Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2012 December 10 • Monday

The 247th Soundtrack of the Week is That Thing You Do!.

Howard Shore wrote a score for this movie—not much, maybe about twenty minutes or so of music—but it isn't on the CD. The soundtrack album has the songs used in the film, performed and written by the fictional bands and musicians who are featured in the story.

One of the charms of the movie is its creation of jazz, rock and pop acts that are plausible for the period and setting of the narrative. (Peter at Retrofret told me that all the guitars in the movie are exactly right for the people and time.)

Tom Hanks wrote and directed the movie, starred in it and had a hand in writing some of the songs.The album continues the world of the movie by pretending to be on the fictional label from the film, with liner notes by label president A. M. White. (And he really is white.)

The first track is "Lovin' You Lots and Lots" by "The Norm Wooster Singers". Tom Hanks wrote this spot-on pastiche of clean-cut, white-bread, mid-century male vocal groups. "You are the winter, fall and spring / You are the sun that summertime brings / You are the stars in the night-time sky / You are my girl and I'm your guy." It's been arranged brilliantly and includes a whistled verse.

After that comes the title song, credited to "The Wonders" and written by A. Schlesinger. It's a great, surfy rocker, perhaps a bit too clean-sounding and sophisticated to be an actual song of the period. "Well I try and try to forget you, girl / But it's just so hard to do / Every time you do that thing you do." There's a nice surprise of a minor chord on the word "time". Another nice touch is the hand claps which you see being added to the recording (by Chris Isaak and Liv Tyler) in the movie.

It has great vocal harmonies, great guitar solo and a "Twist and Shout"-like scream.

After that comes another Wonders song, "Little Wild One". It has different authorship and the liner notes identify it as a cover of "the Theodore Truman hit of the summer before". I don't remember hearing about Truman in the movie. There might be a lot of world-building that went on behind the scenes. "Little Wild One" is a solid dance number, as artfully constructed as the title song but not up to quite the same level.

"Dance With Me Tonight" is a "Twist and Shout"-type of song which Steve Zahn's character sings in the movie.

"All My Only Dreams" is a slow song of love and longing and also kind of a running joke in the movie. It's written by the leader of The Wonders (identified ruefully by the band's manager as the "talent"), who's drawn more to languid sentimentality than to up-tempo dance numbers. The title song was supposed to be a ballad, in fact, and was only accidentally converted to rock and roll by the over-excited drummer.

"I Need You (That Thing You Do)" is really much too modern-sounding, especially the way the drums have been recorded. It soudns more like the '80s than the '60s. This song isn't included in the liner notes by fake label president White.

"She Knows It" is an infectious, toe-tapping, British-invasion sort of pop song. As always the vocal harmonies and electric guitar playing are impeccable. It might be a bit similar to "I Want To Hold Your Hand". This is the first hit record of The Heardsmen, the band that rises from the ashes of The Wonders (though it isn't really a band so much as Jimmy, the "talent", plus session musicians.

One of my favorite numbers is "Mr. Downtown", theme from the TV show of the same name, presumable a Peter Gunn-type of program.

"Oh, you can't run away / No, you can't run away / When you're walking the lonely beat / But there's love to be found / Yes, there's love to be found / On the shadowy side of the street." Brilliant! Tom Hanks co-wrote that one. The bass line is a bit Gunn-ish and there's a Plas Johnson-like sax solo. They really paid attention to detail!

After that come The Chantrellines, a Supremes-like female vocal group, with the fantastic, Phil Spectory "Hold My Hand, Hold My Heart".

"My darling, my baby / My honey, my friend / This feeling for you will / Never come to an end."

"Voyage Around the Moon" by The Saturn 5 is an homage to "Telstar". "My World Is Over" by Diane Dane, presumably a Doris Day or Ann-Margret sort of performer, maybe a composite of the two, is a gently swinging, easy-listening pop song.

I had this one stuck in my head for a surprisingly long time. "It hurts me so badly deep down inside / When I think about all of your lies / Your world goes on / But for me, my world is over."

"Drive Faster" by The Vicksburgs—another band I don't remember from the actual movie—is more of a teen anthm than a hot rod number, despite the title. "I work hard all week at a dead-end job / But when the weekend comes, I wanna have some fun." It refers to Beach Boys songs like "409", "Shut Down" and "I Get Around".

One of the amusing felicities of The Wonders' rise to fame is their being dumped in a beach movie, an Annette and Frankie-clone called Weekend at Party Pier and directed by Jonathan Demme in a cameo.

The Wonders appear as Cap'n Geech & The Shrimp Shack Shooters and the song itself is stupid and hilariously perfect. The sound of the instruments is not quite right for the period but that's nitpicking.

Next is "Time To Blow" by jazz legend Del Paxton, who turns out to be a very important character in the movie, not only as the drummer's hero and inspiration but also, in time, his savior.

I guess he's an Ahmad Jamal type but with more gravity. The tune itself is accomplished jazz combo music, perfect for what and when it's supposed to be..

A live version of the title song, complete with screaming fans, wraps up the record. It would be nice to have Howard Shore's score, too, but that would have interfered with the concept of the soundtrack release.