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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

That’s Turtle Power: 22 soundtrack songs that double as film synopses (part 1)

Illustration for article titled That’s Turtle Power: 22 soundtrack songs that double as film synopses (part 1)

1. Partners In Kryme, “Turtle Power”

With the release of the new, Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came the debut of “Shell Shocked,” a song by Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, and Ty Dolla $ign that fulfills the Ninja Turtles franchise requisite of a rap song about being a Ninja Turtle. But with its generic lyrics about fighting battles and how “we all want our cut like Shredder,” the song’s function as a true Ninja Turtles narrative pales in comparison even to Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap”—which, really, is mostly about the Turtles’ dance skills. And it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Partners In Kryme’s “Turtle Power.” The lyrics of “Turtle Power” are so thorough in their recounting of the 1990 film’s plotline—from the Turtles’ origins through their first meeting with April O’Neil through the abduction of Splinter that leads to the climactic confrontation—you don’t even need to see Ninja Turtles, possibly in any iteration. [SO]

2-4. Will Smith, “Men In Black,” “Black Suits Comin’,” “Wild Wild West”

Will Smith is practically the Randy Newman of movie-soundtrack rap, all but cornering the genre with his simplistic, pop-friendly recounting of the plots of the first two Men In Black movies and Wild Wild West. “Men In Black” explains the “galaxy defenders” mode of dress and M.O. (“Walk in shadow, move in silence / Guard against extraterrestrial violence”), while the sequel’s “Black Suits Comin’” devotes an entire verse to calling out its villain (“There’s this chick right / Serleena makin’ me sick, right”)—leaving little for Pitbull to expand on with Men In Black III’s “Back In Time,” so he mostly just makes it about himself. The formula proved so successful, Smith “done done it again,” even anachronistically, with “Wild Wild West.” Though sadly, not for Seven Pounds. [SO]

5. Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, “City Of Crime”

In the only time the phrase “rapping by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks” has ever been uttered—at least, to date—“City Of Crime” caps off the end credits of 1987’s Dragnet with the double homicide of the two actors trading rap verses. With Aykroyd still in his Joe Friday guise and Hanks trying his best Ad-Rock screech, the disproportionately dynamic duo stumble their way through the film’s plot (“They’ve got the girl all frightened / Now that’s not nice / I think she is the subject of a sacrifice!”), as well as through the rhyming dictionary. Accompanied by a video of the two actors doing a choreographed danced in tight shorts, “We’ve stumbled into a major crime” becomes the realest lyric Dan Aykroyd ever spit. [SO]

6-8. Isaac Hayes, “Theme From Shaft” / Curtis Mayfield, “Superfly” / Willie Hutch, “Theme Of The Mack”

The blaxploitation movie genre was practically a delivery system for soulful goodness, with the wah-wah-laden scores meant to accompany their streetwise tales of pimps and pushers often outshining the films they hailed from. Examples range from Bobby Womack’s teary rendition of ghetto life for Across 110th Street to James Brown’s lazy paycheck-cashing on Black Caesar, but the best are the big three: Shaft, Super Fly, and The Mack. Isaac Hayes’ ode to the “black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks” made John Shaft immortal with a single song. Willie Hutch’s The Mack and Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly spin their protagonist’s doomed attempts to rise above their respective lots across an entire musical’s worth of songs, with tunes acting as funky Greek choruses to the far-out tragedies on screen. [SO]

9. Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger”

James Bond movie themes don’t act as summations of their plots terribly often, but there’s a perception that they do, thanks mostly to “Goldfinger”—Shirley Bassey’s epic contribution to the third film of Eon Productions’ Bond series—written from the perspective of the titular, bullion-hoarding villain. Bassey’s ferocious performance sells “Goldfinger” in spite of high-camp lyrics like, “Golden words he will pour in your ear / But his lies can’t disguise what you fear.” But in a noble quest to replicate “Goldfinger,” the themes of subsequent Bond films try to deploy the plot-mirroring lyrics to diminishing returns, with Tom Jones’ similar “Thunderball” and Lulu’s “The Man With The Golden Gun” ranking among the low points of the Bond music oeuvre. And not even Bassey could salvage 1979’s “Moonraker,” which ushered in the demise of the “Goldfinger”-style Bond theme. Still, it’s a real shame no one took a run at rhyming “Octopussy.” [JA]

10-11. Bobby Brown, “On Our Own” / Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters”

“On Our Own” is a serviceably catchy piece of new jack swing, an L.A. Reid- and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds-produced declaration of Bobby Brown’s independence from New Edition. However, it’s also the first track and lead single from the Ghostbusters II soundtrack, so Reid, Edmonds, and their songwriting partner Daryl Simmons also grafted on the plot-summarizing rap verse that opens the video edit of the track. In addition to prepping moviegoers for a world in which the Ghostbusters have fallen on hard times, the verse features what is, surprisingly, not the only lyrical shout-out to Vigo The Carpathian in hip-hop history. (For that, you can thank “New Faces V2” by Mac Miller, Da$h, and Earl Sweatshirt.) The verse goes into greater specifics than Ray Parker Jr.’s original “Ghostbusters” theme, which at least references the in-film TV spot that served as the main inspiration for the song. (The main inspiration that can’t be heard in Huey Lewis And The News’ Sports, that is.) [EA]

12. Huey Lewis And The News, “Back In Time”
As the story goes, Huey Lewis And The News were asked to pen a theme song for Ghostbusters. The band declined, but was later shocked to hear Ray Parker Jr. declaring he ain’t afraid of no ghosts over riffs jacked from the band’s “I Want A New Drug” (a matter later settled out of court). The next time Hollywood came calling, Lewis was so willing to play ball he even wound up on screen, playing the Hill Valley High administrator who offers the final word on Marty McFly’s battle of the bands audition. Perhaps Lewis was upset with the Guitar Center wanking Marty pulls all over “The Power Of Love,” one of two songs he provided for the soundtrack. The other, “Back In Time,” delves deep into the film’s mythos, with horns that honk like a DeLorean DMC-12 and Lewis pleading with Doc Brown, “Please don’t drive 88.” It’s unlikely Marty would ever be as formal with Brown as Lewis (“Tell me, doctor / Where are we going this time?”), but as his cameo illustrates, the version of Huey Lewis that exists in the original Back To The Future timeline is nothing if not formal. [EA]

13. Hoyt Axton, “Mitchell”

The final film screened during Joel Hodgson’s tenure at Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mitchell provides ample opportunity for Hodgson and his robotic companions to riff on the utter repulsiveness of Joe Don Baker’s titular police detective. Hoyt Axton’s Mitchell theme sets up plenty of those jokes (Axton: “My my my my Mitchell / What would your mama say?” Crow T. Robot: “She’d say, ‘He’s not mine, you can’t prove it.’”), but Axton gets in his own licks at Baker’s loutish character, too. The lyric sheet reads more like a rap sheet, with each offense playing out at some point during
Mitchell’s running time: Lunching with gangsters, “crackin’ heads,” booking love interest Linda Evans for possession of “a little grass.” Mitchell’s a product of The
Rockford Files age, and his many contradictions would’ve made a great fit for a modern-day antihero drama. But Axton’s song paints the law-bending cop just as he is—and just as MST3K saw him: a real asshole. [EA]

14. Stephen Bishop, “Animal House”

Prior to the end credits, Stephen Bishop’s biggest contribution to National Lampoon’s Animal House is the scene where John Belushi smashes his acoustic guitar. Bishop’s theme song isn’t any easier on the ears: Affecting a Frankie Valli-falsetto, Bishop runs through the membership rosters of Delta Tau Chi and Omega Theta Pi, nodding toward the frat boys’ main squeezes and the faculty at Faber College. Bishop’s nasal whine renders all lyrics beyond the refrain—a booming “Animal House!”—nearly unintelligible, leading to the tune’s best use outside the movie: as a throwaway punchline in The Simpsons episode, “Margical History Tour.” In fact, Homer Simpson’s account of the film’s plot might be more faithful than Bishop’s. [EA]

15-16. Queen, “Flash” and “Princes Of The Universe”

Queen reigned supreme when it came to campy ’80s sci-fi themes. The band’s “Flash” for space opera Flash Gordon lays out the plot using snippets of dialogue (“Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the earth!”) interspersed with a catchy, “Flash! Ah-ah!” chorus that’s long outlived the movie. That isn’t the case for “Princes Of The Universe,” one of several barely remembered tunes from the band’s score for Highlander—and eventually, the theme of the ’90s TV show. Turning the overstuffed Highlander mythology into a mini-rock opera, Freddie Mercury explains the ongoing power struggles among the movie’s immortal characters and their eventual final stand, while also belting out lines like “Bring on the girls!” [NC]

17. Cobra Starship, “Bring It (Snakes On A Plane)”

Snakes On A Plane’s basic plot—Samuel L. Jackson battling agitated snakes while trying to save a plane full of passengers—wasn’t exactly deep. Naturally, the movie’s Cobra Starship theme song simplifies things even further. Despite allusions that the snakes are metaphors for greedy businessmen, “Bring It (Snakes On A Plane)” mainly recaps the reptile-filled scenario (“It’s time to fly / Tonight the sky’s alive / With lizards serpentine”), expresses vague assurances that they’ll “make it out alive,” then announces a climactic drop in cruising altitude. Still, the music maintains an appropriate us-against-the-snakes mentality that amps up the skeletal drama. [AZ]

18. Dolly Parton, “Straight Talk”

Straight Talk, Dolly Parton’s 1992 movie about life as a fake radio psychologist, isn’t exactly the singer’s best movie work, but at least it’s got a catchy title track. “Straight Talk” finds Parton asking listeners to “tell me how you really feel” and to “listen in and listen up,” because “we’ve all got something to say.” Like her song for 9 To 5, which is the anthem of anyone’s workday, that could seem generic. But “Straight Talk” also specifically compares Parton’s character, Dr. Shirley, to Oprah and Phil Donahue and asks listeners to “call me, call me” before using the character’s hokey radio catchphrase, “What’s cookin’, America,” thus making it inseparable from that time Parton pretended to listen to strangers’ problems on the radio. [MEa]

19. Prince, “Batdance”

Boosted to No. 1 by the success of 1989’s Batman, “Batdance” is Prince’s ode to all the things that are purple, opulent, and as funky as the Caped Crusader. The lyrics—punctuated by Prince screaming, “Get the funk up!”—offer a rather sketchy outline of the film, one that sees Prince (As Batman? As the Joker? Both?) declaring of Vicky Vale, “Ooh yeah, I want to bust that body.” But the song and accompanying video are so packed with dialogue snippets and Prince’s weird costume shout-outs, it doesn’t really matter. [MEa]


Prince - Batdance (1989)


20. Jerry Reed, “Eastbound And Down”

Over riffs as folksy as its accompanying movie, Jerry Reed’s “Eastbound And Down” offers an old-fashioned balladeer’s recounting of Smokey And The Bandit’s plot about illegally transporting truckloads of Coors. Lyrics like “Well the boys are thirsty in Atlanta / And there’s beer in Texarkana” succinctly describe the movie’s harebrained plot—especially with Reed imploring Burt Reynolds’ Bandit to “keep your foot hard on the pedal, son” and watch out for Jackie Gleason’s “Old Smokey,” who’s “got them ears on.” Reed also penned a couple of other descriptive tracks for Smokey, including “The Legend,” which describes some of Bandit’s high jinks prior to the movie’s timeline. [MEa]

21. MC Hammer, “Addams Groove”

Aside from “Ninja Rap,” perhaps nothing embodies the particular brand of mass-market pandering that shaped the minds of children in the early ’90s better than MC Hammer’s “Addams Groove.” The song from 1991’s The Addams Family combines shout-outs to its individual members (Cousin Itt even gets his own verse) with a plea for other outcasts to embrace their individuality (“It’s okay to be yourself / Take foolish pride and put it aside / Like the Addams, yo!”)—all wrapped up in a glossy, danceable package. The video for “Addams Groove,” complete with charmingly outdated CGI, takes the nostalgia factor up to 11. (Bonus: A behind-the-scenes video, “Addams Groove: Diggin’ The Groove,” sees a young Christina Ricci praising Hammer’s dance skills and Raul Julia uttering the priceless words, “It was a lot of fun doing it. I got to sword fight with the Hammer.”) [KR]

22. The Spinners, “Spaceballs”

By the time of Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs in 1987, The Spinners were several years removed from their days of topping the R&B charts. Singing a synth-funk ditty about “the mothers of the galaxy” for Brooks’ Star Wars spoof was probably, at the very least, a fun little lark then. The Spinners certainly give their group-harmony all on goofy lyrics about “goin’ cruisin’ in a spaceship” and how they’re “gonna steal your air,” creating a combination of lyrics and music as idiotic—yet undeniably effective—as 1-2-3-4-5. [SO]

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