When the annual Academy Awards ceremony is finally upon us, the tendency toward retrospective really kicks in. Sure, it’s about thinking back across the prior year in film, but these awards are so storied, so heavy with the weight of history, that thinking back on past winners and past shows comes automatically. No one gives a damn what happened at the Golden Globes twenty years ago, but Vanity Fair will happily devote a lot of digital ink to the Oscarcast of the same year. Reading through that essay of wistful snark brought a lot to mind, including the that way the Best Original Song nominees both did and didn’t reflect the state of movie music in the mid-nineties.
Best Original Song has long been a messy category at the Academy Awards, certainly at least since the point original movie musicals largely fell from favor. Even the end of the nineteen-eighties, a decade in which soundtracks dominated the album charts, brought a year so devoid of qualifying material that the Best Original Song category could only muster three nominees and there was serious discussion of dropping it from the roster altogether. Then the Disney revival that began with The Little Mermaid basically brought validity back to the category. For the next decade or so, there were few surer bets in any Oscar pool that the nominated song from whatever Disney animated feature arrived in the qualifying year. Sure enough, for the 1995 film year, “Colors of the Wind,” from Pocahontas, was the winner. Beyond that, the nominees included the requisite venerated rock star, destined trophy loser Randy Newman, the obligatory nod to Bryan Adams (the reigning king of the soundtrack at the time, thanks to the ludicrous success of his putrid Robin Hood song from a couple years earlier), and, as if by Hollywood law, a John Williams composition.
Those nominees are reasonable representative of the era, but there was another side to how soundtracks were being constructed. In 1995, commercial alternative radio was still at its unlikely peak. The likes of Live, Alice in Chains, and the Smashing Pumpkins could all claim chart-topping albums that year. That was reflected in the mad rush to get alternative acts onto CDs associated with big movies, even if, as was the case a remarkable amount of the time, the songs in question weren’t similarly included in the films themselves. It was the era of “songs from and inspired by” soundtracks. The Batman Forever soundtrack had fourteen songs on it, only five of which actually appeared in the movie. It is perhaps the one opportunity a music fan has to buy a single, commercially-released disc that has both Brandy and PJ Harvey on it.
Appropriately, one of the craziest jumbles of a soundtrack was connected to a movie that is a rip-roaring mess, striving to be a hip, alternative kid classic with no conception at to how to achieve that. Tank Girl, adapted from a comic book series by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, is a wild-eyed disaster, though it deserves some sort of extra credit for casting Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo. The soundtrack is similarly haphazard. It’s a grab bag of old and new, established singles and nutty notions somehow spun into half-baked songs. It’s reaches its half-drunk, why-the-hell-not apotheosis when it unites Paul Westerberg and Joan Jett (who, it’s worth noting, had collaborated previously) to cover a Cole Porter classic, each of the perpetually too-cool-for-school performers oozing indifference. Sure, the track wasn’t eligible for the Best Original Song award, nor would I argue it was worthy of consideration even if it were. But it’s at least memorable in its slapdash way. That’s more of a compliment that I can pay most of the songs that did get played from the Oscars stage that night, or just about any night, really.
Listen or download –> Paul Westerberg and Joan Jett, “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love”
(Disclaimer: As best as I can tell, the Tank Girl soundtrack is no longer available as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I might be wrong about that. It does strike me as the sort of release that might be the baffling beneficiary of the LP revival, pressed onto candy-coated vinyl to snag the disposable income of delusional Lori Petty completists. I am sharing this track her with the belief that doing so will impede no fair commerce. Hell, maybe my inclusion of the term “Lori Petty completists” will lead someone here and make them realize they’re in desperate need of buying the poshest version of this soundtrack they can find. This post can be promotional in nature. You’re welcome, Elektra Records! Regardless, I know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. Sigh…even you, Elektra Records.)