Soundtracks I Have Loved: Back to the Beach

Soundtrack: Back to the Beach
Year Released: 1987
I Bought It On: Cassette, then vinyl
How Does It Hold Up?: Still my favorite soundtrack of all time

1. Catch a Ride--Eddie Money
2. Pipeline--Stevie Ray Vaughan & Dick Dale
3. Sign of Love--Aimee Mann
4. Absolute Perfection--Private Domain (special appearance by Pato Banton)
5. Surfin' Bird--Pee-wee Herman
6. Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun--Marti Jones
7. Jamaica Ska--Annette Funicello & Fishbone
8. Wipe Out--Herbie Hancock (special appearances by Dweezil Zappa and Terry Bozzio)
9. California Sun--Frankie Avalon
10. Wooly Bully--Dave Edmunds

These were many reasons fighting hard against me wanting to see Back to the Beach in the summer of 1987. I was not--and am not--a beach person, likely because of the sunburn I got on my feet at the Jersey Shore when I was a wee lad. Also, I had never seen—or had any desire to see—one of the Frankie and Annette beach movies, and I'm pretty sure I didn't even know who Frankie Avalon was (though Skippy was my peanut butter of choice--I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch roughly 99% of my eight years in grammar school...I was not a very adventurous eater--so I was fond of Annette.

But there were only so many things you could do when you were 10 years old and living on Staten Island in the summer of 1987. And that short list of fun was topped by the UA movie theater in Travis, which opened to much fanfare in 1987 (I think...feel free to correct me Staten Island cinema historians) as the island’s first significant multiplex (there were a few theaters with multiple screens but none with the double-digit count of the UA). Before the UA, we would have to go all the way to the Amboy Multiplex Cinemas in Sayreville, NJ, which was fine, because that meant we would go to Razzmatazz, too. There was no Razz-Ma-Tazz near the UA in Travis, just the Fresh Kills landfill, which was within close smelling distance, as was also the case with the other Great Beacon of Fun, the Staten Island Mall.

The opening of the UA theater, which was also the first movie theater that was really close to “our side” of the island, ushered in the brief period of my life where movies were an important part of my life (I have probably seen as many movies in the theater in the last two decades as I saw from 1987–1990). And there wasn’t a whole lot of discrimination in my theatrical choices. The basic formula was if it’s a comedy and it’s not rated R, well, sure, I’ll go see it.

And, so, this is how I wound up at the UA theater in the summer of 1987 (I think with Donnie Daszkowski) asking the ticket seller for one to Back to the Beach.

As a testament to how little there was to do on a Friday night on Staten Island in 1987, the screening was nearly sold out. We were told the only seats were in the first few rows, so maybe we’d want to go see another movie. Whether it was a lack of viable options or just a dogged determination to see five minutes of Pee-wee Herman (a possible selling point, though I was never a rabid Pee-wee fan) I do not recall, but we decided to persevere and wound up watching Back to the Beach from, I think, the second row.

I still do not regret that decision. I liked the movie (it's so ridiculously over the top and kitschy that I'm surprised there isn't a statue dedicated to it in Williamsburg). And I loved the soundtrack. Make that love the soundtrack. In fact, it might be my favorite soundtrack of all time. Let me tell you about it.

It starts off on such a gloriously incongruous note that it simply can't miss. In his boldest feat since suggesting that paradise somehow involved being in close quarters with him, Eddie Money beckons the listener to join him for some surfing. Because there is no person who better personifies surfing than the pasty, slightly haggard Mr. Money. Whatever. It works.

Then comes a truly glorious moment in the history of soundtracks: a cover of "Pipeline" by Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Again, Stevie Ray's not exactly the poster boy for sun and fun, but getting him and the King of the Surf Guitar together is a legitimate coup for the soundtrack. I hope whoever came up with this idea was handsomely rewarded. And whoever styled Dick Dale's hair deserves similar props. And partial blame for the hole in the ozone layer.

The soundtrack continues the theme of showcasing the talents of those who probably don't tan very well by including another in the long line of aurally pleasing Aimee Mann songs, "Sign of Love." Criminally, there is no record of this on YouTube, so you will have to take my word for it. Or come over to my place for a Back to the Beach party. You can have your choice of hearing the song on cassette or vinyl. And I'll hang up my Back to the Beach poster for the occasion.

I'm not sure I feel comfortable saying there's a bad track on the album, but Private Domain's "Absolute Perfection" is the closest thing to a weak link (and now that I see what they look like, I'm a little more comfortable). But any bad vibes are quickly erased by another moment of soundtrack genius: Pee-wee Herman's cover of "Surfin' Bird," which I once owned the 45 of. Alas, I stepped on it in my messy room and broke it. I've never really forgiven myself. But getting Pee Wee to sign the soundtrack softened the blow a bit.

Side Two starts off slowly with Marti Jones's catchy if not entirely memorable "Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun" (another no-YouTube cut) but then amps up the bizarre quotient of Side One by finally bringing together Annette Funicello and Fishbone. Yes, that's right. This was probably my favorite track in my youth, and I still have a hard time not singing it for hours after hearing it (and if you prefer your Jamaica ska with a little less kitsch, try this).

And there's another slightly less bizarre (and not quite as successful to my ears) collaboration next, this one between Dweezil Zappa, Terry Bozzio, and Herbie Hancock on "Wipe Out." It's perfectly acceptable, but as far as "Wipe Out" covers go, there's the Fat Boys and Beach Boys' cover and then there's everybody else. But, good try, fellas.

"California Sun" is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I remember playing the original (on a cassette I bought at either Jamesway or Ames) and the Frankie Avalon cover here an awful lot, despite the fact that I didn't actually see the California sun until I was in my 30s. But as soon as I booked that flight, that became the song in my head for several months. The Frankie Avalon cover gets bonus points for giving Dick Dale more work on the soundtrack. And more hair time.

YouTube, which apparently hates Back to the Beach, does not have a clip of Dave Edmunds' "Wooly Bully" cover, but if you know the song and you know Dave Edmunds, you probably know it's plenty good without having to hear it. I am a little disappointed that he wasn't given a collaborator on the track, though. I think one of the many people who did cameos in the movie (Don Adams, Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley, and Jerry Mathers) would have been good choices, but it's easy to say so in hindsight.

There are two songs in the movie that inexplicably don't make it to the soundtrack. Well, maybe the first one's explicable. Without the visual component of Lori Loughlin, "Pajama Party" is something I'd be comfortable never hearing again. But there's no good reason (other than thinking that the song is so cloying that it should be kept far, far away from the soundtrack) why the album couldn't end with "Some Things Live Forever."

But I'm willing to forgive this oversight, because even without the tune, this is still my favorite soundtrack of all time (Cocktail and La Bamba are [guitar]neck and [bottle]neck for #2)). And I might never have bought it if I hadn't made that decision to go out on opening night and see it from the second row, probably because I had nothing better to do. Thanks, Staten Island. You raised me well.

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