In the maudlin soundtrack sweepstakes from the turn of the decade (’69-’70-’71), Fred Karlin was your man. While not groundbreaking, Fred’s soundtracks were some of the first to eschew the flashy mod and swinging pop tropes that the likes of Henry Mancini and John Barry sometimes over indulged in. He sounded most comfortable on more thoughtful and introspective sonic terrain, with strengths that mirrored the burgeoning soft rock and singer-songwriter sounds of that just-post psychedelic generation. And while I realise soft is a word that’ll have some regular readers of this blog navigating the hell away, you’re only half a man if you can’t occasionally take it nice and easy.
If you’ve never heard of Fred Karlin, it’s not because he’s obscure. In his lifetime, he scored over 100 movies and TV programs, and all of the soundtracks below garnered Oscar nominations in their day. No, it’s mainly because many of his scores have languished in vinyl graveyards since their initial release. They’ve been obscured by higher profile soundtrack tear-jerkers from the time (Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) which effectively drowned out all competition, forever more.
But I like Fred, and so it’s left to a cad like me to actually bother with and trumpet Fred’s subtle strong points. While he produced other cool scores at this time that didn’t see LP release (Cover Me Babe, Believe In Me), a grip of them did. And there’s three in particular I just can’t stop listening to lately. Chronologically, they are:
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK – The Sterile Cuckoo (Paramount Records, 1969) Clips I’ve seen from this film – aka Pookie – do not make want to revisit the early films of Liza Minnelli any time soon. But the film’s theme, “Come Saturday Morning” is something else entirely. Cowritten by singer-songwriter Dory Previn, Morning is rendered without any backbone whatsoever by THE SANDPIPERS, and rightly so. THE SANDPIPERS, in fact, were pretty spectacular in their mind-numbing commitment to the easiest and smoothest of pop effluvium – witness their awesome interpretation of the theme to “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” – making them perhaps thee quintessential proto-softrock balladeers.
On this LP, this theme is worked, retooled, and reworked some more into lush cues by Fred using a judicious selection of woodwinds, harpsichord, vibes, and guitar. As any seasoned soundtrackist will tell you, the right theme will allow for this, and brother, this be THE RIGHT THEME. OK yes there is string section syrup present too, but it never threatens to capsize this delicate, if sorta schmaltzy, wonder. My pal Dennis refers to this kinda stuff as “audio Bupropion” and I – an advocate of anti-depressant medication – am inclined to agree. Start equalising your Serotonin levels NOW.
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK – Lovers And Other Strangers (ABC Records, 1970) Soft though they were, THE SANDPIPERS were admittedly more 60′s sunshine pop than 70′s soft rock. But with Lovers, Fred made it clear: the 70′s had arrived. Here Jimmy Griffin and Rob Royer from BREAD helped Fred pen three sublimely understated pieces of phenomenal singer-songwriter fluff. The breakout cut “For All We Know” became a top 5 hit for THE CARPENTERS, and would eventually be covered by everyone from BETTY SERVEERT to Gary Wilson. These three songs punctuate a grip of Fred’s wonderful soft-scoring, easily bumping this one up into a sappy league of it’s very own, out where even puffy little clouds are crying moist tears of joy.
Now if the wedding music on side 2 is a little less appealing, that’s just splitting hairs. Those beautiful duelling flutes in “I Am You, You Are Me, We Are One” get me blubbering like a little girl every time. And if that doesn’t soften your thick skull, I dunno what will.
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK – The Baby Maker (Ode Records, 1971) This should have been Fred’s best yet. It contains a great soft pop tune, “People Come, People Go” co-written by his wife, Marsha Karlin. It was inspired by a curious movie about a young free spirit (Barbara Hershey) who agrees to have a baby – for money – on behalf of a very middle class couple. It’s also got some of Fred’s most delicate soundtrack cues, all really beautiful stuff I tell ya.
But then . . . there is OLE BLUE, an early 70′s “heavy” bluesrock eyesore brought in to perform some of Fred’s songs. These guys/gals trade in cheap cliches and sub-JEFFERSON AIRPLANE off key vocals, and while I usually give a thumbs up to this sorta shitrock, I ain’t so generous today. Fred’s “rock” numbers are tired, humourless, and uninspired, with OLE BLUE sounding like the shit they actually are. Had Fred taken a few lessons from my soundtrack hero Stu Phillips – who used to routinely coax useable material out of equally clueless pop/rock types – he might’ve had something here. Ah well, Fred, ya can’t win em all.
Fred, RIP my friend – long may you maudlin.