Though I’m quite happy puttering about town in my Volkswagen Golf and carefully obeying the Highway Code, I sometimes like to imagine jumping on a motorcycle, kicking it into gear, and heading straight for the open highway. I mean, I do like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, and the rest of it too. And if I ever did get on a bike, I’d certainly be the sneering, chain-weilding kind of biker, the fella with all the greasy tattoos who’s wearing the patched denim vest over the leather jacket, the one with the mouthy blonde riding in the saddle screaming bloody murder behind him.
Understand then that I enjoy watching non-biker, middle-class Hollywood actors pretending to be bikers in low-budget 60s/70s exploitation flicks. Better still though, is listening to non-biker studio hounds play their idea of biker music to score scenes of non-biker Hollywood actors pretending to be bikers in low-budget 60s/70s exploitation flicks. THAT’S fun. So here’s my take on 3 recently reissued biker soundtracks that have burned rubber in my CD player lately:
1) Original Soundtrack – Angels From Hell (Tower Records, 1968, reissued by Reel Time, 2011) Throughout the late 60′s/early 70′s, studio-wiz Stu Phillips worked this neat gimmick of peppering his exploitation film scores with a few vocal pop/rock songs. This was ostensibly to lend a bit more ‘hipness’ – and possibly chart positioning? – to soundtracks that sitar-led orchestral cues alone couldn’t muster. This led not only to curious but flawed soundtracks like The Name Of The Game Is . . . Kill (containing a wild ELECTRIC PRUNES number Stu co-wrote) but also the towering, rock-simlacra masterwork that was the Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls soundtrack.
On Angels From Hell, Stu gets down to quality exploito-scoring quick, making swinging cues that much groovier with the odd sitar and/or fuzz lead. But as usual, it’s the pop songs included that make this one: appealing studio flower-pop fluff from THE PEANUT BUTTER CONSPIRACY but also feral garage psychosis from THE LOLLIPOP SHOPPE (Fred Cole we love you) and a talking-exploitation blues corker from actor Ted Markland called “Shake Off The Chains”. All total this makes for one schitzo soundtrack ride – exactly how a biker movie soundtrack should sound. Now where is that reissue of Stu’s Run, Angel, Run soundtrack we’ve all been dying for? I can hear the engines revving already.
2) Original Soundtrack – Hell’s Belles (Sidewalk Records, 1969, reissued by La-La Land Records, 2010) When the times they did a-change in the mid-late 60′s, established Hollywood soundtrackist Les Baxter knew he had to move things along, musically speaking, for work on flicks like Hell’s Belles. But as he wasn’t entirely suited to this new-fangled, rock n roll thing, he did what so many others have done: he poached when he could. So Les’ upbeat title theme here is a tepid reworking of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” – not something that wasn’t gonna set the world on fire. His love theme – even bikers need good lovin’ – is better, but it still feels like warmed-over Burt Bacharach. But hey, this was the state of play then, and Les is so skillful at deconstructing & reconfiguring themes you don’t realise until its over that you’ve heard the same damn theme repeated a half dozen times at least. Decently, he’s also included a couple of those still-startling drum/bass/harmonica breaks you DJs like to call “fat”. The least essential of these three but not worthless by a long shot, once you’re kneedeep into b-movie biker soundtracks as I am now, you won’t be able to tell a Harley from a Triumph anyways.
3) Original Soundtrack – Werewolves On Wheels (Finders Keepers, 2011) Country-pop songwriter Don Gere is responsible for this longgone, messed up collection of soundtrack music to what was certainly the first biker/horror flick, circa 1971. And my, what a glorious and frightening mess of a collection it is. The label says this sounds like guitarist Sandy Bull jamming with AMON DUUL I, and while this is record-nerd hyperbole, I do get the comparisons – Don maintains a pseudo-spiritual, near modal focus through most of this, even when sounds are at their most tribal and free-wheeling. The straight-forward bits get me thinking of a less sex-obsessed Simon Stokes, which means this has also got that all important shit-kickin’ redneck quotient that can so enliven a good film biker brawl. But really, the proof is in the pudding: listening to this as I drove, sans satnav or map, lost through the rolling Leicestershire countryside on a moonless night last month – had me literally CREEPED ME OUT OF MY SKIN. And turning Leicestershire into the set of a horror movie – man, that’s the highest honours I can give. Buy or die.