[…continued from last post]
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one more project that The Blow Monkeys were involved in during 1987 that you might have heard of. An album that sold 37 million copies called the “Dirty Dancing” original soundtrack. The period romance that became Sensation Of Its Generation® was conceived as a low budget film by Vestron Pictures; the new film division of the former home video concern then still riding on the fumes from the sales of “The Making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller'” tape from a few years earlier.
“Dirty Dancing” was a $6M film that eventually turned into a pop culture juggernaut that grossed over fifty fines the initial cost. As we know now, it became a license to print money, but that didn’t mean that it was made with money to spare. Crafting a soundtrack filled with early 60s period classics and new material was a challenge on the film’s lean budget. The soundtrack’s producer, Jimmy Ienner had to stretch a scanty $200K pretty far. Certain songs had to have rights purchased. Others were more flexible, which is how we ended up with The Blow Monkeys covering Leslie Gore’s 1963 proto-feminist hit “You Don’t Own Me” instead of Ms. Gore’s version.
There’s actually a blog out there called [somewhat dryly] “Dirty Dancing Analysis” which has been running for 13 years with writing about “Dirty Dancing” phenomenon being its sole focus! Readers of PPM may have thought that some of my Simple Minds threads were long…! The writer theorizes about costs driving the decision and when we factor the investment or RCA Records in exchange for soundtrack rights, the decision to place one of their new bands who had a breakout his on both sides of The Atlantic makes a kind of sense.
The amazing thing was that while there were 35 million copies of the “Dirty Dancing” OST out there, even I managed to snag a copy [on LP] for my Blow Monkeys collection many years ago. But being on vinyl, I had never heard the song that represents The Blow Monkeys to many, many more masses than the small subset who read this blog. Until this morning.
The period perfect smoky sax and bittersweet strings mark this as being of the “Animal Magic” period of the band’s development. Sure enough, it was produced by Peter Wilson and not Michael Baker, who had just helmed the band’s third album. Dr. Robert pulled a trick out of the Bryan Ferry playbook† by singing the Lesley Gore song without changing the gender on the lyric; making it explicitly queer beyond the subtext already carried by the song that came simply by being sung by Ms. Gore; a singer who was gay.
† see: “It’s My Party” from “These Foolish Things“
In keeping with the period feel of the track, guitars were seriously downplayed with sax and strings carrying the song. The penchant of the band for using real string sections played to this song’s strength. The tune is notable for being the only Blow Monkey’s track ever, apart from “I Backed A Winner In You,” to obviously feature the Demon Barbers again on barbershop quartet backing harmonies.
Unfortunately, Dr. Robert’s decision to unleash the excessive amounts of vibrato that took his performance over the top ended up rubbing me the wrong way. And his ascent into an atypical falsetto for the song’s shrill climax was salt in the wounds for me. Rare is the Blow Monkeys song that gets scuttled by a Dr. Robert performance, but this is the one. His scatting in the closing seconds was a case of too little, too late for this listener.
Dr. Robert remembers that the producers of the film came to his with a short list of songs for him to pick to perform, lending credence to the theorizing on “Dirty Dancing Analysis” and he went with “You Don’t Own Me” simply because it was the one song that he already knew. I’m sure that if he had an inkling of how many millions of copies the OST would sell, that he might have hoped for some of his original material to have been included otherwise. Instead, the writers of “You Don’t Own Me,” who resented The Doctor’s interpretation, managed to assuage their angst with the not insubstantial royalties that comes from an album with your song selling 35M copies. The Blow Monkey’s brush with pop immortality having been ephemeral, the band now turned to making their fourth album in a changing British Pop environment.
Next: …Never Bet Against The House