This Is Not A Soundtrack LP (part 7)

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Robert Altman’s turn of the century north-western, McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), reached back all the way to 1967 and pulled in three tracks from Leonard Cohen’s debut: ‘The Stranger Song’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and ‘Winter Lady’. The trio of tunes are the sum total of the non-diegetic music in the film. In the film’s story a good deal of fiddle music is featured, including a lovely scene of a guy dancing on a frozen river, a large music box with interchangeable discs, which looks like a proto jukebox, is heard, and unaccompanied singing all add to the soundtrack. Against the anachronism of Cohen’s music, Stephen Foster’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ gets at least two outings; by my ready reckoner it is a song heard in westerns more than any other tune.

For a set of pre-existing songs, the fit with the film’s themes is remarkable, but then Cohen always dug deep into exploring emotional attachments that last just a small moment in time and that’s what the film covers too. ‘The Stranger Song’ is given to McCabe, the character played by Warren Beatty, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ accompanies images of the hamlet’s prostitutes, and ‘Winter Lady’ follows around Mrs Constance Miller (Julie Christie). It is said that Altman originally played around with at least 10 of Cohen’s songs before deciding on these three. He clearly worked to put song and image together in an arrangement that was mutually beneficial. In this he succeeds; it is impossible to imagine the film without Cohen’s sonorous odes to fleeting love. But the songs also fix the film to 1967-1971. It cannot escape that history any more than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can leave behind Sacha Distel and ‘Raindrops Keep Falling’, or High Noon can forsake Tex Ritter, such is the genre’s relationship with the past and the present.

Three songs and some incidental music was obviously not enough to fashion an OST from, or to repackage Cohen’s album, but CBS in the UK did see potential in offering the market an EP.


This concise artefact is part of the same series that featured Kris Kristofferson’s tunes used in Cisco Pike (see earlier entry). Where there anymore in the set? Do tell if you know . . .


This Is Not A Soundtrack LP (part 6)


Against all convention, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) plays out the course of its drama without a supporting music track. No piano, guitar, french horn, piccolo, jaw harp, nothing at least after the story proper starts at the closing of the working day. For the first 5 minutes of the film over a montage of city scenes, a New York summer, Elton John’s ‘Amoreena’ plays in its entirety. The skip beat of the performance gives a rhythm to the edits of scenes of dogs nosing garbage bags, Bowery bums, Coney Island’s beaches, ferries, car jams, construction workers, tennis courts, commuters, and Manhattan skylines seen behind a roof top swimming pool and a cemetery. There’s a familiarity in the images echoed in numerous other New York set movies of the period, but Elton John’s recording is by any reckoning a strange choice. Neither contemporary, it was released 5 years earlier on Tumbleweed Connection, nor in anyway a pop city symphony. Just about anything by Bruce Springsteen from his first two albums would have made a more thematically appropriate choice.

Tumbleweed Connection was John’s 3rd album and one deeply in thrall to the Americana of The Band. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics evoke images of the antebellum South, Western gunfighters, and mission houses. The sepia sleeve and accompanying booklet provide a panoply of supporting illustrations and photographs, even if the actual English location of the heritage steam train station depicted on the front of the gatefold, with all its enamelled adverts for the most British of goods - Cadburys, Rowntrees, Ogden’s tobacco - seem counter to the album’s particular tale of the New World; from Bushy, Herts, Reg Dwight’s own Atlantic crossing.

‘Amoreena’ is about a lover fussing over his absent muse, who he imagines in the cornfields brightening daybreak in days gone by. Taupin’s lyric offers up the strange conjunction ‘puppy child’ and the absurd idea of a sycamore tree ‘playing in the valley’ among the most hackneyed of romantic imagery - dreams of crystal streams. Elton John’s performance is strong enough to hide all the bad poetry, but it doesn’t make it anymore of an apposite choice of a song to use as a place setter for the drama that follows. I’ve heard it said the producers were using Elton’s persona to make an off-hand comment on the sexuality of Pacino’s character, but then why this track? It’s many things, but Gay themed or camp it is not. What it also isn’t is funky. Beside the Van Morrison mannerisms that Elton channels, the song is far removed from soul music or from any black contemporary musical idiom. Issac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack with Shaft, Superfly and Across 110th Street defined the 1970s city soundtrack, unlike them Elton John is not American and he is not black. Maybe that’s the point of why he was used, a means to signify that Dog Day Afternoon is not a blaxploitation picture. I think that might be the case but, even if I’m right about that, the choice of ‘Amoreena’ itself remains utterly obscure to me. Perhaps Sidney Lumet just liked the tune. For myself, I’d have chosen Springsteen:

‘The cripple on the corner cried

out, “Nickels for your pity”

Them gasoline boys downtown

sure talk gritty

It’s so hard to be a saint in the city.’

This Is Not A Soundtrack LP (part 2)


Despite the cover shot from Cisco Pike (1972) and the inclusion of three tracks used in the film’s soundtrack there is no direct reference to the film on Kristofferson's The Silver Tongued Devil and I… 

Songs on album and film are:

“Loving Her Was Easier,”  "The Pilgrim: Chapter 33" and “Breakdown." 

A forth song, "I’d Rather Be Sorry" was not included on the albumIt was sang as a duet in the film with Karen Black and later recorded with Rita Coolidge. It’s the former that breaks my heart … Someone has put the two versions together here

That cigarette, suede jean jacket over denim shirt sure looks good … Did he swipe Dennis’ belt?

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Not so much a soundtrack album as a 3 track EP, UK only I think.


And Introducing Kris Kristofferson: Cisco Pike (1971)

A class act: from Betsy introducing Travis Bickle to his music in Taxi Driver, back through his role in Scorsese’s earlier Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, wandering minstrel cameos in Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a starring role in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, soundtrack highlights on John Huston’s Fat City and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, right on down to his feature introduction in Cisco Pike … a film CV unmatched by any of his (country) rock royalty contemporaries I’ll wager … and all this with eyes that look like two pissholes.

This Is Not A Soundtrack LP (part 1)


John Buck Wilkin, In Search Of Food Clothing Shelter And Sex (Liberty, 1970)

Liberty spared no expense on packaging Wilkin’s album, gatefold with lyric and portrait inner. Hopper gets a thank you in the acknowledgements. I’m guessing there wasn’t enough original material to produce a soundtrack for The Last Movie, which used music recorded in performance and on location, so this is as close as we have to one, with ‘Bobbie McGee’ and ‘My God and I’ shared between album and film.

Wilkin appears to be wearing the poncho Hopper wore in the movie, and the locations mimic the desert junkyard theme at the beginning of Easy Rider and in countless biker movies.

Wilkin had once played in Ronny and the Daytonas and made one more album after this.