This weekend, I got roped into one of those damn Facebook memes. Usually I ignore them. But this one was forwarded by a friend whose taste I admire greatly, and was a no-brainer: 15 Albums That Changed Your Life. I cobble together lists like that whether I want to or not; it’s just how my music-addled brain works.
I won’t bore you with all my choices, save to highlight one that does not pop up routinely in the “All Time Best Album” surveys in Rolling Stone or MOJO: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to Times Square, released by RSO Records in 1980.
Times Square is a rotten movie. Not good-bad, just boring. It had the makings of a decent cult flick, what with Tim Curry, fresh from his star-making turn in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in a supporting role, and a prescient plot line about a scheming politician trying to clean up Times Square. There are also lesbian overtones to the relationship between the two main characters, although the clunky storyline suggests someone tried to rub them out, badly, between the page and shooting. Kathleen Hanna gives it props, but I can’t honestly recommend it.
But the soundtrack? Pure gold. Especially since, in 1981, after the movie had BOMBED, you could find this double LP dirt cheap in cut-out bins everywhere. I think I paid $2.99 for my first copy. It was worth every cent. The track list includes songs by the Pretenders, Roxy Music, Gary Numan, Talking Heads, Joe Jackson, XTC, the Ramones, the Ruts, Lou Reed, the Cure, and Patti Smith Group. For a kid in the suburbs, with little access to “new music,” this was the mother lode of gateway records. Where else was I going to get my mitts on “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Talk of the Town,” and “Life During Wartime” — plus 17 other songs — for the cost of a couple Big Macs?
Times Square clued me into more than just punk rock and new wave, too. For starters, I learned how less viable acts get slipped on to soundtrack albums to advance the careers of pet projects. I can think of no reason why “Help Me” by Marcy Levy and Robin Gibb in on this album, save for the fact the producer of Times Square also managed the Bee Gees. I discovered that disco and punk rock could co-exist peacefully; I was more likely to skip over D.L. Byron’s disposable cover of “Can’t Hurry Love” or critical favorite Garland Jeffreys than “The Night Was Not” by spandex-clan quartet Desmond Child and Rogue. And Side One’s crunchy kickoff, “Rock Hard,” showed me there was more, much more, to Suzi Quatro than her Happy Days role as “Leather Tuscadero.”
Even the numbers performed by the cast were pretty cool. Okay, the spoken word bit “Your Daughter Is One” is more inflammatory than actually good, but “Damn Dog,” the showcase for star Robin Johnson, still holds up. Heck, Manic Street Preachers even covered it on their 1991 debut, Generation Terrorists (although it was cut from the US edition). And “Flowers in the City,” a duet written by David Johansen, and performed alongside Miss Johnson, holds up far better than some of his Buster Poindexter shtick has.
Regardless of its merits, Times Square has never been reissued on CD. Just like a host of other worthwhile ’80s soundtracks. Let’s see, there’s Starstruck, Party Party, Urgh! A Music War… oh God, I feel a meme coming on.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.