Collection Recollection: Movie Soundtracks

I’ll be heading off to Japan in a few months, and unfortunately my records won’t be coming with me. It’s probably for the best though, I don’t know where I’d store 3,000+ records in a tiny Tokyo apartment. But before I shovel them away to a storage locker, I want to take some time to write about the records that mean the most to me. Today I’ll be taking a look at my collection of movie soundtracks.

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I think I started collecting movie soundtracks even before I considered myself a “record collector.”

Makes sense, I was definitely a film geek well before I was anything close to a music geek. That probably has something to do with the fact that I literally grew up in a video store. My dad opened an independent video store in 1984 when I was just three years old. I spent a good chunk of my life there until he sold it to Blockbuster in the late-90s, which, when you look back on it, was a pretty amazing bit of timing on his part since the whole video store business collapsed not soon after.

There were some weeks where I literally watched a movie everyday. When I was little, it was often the same movie five times in a row (I can still recite most of Ghostbusters by memory), but as I grew older I would often use my limitless access to a seemingly endless supply of VHS tapes to catch up on as many genres, series and directors as humanly possible. I remember falling in love with 50s monster flicks after seeing Them; watching as many Ridley Scott films as possible after catching Alien for the first time in junior high; and mainlining as many anime series I could get my hands on after my dad started carrying it in the mid-90s.

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Vanity’s worst movie.

In the years after my dad sold the store, I would still get a warm feeling, a feeling of being home, whenever I walked into an independent video store. But as those become more and more of a rarity, I don’t get that feeling much anymore. So now, the closest I can come to it is the feeling I get when I browse the soundtrack section of a well-stocked record store. When I see a nice soundtrack selection, especially one stacked with scores of movies from the 70s and 80s, I instantly get flashbacks from my days at the video store.

And one of the first thoughts that almost always springs to mind is, “wow, I had a horrible father.”

Okay, not really. But my dad had a pretty lousy filter as to what was appropriate for grade schooler. I remember seeing Beverly Hills Cop when I was in first grade – taught a lot of kids on the playground some neat swear words the next day. I saw Revenge Of The Nerds before I turned 10 as well – and that was certainly an…education on many subjects. And Action Jackson, well, that’s inappropriate viewing for anyone, let alone a 10-year-old. Still, I’m glad my dad wasn’t paying attention that well, I treasure a lot of the memories of watching those silly, dumb movies with my brother.

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An accurate reproduction of my face upon seeing the “Here’s Johnny” scene. 

But sometimes his lack of supervision backfired. I should not have seen The Thing, Shining and The Terminator as a child. I’m surprised I ever slept again. But my dad’s complete lack of understanding of the MPAA did lead me to seeing some pretty great/greatly horrible flicks during the 80s that I would have missed otherwise.

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Night Of The Comet may have been a horror/comedy, but I loved it as a kid, it never scared me. I must have watched it over a dozen times – well into my teen years. So when I saw this soundtrack a few months back I grabbed it immediately even though I had completely forgotten what the soundtrack to that movie was. Turns out it’s freaking horrible. The worst of bland 80s pop. It’s not the only nostalgia-fueled purchase that I went on to regret. I loved the Tom Selleck robot movie Runaway as a kid – but I certainly didn’t need to buy the score. Ditto for Krull.

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True fact – James Horner ripped himself off later by stealing large portions of this score and using them in the score to Aliens.

Sometimes the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia are accurate though.  The soundtrack to The Last Dragon, features some great pieces of 80s cornball pop by Vanity and Rockwell, and was also the original home of DeBarge’s immortal “Rhythm Of The Night.” However, the most memorable cuts from the LP are the title track by Dwight David and “The Glow” by Willie Hutch, as they are musical interpretations of the film’s story -and since the film is about a Bruce Lee wannabe from Harlem getting kung fu superpowers to defeat someone called “The Shogun of Harlem,” that’s pretty great. In addition to being a fantastic album, it also triggers some great memories of my past.Whenever I listen to this record, I remember the first time I saw the movie, when the hero got “the glow” and caught a bullet with his teeth(!!) my brother and I thought it was so cool we high-fived each other.

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Vanity’s best movie.

The Last Dragon is definitely a favorite of mine on multiple levels, but other kitsch-classics I’m glad I own include the soundtracks to Sly Stallone’s classic Cobra, the Charlie Sheen ghost car thriller The Wraith (featuring Stan Bush!) and not one, but two versions of the soundtrack to Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (both the US version and a Japanese import).

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But my obsession with film soundtracks just isn’t driven by a sense of nostalgia and a love for camp, a lot of my favorite LPs are soundtracks. As silly and ironic as it may sound, the soundtrack to Howard The Duck, with its rare tracks by Thomas Dolby, is one of my favorite records. Another unlikely favorite is the soundtrack for To Live And Die in L.A., which was composed entirely by Wang Chung. Half of it is pop tunes, half is an instrumental score, all of it is great. And I’d be remiss not to mention the soundtrack to Purple Rain, which isn’t just one of my favorite soundtracks of all time, but one of my favorite albums period.

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I do sometimes buy soundtracks to movies I’ve never even heard of or seen, but typically because they have songs that exclusive tracks that have yet to be re-released on proper albums. The soundtrack to the forgotten 80s relic Band Of The Hand, for instance, has a pair of Bob Dylan tracks that still have not been re-issued on any other album; Virtuosity, while a truly horrible film that no one should ever subject themselves to, has an amazing soundtrack featuring rare tracks by Fatima Mansions, Live and Tracy Lords; and the LP for the British teen comedy Party Party features a cover of Tutti Frutti by Sting that I assume he’s tried his best to bury next to his role in Dune and that all-lute album he did. Soundtracks to concert films can also be a lightening rod for rare and hard-to-find live cuts (but that’s a topic for another blog post).

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I don’t know why I own this.

While most of my soundtrack purchases stem from the fact that I either love the movies they’re from or I’m interested in the original music on them – I will say that soundtracks are probably the only albums I’ll buy with the intent to sell later. Because it turns out that soundtrack collectors are mad crazy, and will shell out big bucks for rare scores – especially if they’re from horror or sci-fi films. I sold my Japanese copy of the soundtrack to The Shining for $50! My copy of the Creepshow score for $40! I even managed to unload my LP of the Fright Night soundtrack for $10. I have no idea where this value comes from. Are these people way into certain composers? Or are they like me and just want to collect the scores and soundtracks to the movies that defined their childhoods? Whatever the reason, it’s made funding my trip to Japan a bit easier. I mean, shit, someone paid me $25 for the score to Dreamscape. This plan has backfired though, leaving me with soundtrack that I assumed I would be able to unload at a profit and ended up being stuck with. At least, that’s the only reason I can come up with for owning the soundtrack to Leviathan.

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I know why I own this – because I make poor retail choices sometimes.

There are some scores I’ll never let go of though, even if they are worth a mint – and most of these are the scores from John Carpenter films that I’ve accumulated over the years.

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Each Halloween soundtrack goes for about $40, same for the soundtracks to The Fog and Escape From New York. Prince of Darkness is the odd one of the bunch, and goes for around $20 online. That’s over $200, some serious dough considering I probably paid less than $30 for all of them combined when I found them at a thrift shop a few years back. It’s the kind of return on investment that record collectors dream of! But you’d have to get Michael Myers himself to come in here for me to give these up. These are the prized possessions of my soundtrack collection.

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Signed by Roddy, oh yeah.

They represent a perfect storm of everything I look for when buying soundtracks. They give me a kick of nostalgia like nothing else – I grew up on these movies (which explains a lot now that I think of it) and outside of maybe the soundtrack to The Last Dragon, no other albums remind me more of my time in my dad’s video store like these albums do. Not only that, they’re also all fantastic albums. John Carpenter’s early scores are all masterpieces of electronic music, some of the best and most eerie music ever created on a keyboard, I’d be the world’s worst electronic music fan if I gave these up. Finally, they’re all fantastic movies that I love (well, maybe not Prince Of Darkness) and I’m always eager to collect as much as I can from the movies I love the most – that’s why I own all four Alien movies on laserdisc (sigh).  I even like the covers, even though they’re just cropped versions of the movie posters. They remind me of the old VHS boxes, another way that they allow me to reconnect with my time at my dad’s store.

Having them set up like that even reminds me of my dad’s store in some way, like they’re VHS boxes lined up on the shelf. The older horror movies, anything that wasn’t a new release, always took up the bottom shelves at the video store – meaning they were eye level for young me as I browsed the shelves. When my dad wasn’t looking, I’d always sneak off to the horror section, usually against my own judgment, and read the backs of these boxes. I still remember the back of the Halloween II box vividly. It was a picture of a nurse on the phone, surrounded by darkness – I think there was a Jack-o-lantern next to her. Between that and the description, my young mind would paint a far more gruesome and violent picture than anything that was actually in the movie. That box alone gave me nightmares. Same with the box to Prince of Darkness. I remember seeing the terrifying image of Alice Cooper’s character on the back cover and being petrified.

I guess it’s kind of weird to have nostalgia for stuff that gave me nightmares as a child, isn’t it? Maybe this is why I’m so jumpy.

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