Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2020 August 03 • Monday

The Fantastic Plastic Machine's music by Harry Betts is the 633rd Soundtrack of the Week.

The “Theme from ‘The Fantastic Plastic Machine’” starts with bongos and fuzz guitar before becoming a more traditional-sounding surf song with reverby and double-picked guitar. Interestingly, though, the rhythm section gives it a sort of swing that isn’t typical of the genre and there are strings and some unusual percussion and keyboard sounds, as well as what sounds like a Hammond organ. At the end of the piece it goes into a bit of an acid rock freak-out. Even though it’s not in 3/4, the melody is a little bit like the theme from The Cincinnati Kid.

The movie itself sound like a similar venture as The Endless Summer, with California surfers going to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. “Endless Summer” is the name of the second track but it’s not the famous piece by The Sandals. It’s more of an easy listening lounge sort of piece that features harmonica and could work well as part of the score for several 1970s movies and television shows.

“Night Flight” immediately recalls “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” but quickly shifts into a more surfy zone, mostly because of the guitar. The rhythm section stays with kind of a disco funk soul thing and there’s also harmonica and Hammond organ.

Things stay groovy with “Green-O”, which almost sort of quotes “Wipe Out” while presenting a ‘70s disco rock take on a Hully Gully rhythm (I think).

Things get jazzier for the airy “Day Groovin’”, which is a mid-tempo jazz blues that features the Hammond and electric guitar.

For “Straight Ahead” Betts seems to summon some Neal Hefti energy. It would be easy to imagine this cheerful tune as the opening credits for a 1970s television program. There’s a saxophone solo near the end.

Flip the record and you’ve got “Rock Slide”, another quirky piece with a lot going on in it. Chirpy flutes and pinging percussion, punchy horn section, more funk lounge disco electric bass guitar playing but also an occasional rock backbeat and a Vegas feel to it.

Apparently surfer and surfboard designer Bob McTavish is in the movie and he gets his own piece, “McTavish”, which sounds like it used “Wipe Out” as a departure point and took it to a place with bongos and slightly overdriven guitar, as well as keyboards and horns.

And “Nat’s Theme” is almost certainly for surfer Nat Young, also in the movie. His cue starts very gently with flutes and a pastoral mood, even perhaps an electric harpsichord. Harmonica comes in and when the rest of the ensemble also joins the mood stays very mellow and sweet.

“Outtasight” comes up with another mood, a bright and happy tune that sounds like it’s celebrating something triumphant. The melody line is nice and there’s some good drum breaks as well as some guitar and keyboard soloing.

The most dramatic piece on the record is definitely “Green Grotto”, which starts out building atmosphere and suspense, suggesting even the famous (second) theme from The Twilight Zone as well as using chimes very melodically in combination with twangy guitar, a spaghetti western soundtrack signifier.

Finally there’s “Long Reef”, which is kind of a primitive rocker, much more in the classic surf tradition than the other tunes on the album. Very simple and pounding with the guitarist not playing too many notes. The keyboard comes back but otherwise it’s a stripped down old-fashioned rocker.