REVIEW: Heavy Metal – Music From the Motion Picture (1981)

movie-soundtrack-weekHere we go with another week of movie soundtracks! It’s a case of the second one being even better than the first, so let’s start things off properly, shall we?

 


Scan_20160706HEAVY METAL – Music From the Motion Picture (1981 Elektra)

I’d never seen anything like Heavy Metal before.  It was a sci-fi cartoon with a bunch of guys from SCTV doing voices…but it wasn’t for kids!  I probably saw my first animated genitalia in Heavy Metal.  It was also the first time I heard Sammy Hagar.

Sammy’s title track opens the now-legendary soundtrack, which like many others was deleted in the 1990s and commanded heavy prices on the second hand market.  When I worked at the Record Store during that period, there were always plenty of names on the wish list for this album.  There were tracks on here that were hard to find anywhere else.  This version of Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” is different from the one on Sammy’s Standing Hampton LP, and it was not the only such exclusive.  “Heavy Metal” is one of Hagar’s best tunes, simply legendary.  It’s a pummelling good time!

The rest of the album is equally awesome.  Riggs (Jerry Riggs, later of the Pat Travers Band) has a Hagar-esque rocker called “Heartbeat” that is definitely good enough for rock n’ roll.  You might not expect DEVO to be on an album called Heavy Metal, but what’s not to like about “Working in the Coal Mine”?  I’m sure more than a few metal fans would have skipped this one back in 1981, but when compared to the next song by Blue Öyster Cult…what’s the big deal?  B.Ö.C.’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” leans just as heavily on synthesizer, so purists be damned.  “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is a classic, through and through, a dark apocalyptic ballad that can’t be touched.  Some would say it was the last gasp of B.Ö.C. before a long period of mediocrity.  Cheap Trick utilised synth too, but their “Reach Out” is a rocker.  Cheap Trick were another band in a period of decline, following the departure of original bassist Tom Petersson. “Reach Out” was a damn fine tune, and not on one of their albums at the time.  (It’s hard not to notice that Tod Howarth ripped off the verses of “Reach Out” for his own song “Calling to You” with Frehley’s Comet.  Howarth later played with Cheap Trick as a sideman.)

Don Felder from the Eagles isn’t the kind of guy you’d expect to hear do a song called “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)”.  It’s an Eagles-metal hybrid and it’s pretty cool, more metal than Eagles, but you can hear them in there.  He’s followed by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen who presents the interesting “True Companion”.  It’s progressive jazz light rock nirvana.  The punks will hate it, but the same guys who dig Captain Beyond will appreciate it.  Quite daring to include tracks like this on a CD primarily made up of rock and metal, but this helped open the minds and tastes of many metal heads over the years.  Nazareth re-centers it back to rock and roll, with “Crazy (A Suitable Case for Treatment)”.  It’s not among Nazareth’s best but it’s always such a pleasure to hear Dan McCafferty gargling glass.

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Riggs returns with “Radar Rider”.  Heavy riff in hand, it’s a slammin’ good track.  But it is overshadowed by the bombast of “Open Arms” by Journey, one of the biggest ballads in the history of balladry.  You know what’s funny?  Even though I have heard this song 106,941 times as of this morning, I still smile upon hearing it.  There must be something timeless to it that I can’t explain.

Grand Funk were in a decline (like a few of these bands), and “Queen Bee” from Grand Funk Lives was their contribution.  Good track, though it does not sound much like the Grand Funk I know from the 1970s.  And then it’s Cheap Trick again, with a noisy throwaway track called “I Must Be Dreaming”.  It’s a bizarre track from the high priests of rhythmic noise, but they do bizarre just as well as they do catchy.

There’s one band that I think blew the doors off the album.  One band that, to me, is always associated with this album.  One band that defines the phrase “heavy metal”, and that one band is Black Sabbath.  If you listen to fools, the mob rules!  This was brand new Black Sabbath at the time; Mob Rules wouldn’t be out yet for a couple months.  I have always preferred the soundtrack version of “Mob Rules” to the different recording that made it onto the album.  This could be because it was the first version I owned.  Regardless, to my ears it sounds faster and livelier…and more “Geezer-er”.  Not that it matters, because no matter how you slice it, “The Mob Rules” is a shot of adrenaline right to the heart.

Don Felder takes it back to a slow groove with “All of You”, a good rock ballad with some seriously cool funky bass.  All told, the Heavy Metal soundtrack has some damn fine playing on it from all of these bands — just incredible musicianship in these grooves.  Things wind down with Trust, and a very heavy track called “Prefabricated”.  Nicko McBrain was in Trust in 1981, but this does not sound like Nicko on drums.  The song would have been better without the vocals.  Especially when it’s followed by Stevie Nicks, one of the most iconic voices in rock.  “Blue Lamp” was recorded for her solo debut Bella Donna, but not used.  It’s certainly not outtake quality.  In fact it’s pretty damned classic.

That’s what the Heavy Metal soundtrack is:  a classic.  If you like heavy metal, but don’t like soundtracks, then you should still own this one.  Make it so.

4.5/5 stars

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Like many movies with a rock soundtrack, there was also a score for Heavy Metal released.  I asked our friend Rob Daniels from Visions in Sound for a few words on this score in the interests of being complete:

“It’s a great score by the late Elmer Bernstein who is best known for a lot of 80’s comedic scores including Ghostbusters, Animal House and Airplane. His score fits perfectly within the metal music atmosphere, weaving its way through the various stories and songs to the Taarna story. The “Taarna” theme was actually first written for the Farrah Faucett character in the 1980’s film Saturn 3 but was not used. It includes an unusual instrument called a Ondes Martenot, similar to a Theremin but with a physical keyboard. Bernstein used the instrument quite a lot in his scores. While a lot of people know Heavy Metal for the songs in the film the score is of equal note and probably one of Bernstein’s best.”

HMSCORE

 

 

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35 comments

  1. Hear hear 1537! Although I thought we were spared the genitalia in the film after the character voiced by the late John Candy covered himself up and said, “There was no way I was going to walk around here with my dork hanging out!” That line still cracks me up. Mike, a fantastic review, spot on with all of the songs. I was never much of a Devo fan but I liked “Working in a Coalmine.” I also rate “Reach Out” was a hidden gem for Cheap Trick.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Mine too, my second favourite one is when the stoned aliens crash land their space craft and the character voiced by the late Harold Ramis says, “If there’s one thing I can do man is drive when I’m stoned. Classic!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And that’s my SECOND favourite. Man, you’re good!

          When I saw this movie I did not know what “stoned” meant but I saw them vacuuming the white powder with their trunks and knew it was probably something drugs!

          Like

      2. Again, great minds think alike! That was brilliant although I can never remember the actual name of the drug. That line was relevant for me back at the time, and I’ll leave it there. Maybe we should do a joint post with all our favourite quotes from the movie.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. For the first time in this series, Mike, I can proudly claim to own both the DVD and the CD! As you might guess, I tracked the album down because I’m a Steely Dan completist and the Donald Fagan track was a ‘must have’. (That’s also why I own the soundtrack to ‘Bright Lights Big City’ – another Fagan rarity!). Wow, I’ve temporarily joined the HM club. Yippee!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t remember this movie at all. Voices from SCTV? I’ve got to look it up then. I know I’ll love the soundtrack regardless of how well the movie itself has aged.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candy and Ramis were in it for sure…can’t remember who all else, but I definitely was familiar with them from the SCTV days!

      The movie hasn’t aged badly at all. If you enjoy animation, I’d say just go for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not the biggest fan of soundtracks, for the most part, but this is an exception. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time but after your review I can say that if I saw it i’d definitely pick this up on vinyl! I’m also reminded of the hommage South Park did to the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tommy, if you saw the last time I did a week like that, you’d see that Soundtracks can really be a mixed affair! But I think I picked some really special ones this time, and a few are geared to rockers. This is one!

      I never saw the South Park homage.

      Like

  5. I owned this at one point, but it didn’t remain in my collection very long. Maybe it’s just that I come from a later generation, but I didn’t hear much Heavy Metal on this album.
    Now the Heavy Metal 2000 soundtrack is another story.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The answer to that question is Donald Fagen.
        On a side note, I saw Ministry last night and they closed with a DEVO cover. They’ve inspired a lot of metal bands, but they’re definitely not metal.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, this is cool. Something I totally skipped all these years. I remember seeing a few copies of the magazine, but never saw the movie or played the soundtrack. Thanks for this reminder, I’d better check this out!

    Also, I think we can all be a bit more ‘Geezer-er’ in our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

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