about unicorns, castles and beasts of fantastic scale, then Dio’s got no shortage of material for you. Maybe they were just looking for a huge name.

JMB: The alien slaughter part always seems weird. The Loc-Nar strikes a volcano and green gloop floods the land. The people come up evil and bent on slaying the peaceniks next door. So okay, “Mob Rules” works for shooting eunuchs with semi-automatic crossbows. But how much better would “Heaven and Hell” be?

 

“ALL OF YOU” — DON FELDER

JMB: This song sounds like Southern California nitrous oxide when the dentist is your golf buddy and it’s last appointment of the day. I have to wonder — was there an intentional effort to make a soundtrack for stoners? Was that a hot market in this era? Did they test the market and skew positive with high school dropouts who liked to sniff glue? And how ironic is it that Heavy Metal was made not by dropout stoners but those A/V geeks from school that you talked to in the hallway but would never hang out with on a Saturday night?

SB: I know what you mean, but I think this tune does kind of encapsulate the notion that freaks/stoners on the front steps of the Caf in high school across the country are basically the same while piloting a huge metal orb into space, regardless. Which I find comforting on some level. This song makes me want to drink wine in a hammock with a girl I just met outside the mini-mart and listen to her tell me about how she recently discovered Ursula K. LeGuin.

JD: This was when Don went all in on the druggy voyaging, as if Frey and Henley had been holding him hostage in their cinderblock basement, feeding him pot brownies and Zarex all day while cranking the 13th Floor Elevators all day long. A blissfully psychotropic memento from the time before ‘Just Say No’ pushed drugs into the mainstream.

JMB: This is my favorite song on the soundtrack, but only while I’m listening to it. That says a lot.

 

“PREFABRICATED” — TRUST

JMB: Are they metal? Punk? Who do you compare Trust to? “Prefabricated” sounded like nothing else. Except pre-Iron Maiden maybe . . .  because turns out Trust is Nico McBrain’s old band. And Bruce Dickinson is uncredited on the Heavy Metal soundtrack so maybe he’s here? Trust is also from France. So it’s French pre-punk metal? I’m listening to it right now. It still sounds like nothing else.

SB: Well, they’re not punk. Although I do buy that they’re French. They sort of inhabit that shit-rock area held down by not-quite-punk bands like Handsome Dick Manitoba and the Diktators and also non-committal sludge like J. Geils and Gun and Atomic Rooster.

 

JD: Trust’s greatest claim to fame is that they were the final group to work with Bon Scott before he died. Which bummed me out on many, many levels. Crazy that the last thing he recorded was with these guys. I love JB’s image of Nico McBrain powering these guys. Scratchy old post-rock with a dose of 70’s metal. They should have been a punk/metal crossover like Motorhead but as this song showed, they had some more tampering to do before breaking out.

 

 

“BLUE LAMP” — STEVIE NICKS

JMB: Heavy Metal captures a forgotten era, one that hasn’t been polished dull via clichés, a time after disco but before MTV, pre-Madonna yet post-Manilow, neither 70s nor 80s, somewhere between bell bottom jeans and parachute pants. And this is Stevie Nicks after Fleetwood Mac but before “Edge of Seventeen,” flying solo, witchy and sweet, the chanteuse an entire West Texas enormodome swore they saw levitate while singing “Dreams.”

There was no message to be found anywhere in sight / Inside or out.

It might be billed as sci-fi/fantasy but one could argue that this flick is a pretty accurate reflection of real life – confusing, haphazard, charming in parts. Okay, sure, the universe is filled with magic, mystery and sensual fantasies. But it’s also filled with unintended metaphors, awkward cutscenes and the feeling you’ll be stuck forever thirteen. “Blue Lamp” is the essence of those mysteries, of teenage hormones and elastic dreams, evil being something glowing, obvious and easily defeated by an innocent heart. And then again, it’s just a song about a lamp.

JD: Yup. The kind of limp, forgettable, overproduced pop rock, that wholly captures the extent of her creative vision. You can put this on my tombstone: “Stevie Nicks Was No Christine McVie.”

SB: Good points all. Yes, this song is so rooted in the early 80s, from production to lyrics to Stevie’s scarves, so it’s pretty much the perfect fit. Her vocal delivery is exactly like Susannah Hoffs or Cyndi Lauper’s or even Madonna’s. So, it’s like visiting an old aunt who still lives in a bad neighborhood and sleeps with an unloaded shotgun across her lap. In the end, though, I might have preferred Lou Reed’s “The Blue Mask.”

JMBHeavy Metal is not a good movie. But it’s a great bad movie. It’s spectacularly dorky, like some glue sniffing AV geek’s version of sci-fi/fantasy forever stuck in eighth grade. And the soundtrack? It’s quintessentially symbolic of a forgotten era’s excess, a mish-mash collection of artists offering their outtakes, lost tracks and experimental cuts — all under one roof, for one low price. It’s senseless, weird and wonderfully dumb in a way that simply no longer exists. It’s your one way ticket to midnight. Heavy Metal. That’s all it was ever supposed to be.

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One Response to It’s Your One Way Ticket to Midnight: Heavy Metal (The Soundtrack)

  1. I’ve been thinking about Heavy Metal since Captain Stern creator Berni Wrightson died a few weeks back. This is so cool.

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