ONCE BUILT MOSTLY ON original music, all of it scored with the movie in mind if not already in the can, soundtrack albums were permanently altered by Top-40 Think. Before you could say "Saturday Night Fever," soundtracks had suddenly become cut-and-paste collections of would-be hits, all "scored" by a producer with a checkbook in hand and marketing in mind.
But the current batch of movie soundtracks -- and there's enough that we'll probably get to another bunch before summer's out -- show encouraging evidence of a middle ground rising between the extremes: some hits, some running music, some you shoulda left on the shelf.
BEVERLY HILLS COP II --
(MCA-6207). "Cop" moguls Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer are the sort of Hollywood hypemeisters who describe their productions as having "heart." Their unstoppable Murphymobile might very well run on blood, but what's really plain after a visit with the soundtrack album is not BHC's share of heart as much as it's fixation on crotch. Jermaine Jackson is "All Revved Up." Charlie Sexton is "In Deep." Corey Hart wants to "Hold On." The Pointer Sisters at least provide their usual fetching boom-box fertility dance, but then there's Bob Seger trying to sound like he's having fun at producer Harold Faltermeyer's digital keyboard festival (breakdown, shakedown, get down, get outta here, Bob). And let's not forget George Michael, who insists his ditty "I Want Your Sex" is really a "song" about "monogamy." Thanks, George. Loved ya in China.
(MCA 6210). On the songs side, "City of Crime" -- Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks doing a cop rap -- is as funny as can be expected (especially hollerin' Hanks) without the benefit of video accompaniment. Otherwise you got three dancefloor throwaways, including one by Patti LaBelle and a "theme song" in which Art of Noise toys with and finally tramples those original Miklos Rozsa/Walter Shumann themes etched in our just-the-facts memories. New Edition's "Helplessly in Love" is sweet relief (no drums!), but what you really want here is the filmscore side, which lurks and sprints and shoots it out with the best. Ira Newborn's the name. He works the composer-arranger beat. He carries a tune.
(Geffen GHS24161). Three surging dance tunes by Wang Chung, Berlin and Narada Michael Walden himself, plus "Twistin' the Night Away" by Rod Stewart, and Sam Cooke's "Cupid." Side Two's a dissonant score by Jerry Goldsmith: lots of timpani and heartbeat drumbeats and edge-of-the-seat machinations. Oooh.
THE LOST BOYS --
(Atlantic 81767-1). A solid-as-rock collection, the most memorable bites are found in the loud and limber "Good Times" and the likewise infectious "Laying Down the Law" by INXS and Jimmy Barnes. Also noteworthy: Roger Daltrey's expansive "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and Gerard McMann's haunting "Lost Boys" vamp-anthem, "Cry Little Sister." Lou Gramm gets lost in the mix of his "Lost in the Shadows," but all is not lost for Thomas Newman, the guy who actually wrote the film's original soundtrack (remember that?): After a mostly appealing, middle-MTV Side Two (Eddie and the Tide, Mummy Calls, Tim Cappello's soulful "I Still Believe" and Echo and the Bunnymen's faithful "People Are Strange" included), Newman gets his say with a spooky calliope concerto. Too bad it's a minute and 21 seconds long.
(MCA-6214). A nice idea. Moonwatchers will be familiar with the high points: The Isley Brothers ("This Old Heart of Mine") and Percy Sledge ("When a Man Loves a Woman") and Al Jarreau, who handles vocals for a swaying, scorching David Sanborn-Bob James reading of "Since I Fell for You." But even Jarreau gets lost in Nile Rodgers' remix of the "Moonlighting" theme; then what you're left with are ego-trip curiosities sprung full-studio from the brow of series (and album) creator Glenn Gordon Caron -- Bruce Willis shouting "Good Lovin'," Cybill Shepherd crooning "Blue Moon" and "I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out!" -- and one affectation, a leftover from the lush and vacuous Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle collection, which he merely passes on.
(Cinedisc CDC 1000). Here it's obvious why soundtrack album producers go for hits or collector's items. Filmscore composer-producer Bruce Smeaton's lite jazz is so polite and beige and its edges sanded so smooth that it's surely safe for brain-dead CD collectors of all ages. The inclusion of an unnamed orchestra's reading of "The Blue Danube Waltz" only makes the surrounding void emptier.
(Atlantic 7 81770-1). Hey! The title theme sounds just like "Star Wars," except sillier. And hey, Kim Carnes and Jeffrey Osborne on "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own" sound exactly like Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes on "Up Where We Belong" (with gravel-breath Carnes posing as Cocker, however, and Osborne warbling, Warnes-like), except much sillier. And the Pointer Sisters sound just like . . . the Pointer Sisters -- who else? Hey! How much of this is satire?
(A&M SP3909). Finally, an album that harks back to the days when movies were movies, Brian De Palma was still impressionable, and soundtracks were soundtracks. Composer Ennio Morricone ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "The Mission") writes from the heart and mind; the precisely sad and exactingly messy music here stands on its own as some of the most deep and deft orchestral maneuvering you will ever find in a "pop" bin. There are many, but the one perfect example of Morricone's feeling and finesse is the track titled "Death Theme Elegy" -- a deeply mournful dirge whose haunting melody is carried -- fluidly, as if improvised -- by a sad and dusky saxophone.
WITCHES OF EASTWICK --
(Warner Bros. 925607-1). Another real filmscore-only album. Except this one's the work of composer-producer John Williams, who is his usual grandly tidy self. Best left in the stereo store listening room with the other high-tech wallpaper.
WITHNAIL AND I --
(DRG SBL12590). As bright and crafty an evocation of fear and loathing as you may ever hear, the "Withnail" soundtrack seems a more potent reminder of 1969's thrills and tragedies than the low-budget movie (a product of George Harrison's Handmade Films) itself. The period pieces, interspersed intelligently with some substantially diverse, powerful and tastefully state-of-the-art originals by filmscore composers David Dundas and Rick Wentworth, are all worth having: Harrison's own "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by those never-heard Beatles; "All Along the Watchtower" and "Voodoo Chile" by Hendrix; and an alarmingly evocative, smoky live version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by King Curtis.