Sunday, January 20, 2008

Soundtrack Sunday – "Streets of Fire"

Here's an ironic twist: One of the defining soundtracks of the 80s was, as a film, a miserable failure at the box office.

Walter Hill's Streets of Fire (1984) cost about $14 million to make and collected less than $10 million in ticket sales. Billed as "a Rock & Roll Fable," the film starred a pre-Eddie & The Cruisers Michael Pare, Willem Dafoe, Diane lane and Rick Moranis. Quite a combination. But even Hill, fresh off his success with 48 Hours, couldn't quite pull it off.

Anyway, the soundtrack has gained cult-like status – thanks to its top ten hit "I Can Dream About You" by the late Dan Hartman, which was performed in the film by a Temptations-like group that included Robert Townsend.

But you know what? I'm tired of that song. So I'm not going to feature it here.

And I'll also skip two other songs that made a popular dent: Fire Inc.'s "Nowhere Fast" and "Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young." Composed by Jim Steinman, in between Bat Out of Hell and "Total Eclipse of the Heart," they feature his usual Wagnerian bombast about love and other rock 'n' roll cliches. Sometimes, I really dig Jim's stuff. Not this time. The two songs are simply over the top.

Which leads us to two songs that make the soundtrack essential: "Sorcerer" by Marilyn Martin and "Countdown to Love" by Greg Phillinganes.

Download "Sorcerer" by Marilyn Martin.

Penned by Stevie Nicks and performed by one of her back-up singers, this would be the greatest Stevie Nicks song that the Welsh Witch never performed – except she did eventually record her own more acoustically-oriented version on Trouble in Shangri-La (2001) nearly two decades later.

While I normally prefer a more stripped down sound, I love the production on this song. Someone might want to correct me, but I believe a few Heartbreakers, Ry Cooder and Roy Bittan of the E Street Band are providing some of the instrumental backing. Which really gives it the necessary heft to compete with Martin's strong vocal performance.

So many things to adore on this song: The opening piano chords. The pedal steel. The vocal acrobatics from Martin, who would go to greater soundtrack success a year later with Steven Bishop-penned "Separate Lives" for White Nights, a duet with Phil Collins.

The other song I really enjoy is from Phillinganes, a studio musician who (among other albums) can be heard playing keyboards on Michael Jackson's Thriller. In the mid-80s, Phillinganes launched a bit of a solo career, even having a modest hit with the solid song "Behind the Mask." As you can hear, he doesn't have the greatest voice. But it works on this fun little number, which I think stands out as one of the more unique contributions to 80s soundtracks.

Download "Countdown to Love" by Greg Phillinganes

Thanks for reading and listening. And Stay tuned for next week's Soundtrack Sunday. I might even be tempted to enter the 21st Century (gasp!).

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