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.


Soundtracks I Have Loved: Pulp Fiction

Soundtrack: Pulp Fiction
Year Released: 1994
I Bought It On: CD
How Does It Hold Up?: Well

1. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (dialogue)/Misirlou - Dick Dale & His Del-Tones
2. Royale With Cheese (dialogue) - John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson
3. Jungle Boogie - Kool & The Gang
4. Let's Stay Together - Al Green
5. Bustin' Surfboards - The Tornadoes
6. Lonesome Town - Ricky Nelson
7. Son Of A Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield
8. Zed's Dead, Baby (dialogue)/Bullwinkle Part II - The Centurians
9. Jack Rabbit Slim's Twist Contest (dialogue)/You Never Can Tell - Chuck Berry
10. Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon - Urge Overkill
11. If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags) - Maria McKee
12. Bring Out the Gimp (dialogue)/Comanche - The Revels
13. Flowers On The Wall - The Statler Brothers
14. Personality Goes A Long Way (dialogue) - John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson
15. Surf Rider - The Lively Ones
16. Ezekiel 25:17 (dialogue) - Samuel L. Jackson

As the immensely popular Soundtracks I Have Loved series comes to a close (take the rags away from your face...there are still two more after this one), I have occasionally found myself rifling through the Saved by the Bell trivia cluttering my brain to make sure I haven't forgotten anything. In doing so, I have recalled Soundtracks I Have Liked A Lot (Great Balls of Fire), Soundtracks I Have Liked Just Fine (A League of Their Own, Philadelphia, Honeymoon in Vegas), and Soundtracks On Which I Love Maybe One or Two Songs So I Bought Them Long After the Movie Was Released (to be visited in a future post).

But while making the transition from a CD rack (and random piles of CDs on my floor) to large, portable CD cases, I came across the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction, which reminds me an awful lot of my time at Ithaca College. And one unfortunate incident in Ithaca that occurred after my graduation.

I first saw Pulp Fiction in what I think was my only trip to the Ithaca College Student Activities Board weekend movies in Textor Hall. So I guess that would place it sometime in 1995, since the Textor movies were ones that had been out of the theater for awhile but were still relatively new (or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I have deftly avoided for my entire three-plus decades on Earth). And if it was the spring semester of 1995, I almost certainly attended alone, as that first year of college was not a very social one for me. The other three weren't exactly a giant party, either, but freshman year was a particularly antisocial affair. The upside of that was I spent a lot of nights discovering blues music other than The Blues Brothers at The Haunt downtown, so the year wasn't a total loss.

Anyway, enough about my social awkwardness (the name of my next blog) and back to the movie. I liked it, and I liked the music in it quite a bit, too. So, soon the soundtrack was purchased.

I think I was already into Dick Dale before I saw Pulp Fiction, though I'm not sure how (maybe through another movie soundtrack we will talk about soon), but I became a little obsessive after listening to "Misirlou." And it's one of the best soundtrack starters that I can think of. Good start to the movie, too.

I can generally do without soundtracks that include dialogue from the movie, but music is such an integral part of the movie that it makes sense on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Unfortunately, I forgot about the dialogue when I decided to play "Misirlou" on the jukebox at Ithaca's Bowl-O-Drome a few years ago. And, because I'm me, I wasn't there on a crowded night where no one's paying much attention to the music anyway. No, I was there in the afternoon. Bowling by myself. While a children's birthday party was under way. So, as soon as I heard Tim Roth's voice, I wanted to run out of the bowling alley. But I didn't. The guy at the front desk lowered the volume just about when Amanda Plummer said "pricks." But it was still loud enough. Sorry, impressionable young minds of Ithaca.

Of course, "Misirlou" isn't the only great song on the soundtrack, or the only great instrumental for that matter. Of the other instrumentals, "Bustin' Surfboards," "Bullwinkle Part II," and "Surf Rider" are fine, but "Comanche" takes the second-place prize.

As for the non-instrumentals, there are a bunch of gems, all of them better than the soundtrack's hit and only new track, "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon,", which isn't really a knock on that song, just the truth. I mean, unless someone does a particularly awesome version of "Porcupine Pie," a Neil Diamond cover will never be cooler than "Jungle Boogie," by Jersey City's own Kool & the Gang.

And you can't go wrong with Chuck Berry (unless you hire a crappy band to back him up, he doesn't get into the show, and you're left depressed as he stumbles through "Johnny B. Goode"...still can't shake the memory of that show).

"Let's Stay Together" and "Son of a Preacher Man" are similarly can't-miss additions to any soundtrack, and though I can do without "Lonesome Town" and I never really warmed up to "If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)," they have their charms, too.

Easily the most pleasant surprise was courtesy of The Statler Brothers, whom I had previously dismissed as one of the worst things ever because my dad always watched them on The Nashville Network Saturday night, which meant I had no shot of watching anything I wanted to see on TV that night. Granted, aside from bowling and wrestling (which I liked too, so it was cool), this was pretty much the only hour of appointment TV my dad had all week (though if he happened upon a M*A*S*H or Hogan's Heroes rerun, good luck getting the remote control away from him). But that didn't make me any less angry. I was a bit of a snot at times.

So, when I saw the cursed Statler Brothers on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, I was not pleased. Until I listened to the song.

"Playing solitaire 'til dawn/With a deck of 51?" How great a line is that? Who knew they sang cool songs? And here I thought they were all '80s sweaters and cornball patter. Sorry, Dad. You were right. Again. And, hey, why not check out more good Statlers songs here, here, here, and here. My dad would want you to.

And so ends another SIHL installment. The next one, our final full-album soundtrack piece, will be a marked contrast to Pulp Fiction. But I think it might be my all-time favorite soundtrack.

You're excited. I can tell.


Book Revku, Vol. 35

Broken hearts, crushed dreams
And lives ruined or no more
Look what love can do

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (224 pp.)


Book Revku, Vol. 34

The beat of New York
Over half a century
Deftly chronicled

All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music From the Streets of New York, 1927-77 by Tony Fletcher (411 pp.)


Book Revku, Vol. 33

His songs are better
But he tells a good tale here
As you'd think he would

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle (243 pp.)


Book Revku, Vol. 32

If you don't know Hank(s)
This book might enlighten you
I was kinda bored

Family Tradition: Three Generations of Hank Williams by Susan Masino (228 pp.)

Book Revku, Vol. 31

Sometimes a book soars
And sometimes it just fizzles
This was the latter

The Ink Truck by William Kennedy (278 pp.)


15 Years Ago Today

On June 7, 1996, Young James Sigman took the ferry into Manhattan with the intention of getting a musician he didn't know all that well to sign a CD outside The Bottom Line. But in the process of doing so, he wound up having an experience that probably did more to shape the music he listens to than any other event before or since.

Old James Sigman wrote about this a few years ago, but since today's the 15th anniversary of that day (and we're just a few weeks away from a tribute to the Bottom Line at Rockefeller Park, it seemed like a good idea to revisit that fateful day. So, let's revisit the original post, OK?

And, hey, thanks Todd and Mike Snider for making my life better.

It was the summer of 1996. I was home after a sophomore year of college that worked out better than freshman year and had me thinking college might end up being OK. I still wasn't entirely comfortable, but I was getting there. Slowly, but getting there.

Although many now think of me as some righteous music guru, the truth is that music didn't really mean all that much to me when I was growing up. Sure, I clung to the Billy Joel tapes that were issued to every Catholic Schoolboy on Staten Island. And I had a decent collection of 45s and cassettes, though mostly of songs like Pee Wee Herman's "Surfin' Bird" and The Fat Boys' version of "Wipeout" and soundtracks to movies like "The Great Outdoors" and "UHF." Now, don't get me wrong--those are all fine works, but they're not exactly, y'know, weighty or whatever. The weightiest I got were Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Roy Orbison, the latter of whom I started listening to at an age at which no boy should be listening to Roy Orbison. But I digress.

Anyway, after two years of college and being exposed to different kinds of music, I started to look for what else was out there, musically speaking and otherwise (perhaps mainly to drown out the Rusted Root that played incessantly from the room next door...send me on my way, indeed). And that eventually brought me to country music, and its neglected, socially inept offspring, alternative country. It was about 1996 when I first heard of people like Steve Earle and Joe Ely, who were alternative country before such a term existed. Or at least it was the first time I actually paid attention to them. And that I learned that it's pronounced "EE-lee" not "e-LIE."

It was around that time that Joe Ely covered Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" for a tribute record. He recorded the song with a guy called Todd Snider, whom I had seen once on the TV show "Austin City Limits" and was pretty impressed by. In fact, I almost reviewed his CD, "Step Right Up," for the college newspaper, but I went with B-52's lead singer Fred Schneider's CD "Just Fred," because I figured it would be easier to make cheap jokes about it. And I was right.

I did finally get around to buying "Step Right Up" in that summer of 1996 when I saw that Todd Snider (and his band, The Nervous Wrecks) would be opening for Rory Block at The Bottom Line in NYC. I was but a lad of 19 at the time, so I couldn't go to the show at the over-21 club, but I figured I could maybe get the CD signed outside the club after soundcheck. So with very little knowledge of what Todd Snider even looked like, I headed down to the club.

I was standing outside for awhile, holding the CD, when a guy came up to me and asked, "Are you looking for Todd?" I told him I was, and he said, "Well, that's him right there." He brought me over, and I asked Todd to sign my CD. He asked if I'd be coming to the show, and I explained the situation, saying that I wasn't 21 and adding, "and I'm not cool enough to have a fake ID" (what a slick kid I was). Then, Todd and his brother, Mike (who was the guy who had asked me if I was looking for Todd) put their heads together, and Mike just said, "Well, come back at around 5:30 and we'll sneak you in. Just pretend you're with the crew." I think I managed to stammer, "Um, OK" and then I went to get something to eat at Wendy's. And to buy another Todd Snider CD.

I came back at 5:30, looked for Mike, and he directed me to another member of the crew, who just told me to follow him and look like I belong. So I did. And a minute later, I was sitting in a tiny dressing room at The Bottom Line, talking to Mike Snider about that Buddy Holly tribute record and how I had heard about Todd. Now, at the time, I hadn't even really listened to a Todd CD (I bought "Step Right Up" that day), except for a few snippets on a Tower Records listening station. So I didn't really have much to say. I just mentioned seeing him on "Austin City Limits" and that was really all I had to go on. But Mike, and everybody else in the band and crew, were all real nice to me anyway. I ate their fruit, watched the drummer (Joe McLeary) shave, and offered to help, but was told to just relax. Mike was even apologetic about not being able to get me a beer, but then decided it would be OK if I really wanted one (I didn't, naturally).

A few minutes before showtime, Mike told me to go find a seat for the show out front. And about 15 minutes after I sat down, I saw what, at the time, was easily the greatest thing I'd ever seen. It was loud, it was fast, and it was rock and great-God-almighty-I-am-free-at-last roll. I recognized some of the songs from "Austin City Limits," including "Side Show Blues," which I had decided was my favorite when Mike asked me before the show. And there were others that I loved, like "Alright Guy" and "I Like Country When It Rocks" (and at that point, I was pretty sure I did, too). The show was over way too soon (it was probably about 40 minutes) and after Rory Block's dull headlining set, I wondered why Todd wasn't headlining. And that wasn't the first time I'd wonder if a concert's order of performance should have been reversed.

After the show, I wanted to just say goodbye and thanks to Mike and Todd, so I saw one of the guys in the crew, Kevin Shackleford, and told him how what I saw completely knocked me out. He told me, "Really? Well that was Todd on only, like, 7. You oughta see him when he gets to 10." Then he asked me if I was staying for the second show, which I hadn't even thought about. Well, yes, I guess I will.

So I did, and the second set was as good as the first (though still, in retrospect, not Todd on 10). After the second show, I went backstage (with the help of another good guy on Todd's crew, Shamus Bacon) to thank Mike and Todd and promise them that I'd do everything I could to get people to listen to Todd Snider.

And I'm still trying.


Of Geese and Men

A few weeks ago, as I was walking to work, I saw a family of geese--two adults and two tiny goslings--crossing the street in Newport. Unfortunately, this was the one day I didn't have my camera on me. If I hadn't been about 20 minutes from my apartment at the time, and if geese were able to heed the command, "Don't move for 40 minutes," I would have gladly called in to work just so I could get the picture. But I seemed to be the only working drone who felt this way, as everybody else just kept walking, barely even noting the scene placed before them on a clear Friday morning. Meanwhile, I stared and smiled for a little bit and then begrudgingly continued on my way.

Then, on my walk home, I saw the geese again, though not in such a photogenic manner, and decided there was no good reason not to wake up at 6:30 Saturday morning so I could stalk the geese with my camera before I got on the early-morning bus to Woodstock (via Kingston) for Levon Helm's Birthday Ramble. There was, of course, no guarantee they'd still be around, but I figured it was worth a shot.

As soon as I made my way into Prime Goose Territory, I looked to my right and saw what I assumed was the same family of four out for an early-morning stroll. The adults were walking outside of a fenced-in area, keeping an eye on the two babies walking on the other side of the fence. So I gave them some room, stood in the middle of the street, and began the photo shoot.

Satisfied that I had made up for the previous day, I set out for the Hoboken train station. Until I saw some more goslings, even tinier and cuter, and in a more goose-paparazzo-accessible area. Out came the camera again.

Best Saturday morning ever.

But, wait, look, there's another family behind that other fence. There's officially a goose population explosion in Newport.

By the time I was shooting the third family, I finally got one dude to stop and enjoy the moment for a few seconds. It felt like a victory.

Now, whenever I walk to and from work (and carefully wind my way around the many goose droppings), I look for the little tykes to see how they're doing. Some days I'll see one or two around, and other days, the bad ones, I don't see them anywhere. I admit--I get a little worried that they're OK. Granted, they will likely grow up one day to fly into a plane I'm on and send me to a watery grave, but, for now, I'm quite fond of them.

So, last Friday, when I cut through the Modell's parking lot, I could not have been happier to see this:

These are happy, exciting times in Jersey City. At least for me. And the geese seem pretty content. I suppose everybody else will follow along soon enough.

What I Liked About May

*The baby geese of Newport
*Levon Helm's Birthday Ramble, Woodstock, NY
*A successful night of Broadway autograph collecting (Eve Plumb, Becky Ann Baker, and Christie Brinkley)
*Two Cow Garage, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY

*Maybe Pete, Curmudgeon Records (RIP), Somerville, NJ
*Ben Sollee/Sean Rowe, Rockwood Music Hall, NYC
*Sarah Jarosz, Rockwood Music Hall, NYC
*Nick's, Queens, NY

*Getting a photo with Matt "Guitar" Murphy
*The long-awaited reopening of Sweet Sue's
*The pulled pork sandwich at Home by the Range, Hoboken, NJ
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places