In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Great songs in terrible movies.
My college radio station wasn’t a radio station per se. Instead, it was a relic of an ill-begotten era when someone, somewhere thought cable radio would be the next big thing. I’m not sure if you were supposed to hook a cable up to your stereo, or if you’d listen through your TV, but whoever set up my college radio station—ACRN in Athens, Ohio—went all in on cable radio, and that, natch, was a big mistake. For years before we went online only, we struggled with very few listeners, something I totally understood. Just because we were doing great work doesn’t mean anyone knew how to get cable radio. I mean, I was the program director, and I didn’t even know how to listen.
Because no one was listening, we had problems getting DJs to cover all the shifts. It was easy enough to play tunes for two hours in the middle of the day between classes, when your friends might come by the station to hang out, but to try and convince someone to hang out in a hot classroom building by themselves from 2 to 7 a.m.? Forget it.
Because we had no listeners and therefore no ads, we had very little income, and thus no expensive equipment. Hence, no overnight automation. And that’s how ACRN ended up playing soundtrack albums on repeat most every single night. Casual listeners (of which, again, there were none) might think there was an actual DJ there mixing tracks rather than just, say, the Empire Records soundtrack jammed in a CD player. It’s a dumb idea, but given the circumstances, it was better than nothing.
My friend Michael introduced me to the Splendor soundtrack, plucking it from the stacks and saying that, despite us never having heard of the movie, the soundtrack was pretty boss. And it was, with all sorts of tracks and remixes from artists we loved, like The Chemical Brothers, Slowdive, and Spiritualized. My favorite cut was Moby’s remix of Blur’s “Beetlebum,” a track I’d already grown quite fond of in its original form. Driving and hypnotic, it fit right in with the rest of the soundtrack, becoming a whole that—since we hadn’t seen the movie yet—surely had to score some sort of cinematic greatness.
Boy, were we wrong. Eventually, after countless listens to that soundtrack, we finally managed to track down the movie, a Gregg Araki film that grossed about $45,000 at the box office. A heavy-handed clunker about a three-way open relationship involving both 90210’s Kathleen Robertson and That Thing You Do!’s Johnathon Schaech, the film has the potential to be fun and sexy enough, given its subject matter. Instead, it’s just boring, layered with dumb jokes and ha-ha, aren’t-we-clever “twists,” like the male leads being named Abel and Zed.
Regardless, I suppose I can chalk up Splendor’s enormous thud as just another lesson I learned at college: Great tunes do not a great movie make.