Sunday, March 16, 2008

Soundtrack Sunday – "White Nights" (1985)

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned soundtracks that didn't include songs that were prominently featured in the movie.

In the case of White Nights (1985), thank goodness for that shortcoming.

The big hit from the movie (and winner of the Academy Award for Best Song) was "Say You Say Me." It's not only a Lionel Richie track, but it's a really awful Lionel Richie track with some of the worst lyrics to hit the airwaves since my "My Ding a Ling."

All together now: "Say you, say me/Say it together/Naturally/I had a dream/I had an awesome dream"

According to Wikipedia, Motown didn't want Richie's first recorded output since Can't Slow Down (1983) to appear on another label. So Atlantic Records lost out.

Like I said: Thank goodness.

The soundtrack to the Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines vehicle did enter the top 20, thanks to an almost equally big hit: The Phil Collins/Marilyn Martin duet of "Separate Lives," a song that Stephen Bishop ("On and On," "It Might Be You") wrote about his break-up with actress Karen Allen.

One of my early Soundtrack Sunday posts focused on an infinitely superior Martin song. So I'll leave this one alone. Instead, I'll focus on all the goodies that were included on this typically eclectic collection.

Director Taylor Hackford (The Idolmaker, Ray, La Bamba and An Officer and a Gentlemen) sure knows how to pick songs that introduce mainstream audiences to unfairly neglected artists. Such is the case here, where we have the likes of David Pack (Ambrosia), Robert Plant, Nile Rodgers and David Foster mixing with Lou Reed and John Hiatt.

The big twist is that Hiatt and Reed somehow put together danceable songs that don't stray too far from their strengths as artists.

Hiatt's "Snakecharmer" is all snarly in a a way that only America's answer to Elvis Costello can pull off. Amid all the programmed beats on many of the other songs included on this collection, it's great to hear Hiatt staying with his organic sound while adding a few power chords that punctuate the proceedings.

Play "Snakecharmer" by John Hiatt

"My Love is Chemical" by Lou Reed is a different animal altogether. Musically, it's a product of its time with the floating synths, programmed rhythms, vocoders (!) and slick 80s feel. But Lou Reed is Lou Reed. And this ain't no "Flashdance." I loved this slinky song about 20 years ago. Although time has eroded my fondness for it, I still get a kick out of listening to this tune and thinking it was part of the American mainstream at one time.

Play "My Love is Chemical" by Lou Reed

As for the movie itself, it also was a product of its time. Just in the same way Hollywood is feeding the American people's own paranoia with post-9/11 New York destruction movies like Cloverfield (2008), I Am Legend (2007) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), the Reagan-era 80s saw filmmaker come out with movies like Red Dawn (1984), The Day After (1983) and White Knights (1985) pontificating about how the evil Soviet Empire wanted to be in our living rooms one day. The movie, about a Soviet defector suddenly once again trapped behind the Iron Curtain, certainly had its share of exciting moments. But the unreal political message undermines its effectiveness – at least today. The fearsome Soviet bear, as we all know by now, was nothing more than a paper tiger.


M. said...

Yaaay! Thank you for sharing these two songs from "White Nights"! I couldn't find them anywhere but here. If only you had David Pack's "Prove me Wrong" and a few others...

But still... happy happy joy joy!

Anonymous said...

thank you very much for "my love is chemical". It was very difficult to find it

Sasha from Russia

Anonymous said...

Paper tiger? Maybe on the world stage, but to its own citizens it was a horror. Ask anyone who lived through it, especially the ones who escaped from it. Even now, the vestiges of the totalitarian gov't are there (Putin et al--research his history!)--my adopted brother was not able to go back to Russia for a service mission two years ago because the gov't would have grabbed him and conscripted him into the army as a Russian Citizen despite his US citizenship that was approved by Russian courts when he was a teen. It is the totalitarian mindset that is the scary thing in that movie, and it still chills anyone who has actually done their due diligence and learned some real history.