Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 April 03 • Monday

The 772nd Soundtrack of the Week has to be the music from Rhinestone, brought to you by Dolly Parton with an assist from Mike Post.

First of all, this is a great movie. Sylvester Stallone said, more than thirty years later, that it was the most fun he'd had making a movie, ever, even though it wasn't the movie he had in mind at the beginning. (He co-wrote the screenplay.)

But we're only in it for the music. With one exception, all songs have words and music by Dolly Parton. She also sings the first one, "Tennessee Homesick Blues", which is not only a great song on its own but also works as exposition in the movie. It plays over the opening credits and by the time we're into the movie part of the movie we've already learned a lot of what we need to know about her character. This is the song with the line "It's hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world".

Likewise with "Too Much Water", not sung by Parton this time but by her friends and family back home in Tennessee. It's pretty and harmonious and obliquely indicates with the lyrics some of what might be going on for the main charaters.

“The Day My Baby Died" is the one song that Parton didn't write. Instead it's got music by Mike Post and words by Phil Alden Robinson. It starts out sounding a bit like "A Boy Named Sue" but then takes a turn for the serious and runs through various country-music tropes before totally overdoing it—which is the point. Again, this song has work to do in the movie.

Dolly Parton sings "One Emotion After Another", an intense song about the agonies and exhilarations of love, swooped up to great heights by Parton's tremendous voice: "I do love you baby but we can't get along / With or without each other it's all right or it's all wrong".

The next song, "Goin' Back to Heave", is sung by Stella Parton (Dolly's sister) and Kin Vassy. This is a somewhat boozy-sounding love duet and this particular recording is unique to the album and isn't in the movie. Maybe this is one of the Stallone Parton duets in the movie but given to Stella Parton and Kin Vassy for the record. I don't remember it, though.

"What a Heartache" is an intensely sad song and Dolly Parton is devastating with it. I should check if this is the song she does just solo in the movie. It's with a band here but the arrangement is great, particularly some of the electric bass slides.

Side A concludes with the big Act III number, "Stay Out of My Bedroom". This is the big moment the movie has been building to. Can Stallone sing? Can he sing and dance on stage in a glittery rhinetone cowboy outfit and win over an incredibly hostile NYC crowd? If you've seen a movie before, you probably know the answer! The song, like the movie itself, is infectiously joyful. The 1980s sucked in a lot of ways and one of those ways was the failure of this movie with both critics and audiences. And Sylvester Stallone, sure, he is who he is but I think it's actually kind of awe-inspiring that he did this movie, that he wanted to do this movie! He and Dolly Parton actually have wonderful chemistry and Stallone does his own singing. If you thought Brando in Guys and Dolls was impressive…

Side B opens with the first Stallone-Parton duet, "Woke Up in Love", which their characters perform at a Tennessee honky-tonk. In the movie this is also a significant test: can the Italian-American NYC cab driver be country enough for a real country audience? Again, if you've seen a movie before… but it doesn't matter because it's so much fun and all these Dolly Parton songs are really great. "Oh, I don't want to fall in love / I just want to fall in bed / Now that's exactly what we meant / But it's not exactly what we said."

Things get slow and serious for the gorgeous "God Won't Get You". How did Dolly Parton write so many incredibly good songs? The lyrics already carry devastating emotional impact but when brought to you by her flawless singing, they become irresistible forces.

To lighten the mood, Sly comes next to do a solo turn with the very strange song "Drinkin'stein'. But it doesn't really lighten the mood. Dolly Parton wrote this one, too, and this is a facet of hers that I wasn't previously aware of. In form and execution it's a drinking song but the lyrics are all about how some people are destroyed by alcohol. The chorus even has the line "Budweiser you've created a monster" while the verses report such things as "He's a good old boy at heart, like so many of us are / But when he's drinkin', that's something else again / Well, you can sneak on out and leave or you can sit and just agree / Or you can cross him, if you want your face knocked in". The arrangement is charged with Halloween energy, with sounds of howling wolves.

It's a relief to follow that with an upbeat and charming Sly/Dolly love duet. "Sweet Lovin' Friends" is a definite lift with the two leads trading lines: "Well, you're my kind of woman, you just naturally flow / You're my kinda man, you're always raring to go". The arrangement has some Mike Post in it for sure, particularly in the keyboard part.

Dolly Parton's brother Floyd Parton sings the next number, a song called "Waltz Me to Heaven". It's a sensuous waltz with dreamy steel guitar and the lyrics describe the lead up to a long-awaited romantic union: "Hold your heavenly body against mine so tight / As the band softly plays on this magical night".

After that we get physical and spiritual intensity of loving that rivals the Song of Solomon. "Butterflies" starts out with Dolly Parton singing "I would spin for you a blanket / Out of gold and silver threads / I would let my gentle bosom / Be the pillow for your head / I'd caress you perfect body / On a rosy bed at night / Play you love songs on a golden harp / And sing you Butterflies". Musically it has an insistent forward-driving pulse while keeping a sweet, swaying tenderness to the feel.

The album ends on a high note, with Parton and Stallone trading verses and trading lines in the chorus as they belt out lyrics declaring always to "be there" for each other. Such a great record and such a fun movie!