Egads, where to begin??? My first firm memories of going to the theatre to see stuff other than Disney movies are all summer-based. 1977 was of course the summer that yielded the two greatest movies a boy of that era ever experienced: STAR WARS and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT; a year later, at the dawn of VCR ownership, my father even managed to obtain a bootleg VHS tape with both movies on it recorded in LP mode that I must have watched dozens of times. And from there, movies that were released during the summer carried a special magic feeling that was never quite equalled at any other time of year, not even at Christmas. Summer was when you were free from school, from curfews, and the cinemas promised you John Hughes, Jason Voorhees, Burt Reynolds, Bill Murray, Sylvester Stallone, science fiction, sexy girls, and other delights to occupy all that time away from adolt edgeamacation.
Most summer movies still promise some similar variation of that list of childhood loves. This year alone, my inner child has eagerly devoured the works of Pixar, Edgar Wright, Christopher Nolan, Will Ferrell, mutant offspring, bisexual hackers, and heck, even Bill Murray and Sylvester Stallone were still hangin' around. And before the leaves turn gold, I can still look forward to 3-D piranhas, rogue priests, Inglourious Romeans and vengeful Mexicans.
But there's one thing I know won't be forthcoming that used to be in large supply as a kid: a great summer soundtrack jam. Just as much as going to the swimming pool or the cinema, a big joy of my summer was buying '45's and albums and wearing out the grooves and tape playing the songs that were blasting in Dolby Stereo from the nearest multiplex.
I'm aware that it's one small symptom of the otherwise great musical malaise in America - major record labels clutch to outdated practices despite being in their death throes, getting a single onto any radio station is a task akin to mice belling a cat, and music lovers are so fractionalized into micro-genres that outside of the high-fructose corn syrup factory called "AMERICAN IDOL," we flat-out have no kind of American songbook or wide-appeal artist to unite behind - but if there is one thing that saddens me enormously in my middle age, it's the loss of the hit movie theme song. There are still great songs to be heard in movies, and people still buy them on CDs or mp3 downloads, but the days when you and all your friends would be listening to the radio or watching TV, and you'd hear that theme song from the fun movie you saw a couple weeks ago, and start singing along and remembering the great time you had, and maybe even think, "Hey, let's go see it again! Why not?" are gone, gone, literally gone.
Yes, if you want to be blunt, a summer movie theme is ultimately another marketing tool, just a piece of merchandising that was once effective in generating a "bandwagon" mentality among consumers and has now been replaced by newer memetics. And not every song that emerged from a movie was even that good; let's be honest, we've heard way too goddamn much of Ray Parker Jr. and "Ghostbusters" to last multiple generations. But when they were effective, every time that song came on, you could go back to your favorite scenes without buying another ticket. If it was an old song strategically inserted into a new film, you were reminded how great that song was and you bought it again and rediscovered it, and that artist got new fans and a second wind on the county fair circuit.
Not to overpower you, because lists are not literature, but contemplate this block of my childhood, from my breakout year of 1977 to starting college in 1987, and look at all these summer movies with all these songs that in varying degrees have become united in our memory and part of iPod shuffle plays and karaoke marathons...
"New York, New York" - NEW YORK, NEW YORK (people forget this was a movie theme)
"Nobody Does it Better" - THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
"East Bound and Down" - SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
"You Light Up My Life" - YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE
"Last Dance" - THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY
"Got to Get You Into My Life" (Earth Wind & Fire cover) - SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
multiple songs - GREASE
"Ready to Take a Chance Again" - FOUL PLAY
"Shout!" - NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE
"The Main Event" - THE MAIN EVENT
"Are You Ready for the Summer" - MEATBALLS
"The Rainbow Connection" - THE MUPPET MOVIE
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" - MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN
"Fame" - FAME
"I'm Alright" - CADDYSHACK
multiple songs - THE BLUES BROTHERS
multiple songs - XANADU
"For Your Eyes Only" - FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
"Best That You Can Do" - ARTHUR
"Endless Love" - ENDLESS LOVE
multiple songs - HEAVY METAL
"Putting Out the Fire" - CAT PEOPLE
"Eye of the Tiger" - ROCKY III
"Love Will Turn You Around" - SIX PACK
"Hard to Say I'm Sorry", "I'm So Excited" - SUMMER LOVERS
"Up Where We Belong" - AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN
"Somebody's Baby" - FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
multiple songs - PINK FLOYD THE WALL
multiple songs - THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN
"I Melt With You" - VALLEY GIRL
multiple tracks - FLASHDANCE
"Bela Lugosi's Dead" - THE HUNGER
"All Time High" - OCTOPUSSY
"Nights Are Forever" - TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE
"Holiday Road" - NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION
"Far From Over" - STAYING ALIVE
"Old Time Rock'n'Roll" - RISKY BUSINESS
"Ain't No Stoppin' Us" - BREAKIN'
"I Can Dream About You" - STREETS OF FIRE
"Ghostbusters" - GHOSTBUSTERS
"Never-Ending Story" - THE NEVER-ENDING STORY
multiple songs - PURPLE RAIN
"A View to a Kill" - A VIEW TO A KILL
"Goonies R Good Enough" - THE GOONIES
"Man In Motion" - ST. ELMO'S FIRE
"The Power of Love" - BACK TO THE FUTURE
"Invincible" - THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN
"Tequila" - PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE
"Weird Science" - WEIRD SCIENCE
multiple songs - TOP GUN
"Twist and Shout" - FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF
"Dead Man's Party" - BACK TO SCHOOL
"The Glory of Love" - THE KARATE KID PART II
"Kiss" - UNDER THE CHERRY MOON
"Sweet Freedom" - RUNNING SCARED
"Who Made Who" - MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE
"He's Back (Behind the Mask)" - FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES
"Stand By Me" - STAND BY ME
"Shakedown" - BEVERLY HILLS COP II
"Surfin' Bird" - FULL METAL JACKET
"La Bamba" (Los Lobos cover) - LA BAMBA
"Good Times", "Cry Little Sister" - THE LOST BOYS
"Who's that Girl?" - WHO'S THAT GIRL
"I Heard a Rumor" - DISORDERLIES
multiple songs - DIRTY DANCING
And now try to summon up half as many songs from summer movies within the last ten years that have reached the same level of mass consciousness and adoration. I'm not saying there aren't any - I can think of some from AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, MOULIN ROUGE, ONCE - but there's definitely not the wealth of them that I've listed above from that bygone era.
Sure, all is not lost; we'll always have Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe, and Tarantino, and all the other directors who treasure their mixtapes as much as their Super 8s.
All I'm saying is that I want more than just eye candy at the movies; ear candy would be nice too. And I think I'm not the only one who believes our summer popcorn movies would benefit from a little cheese now and then...