Everything I Do, pt. 7: A history of movie tie-in singles [August 18, 1991]
Plus: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, The Prodigy, and Metallica
This week’s Number 1 :
‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
I’ve been asking people about their memories of ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ and about 90% of the responses involve dodgy VHS copies of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Here’s the thing though: nobody remembers hearing this song in the movie. (EID)IDIFY only makes an appearance during the end credits. Which makes sense, because Bryan Adams’ Canadian soft rock stylings don’t really evoke an atmosphere of Crusades-era England.
What people are really remembering is the music video, which included a ton of footage from the movie. I get that. Every time I hear the start of the guitar solo, I immediately think of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio blowing onto Kevin Costner’s arrow.
(Incidentally, this video now seems to have been purged from the internet. Let me know in the comments if you have a link!)
Movie tie-ins were a huge deal in the 80s and 90s. Every week, Top of the Pops and MTV would show music videos that were almost indistinguishable from movie trailers.
Certainly, this form peaked at the end of the 20th century. But the synergy between the hit parade and the box office goes all the way back to the start of both.
The pre-chart era
The very first talkie was a musical. The Jazz Singer only features one line of dialogue (“folks, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”) but it contains several recordings of Al Jolson performances, and that’s what really brought the public in.
Who could resist an opportunity to go to your local picture house and see Al Jolson in blackface, singing an extremely problematic number called ‘Dirty Hands, Dirty Face’? Why, it’s an extremely racist miracle of technology!
There was an immediate synergy between the two forms. People went to see The Jazz Singer to hear Al Jolson, and they bought Al Jolson records because they liked The Jazz Singer.
Throughout the 30s, movie producers sought to exploit this synergy. Musicals became a big thing, with films Snow White and the Seven Dwarves providing some original smash hits.
But mostly, Hollywood tried to build movies around modern hits. Films like Pennies From Heaven and I Cover The Waterfront all featured existing hit songs.
Towards the end of the decade, two big massive hits managed to demonstrate the enormous potential of original movie songs. The Wizard of Oz flopped on its release, but ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ became a big wartime hit. Holiday Inn may have performed pretty well at the box office in 1942, but the song ‘White Christmas’ went on to become the best-selling song of all time until Princess Diana died.
The early chart era
The very first UK Top 40 is actually only a Top 12, but it still manages to fit in two songs from movie soundtracks: ‘The Isle of Inisfree’ from The Quiet Man and ‘Do Not Forsake Me’ from High Noon. People really like to buy songs from the movies.
And then rock and roll happened. ‘Rock Around The Clock’ came out in 1954, eventually inspiring a movie of the same name that featured a number of contemporary performers. There were a bunch of these rocksploitation movies at the time. The Girl Can’t Help It is a very good one. Check out the amazing Gene Vincent scene from that film:
Meanwhile, original movie soundtracks were providing a steady stream of bankable hits: ‘Moonriver’, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, ‘That’s Amore’ from The Caddy, ‘Born Free’ from Born Free, ‘Windmills of my Mind’ from The Thomas Crown Affair , and ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Things were a bit leaner in the 70s, mainly because movies themselves were changing. John Travolta seemed to be the only person who could comfortably straddle the divide between cinema and the record store, with Saturday Night Fever and Grease providing some of the biggest hits of that decade.
The MTV era
MTV launched in 1981, creating a sudden and insatiable demand for music videos. But who was the first person to include movie footage in their video?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was Christopher Cross. ‘Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)’ came out in 1981. The video mostly features Cross noodling in the studio, with the odd clip of Dudley Moore being drunk and falling over.
But plenty of movie tie-ins didn’t go down this road. The 1982 video for ‘Eye of the Tiger’, for example, doesn’t have a single clip from Rocky. The breakthrough came in 1984 when Ivan Reitman directed the video for the title song from his new movie, Ghostbusters.
‘Ghostbusters’ was the Citizen Kane of tacky vertical integration. The video looked great because it’s got exciting footage from the movie and cameos from the stars. Because the video pops, it got heavy rotation on MTV. Because it’s on MTV, the song went shooting up the charts. Because the song was so big, people went to see the movie. Everyone involved made out like a bandit.
And this is how we arrive at the 90s, with movie tie-ins everywhere. A list of the 20 best-selling singles of the decade includes:
‘Love is All Around’ (Four Weddings and a Funeral)
‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
‘I Will Always Love You’ (The Bodyguard)
‘My Heart Will Go On’ (Titanic)
‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ (Dangerous Minds)
(EID)IDIFY is the third Number One of 1991 to tie into a movie, after ‘The One and Only’ and ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ each spent five weeks at the top. The tie-in might be as old as cinema, but the 90s are undoubtedly a golden age for the genre.
The movie tie-in hasn’t completely died out, but it’s definitely in decline.
The only big recent hit that springs to mind is ‘See You Again’ from Furious 7. There’s also the quite good ‘Bitch Boss’ from Birds of Prey and dire ‘Don’t Call Me Angel’ from the equally dire Charlie’s Angels reboot. Neither were global smash hits.
Again, there are lots of reasons for this. MTV only broadcasts reality shows now and young people watch music videos on YouTube on their phone. The movie/trailer hybrid doesn’t have the same allure as it once did.
Plus, Hollywood is leaning into these big franchises now. Matt Damon was complaining recently about how the new system is killing off movie stars. What chance does the humble movie tie-in single have?
Of course, there is one place where the tie-in is still doing well: animated movies. ‘Happy’ from Despicable Me 2, ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen, and ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ from Trolls were among the biggest hits of the 2010s.
So, there you go. If we ever again have a movie tie-in on the scale of (EID)IDIFY, it’ll probably be sung by a fucking Minion.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 8 (↑10): ‘Summertime’ — DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Now here’s a man who knows about tie-in singles. ‘Summertime’ probably got a bit of a bump from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the first season of which had ended in May.
This was the second phase of Smith’s career, after his initial success with songs like ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’. Unfortunately, the first phase had ended with Smith in a spot of botherover unpaid taxes. His earnings were garnished, which means that if you bought a copy of ‘Summertime’ in 1991, some of your cash went directly to the I.R.S.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is actually based on a true story, although it’s not Smith’s. Record producer Benny Mendina was born on the mean streets of East L.A., but he spent his teen years living with a rich Beverley Hills family. Mendinda developed the idea with his pal Quincy Jones, and then pitched it to Smith when they bumped into each other at a taping of The Arsenio Hall Show.
Number 9 (New Entry): ‘Charly’ — The Prodigy
Did you know that Kenny Everett was a guest vocalist on a Prodigy record? Kind of. Everett did the miaows in the Charley Says cartoons from the 70s, so that is his voice on this track.
Number 13 (↑35): ‘Love…Thy Will Be Done’ — Martika
Looking back, it’s kind of messed up that we assumed Prince’s Paisley Park was some kind of weird sex dungeon, and that every woman who set foot in the place was subjected to hitherto undiscovered perversions.
That was the assumption about Martika, who co-wrote this absolute monster of a track with the wee purple fella. In 2016, she officially denied the rumours and said that her mother chaperoned every meeting with Prince.
Number 29 (↓27): ‘Near Wild Heaven’ — R.E.M.
The only R.E.M. single with Bill Berry on lead vocals. Berry has become a big fantasy sports guy in the years since R.E.M. broke up. He even plays fantasy golf, which I didn’t realise is a thing.
Number 39 (New Entry): ‘You Belong In Rock ‘n’ Roll’ — Tin Machine
Tin Machine weren’t that bad, I guess, but as a Bowie fan I’d still rather not think about them too much.
Album of the Week
Metallica (but everyone calls it The Black Album) — Metallica
Happy 30th birthday to the album that caused neck pain that my chiropractor treated as recently as last Wednesday.
Some metal purists see this record as Metallica’s big sell-out move. To be fair, the data backs them up: The Black Album sold 16 million copies and contains all of the Metallica song that non-metal fans can whistle.
There’s one hooky pop song (‘Enter Sandman’), one smoochy slow ballad (‘Nothing Else Matters’), and one slightly prog-ey track with cringy lyrics (‘The Unforgiven’), and a song about werewolves (‘Of Wolf And Man’). Truly, there was something for everyone here.
Metallica deserve a lot of credit for their 1991 success. This was a febrile moment in rock history, with hair metal imploding, grunge emerging, and a much darker death metal about to dominate the hard rock scene.
Metallica survived by just kind of ignoring it all. The Black Album doesn’t really sound like anything other than The Black Album. It’s just the sound of a band focusing on their strengths and paying no heed to the world outside the studio.
Things only started going a bit wrong for Metallica years later when they made an effort to be relevant. Oh well, at least James never tried to rap.
The end of the first half of the Bryan Adamstravaganza! After that, there’s only eight weeks to go! It’ll all be over by Christmas!