the Great Lost 80's Movie Soundtrack?
by Darren Barakat
J.R. Ewing, Hawkeye Pierce, and Joe Montana were nowhere to be found, but for me, this was the biggest television moment of the 1980s. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and I was a bored teenager nursing a hangover. I clicked on the TV about 10 minutes from the end of the show. It was perfect timing. If I had turned it on earlier, I might have gotten bored and switched channels. These were the days before Netflix, 800 channels, and three or four remote controls per living room. It wasn't often you found something interesting you were unfamiliar with.
Horror movie legend Vincent Price gave a passionate speech in a club room full of monsters. The movie set seemed low rent, even for the '80s. It looked like something from the '60's. But then the band began to play. I was transfixed.
The Pretty Things were a rock band that broke through in Britain around the time of the Beatles. They had a handful of hit singles on the British charts from 1964-66. They were ignored in the United States until the mid-1970's, when they had a couple of charting albums. They were the first band signed to Led Zeppelin's new Swan Song record label in 1974. Zeppelin's Jimmy Page had been a big fan. "The music that they were doing on Swan Song was incredible. It was the sort of band that, when someone said, 'Oh, some tapes have come in,' I was keen to hear what they'd done," Page said.
In 1981, the Pretty Things appeared on stage in the not-well-known British horror film The Monster Club to sing the theme song, "Welcome to the Monster Club." That performance eventually made its way to my living room in the days before an internet where I could learn more about what I was seeing.
The song is dark rock 'n' roll with some reggae flavor mixed in. The beginning bass guitar is cool, like "Badge" by Cream. A funky little guitar sound percolates throughout behind the bigger, more abrasive guitar.
The Pretty Things song "Cause I'm a Man" had appeared in the 1978 horror classic Dawn of the Dead three years earlier. "Welcome to the Monster Club" is something special, though.
The Monster Club opened for business at British theaters in the spring of 1981, but no one showed up. It was a failure with critics as well as the public and later wound up on TV.
In the movie, a friendly vampire (Vincent Price) bites a horror author on the street. Then the vampire takes the victim into a world the victim had no idea existed--a nightclub for monsters. The vampire spins three tales, and in between each are scenes from the club.
It's a low-budget child of the Twilight Zone and Creepshow, a comic book come to life. The monster masks look like they come from The Dollar Store, so the scene seems like a Halloween party. It's not a slasher film. It's campy rather than scary. The movie's promotional ad said "You'll meet some interesting people and hear some great songs at The Monster Club." Great songs, indeed.
The band Night and their lead singer, Stevie Lange, perform "The Stripper." Lange shows why she's one of the greatest female rock singers ever, even if far more people are familiar with her ex-husband, Mutt, who produced AC/DC, Def Leppard, and Foreigner. Night's leader, Chris Thompson, is incognito in a salmon-colored sport coat and sunglasses. No one recognizes him as the guy who sang lead vocals on "Blinded by the Light" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, No. 1 in the United States just four years before the movie release. Night themselves had a couple of hits in the United States, "Hot Summer Nights" and "If You Remember Me." In later years, guitarist Robbie McIntosh would play for a crowd of 184,000 as Paul McCartney's guitarist. In the movie version of the song (not the soundtrack version), Price says, "Beautiful bones, don't you think?" after the stripper removes more than her clothes as Night plays.
Price, the American actor legendary for his connection to horror, has made notable appearances in other music. He delivered a monologue for Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare album in 1975 and appeared in the TV special. Most famously, Price recited the monologue on Michael Jackson's song "Thriller."
The lack of commercial success for the soundtrack album is confounding since it contains some original material by artists who were fairly big at one time in Britain or the United States.
B.A. Robertson does "Sucker for Your Love"--as campy as the movie, like something you'd hear from Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Robertson had a handful of hit singles in Britain from 1979-1983, but somehow this one was ignored. Later he found more success as a songwriter. He wrote "The Living Years" with Mike Rutherford of Genesis for Mike and the Mechanics.
UB40, a reggae and pop band, is on the soundtrack but does not appear in the movie. Their song "25%" is taken from their first album. UB40 is normally not scary, though the guys in my college dorm might disagree. We all drank at a particular bar, a hidden-away kind of place like the Monster Club. When "Red Red Wine" came on, our dorm resident assistant would get on the dance floor and stick his butt out like he thought he was J.Lo. Bad memory, but I digress...
"Valentino's Had Enough" is by the Expressos, a pop band no one in the United States has ever heard of. Rozzi Rayner is a great singer in the vein of Chrissie Hynde or Natalie Merchant. Two other members of the band later formed The Escape Club and had a big hit with "Wild, Wild West."
The Viewers are even more undiscovered than the Expressos. The dearth of information about them seems impossible in the internet age. They were a ska band from Britain. Their contribution is "Monsters Rule O.K.," a pleasant little piece of pop that sounds nothing like the title would hint.
Side 2 contains moody instrumentals by John Williams with the Douglas Gamley Orchestra, John Georgiadis, the Georgiadis Ensemble, and Alan Hawkshaw.
Monsters and music have long gone together, hook and hoof. Bobby "Boris" Pickett did "Monster Mash" in 1962. The Edgar Winter Group had "Frankenstein" and Blue Oyster Cult had "Godzilla" in the 1970's. Warren Zevon wrote about the "Werewolves of London." In later years, Rob Zombie named himself and a few of his songs after monsters.
Still, this is a remarkable album with its odd mixture of pop and dirge and the mismatch between some of the music and the movie. Straight-up pop seems out of place for a horror film.
Part of the soundtrack's appeal is the lure of the obscure. Collectors of any type know the feeling. 20th century music fans knew it when they found a gem in the "imports" section at their local record store that none of their friends could find. Maybe it had an alternative cover or it was a novelty like a picture disc.
The soundtrack is a sweet Halloween treat for the American Anglophile who loves British music that never really made it to the States- stuff like the Damned, the Stranglers, or Status Quo.
It was never released on compact disc. Most but not all of it can be found in pieces on YouTube. Vinyl copies of the album are hard to find. Some have sold online for hundreds of dollars. Maybe you'll look for it now...
Also see Darren Barakat's book Greatest Misses
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