Music marks time in all of our lives. Often we hear a song on the radio or in a movie, and our mind instantly jumps to the first time we heard that song—or the last time. The message of the song might be what grabs us, or maybe it’s who we were with when we heard it every day. The songs we listen to in high school or junior high are the songs that make us wish for days past—even the not-so-great days.
Movies are part of that phenomenon, too. Perhaps that’s why movie soundtracks are incredibly effective. They not only anchor us instantly to the setting of a film, but they draw on our own emotions in an almost involuntary way. They make us laugh and cry, and can even sway us as we watch a story unfold.
One of my favorite films, famous for its soundtrack, is the 1973 feature, American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas. This adventure takes place over a single night in 1962, at the end of summer.
The basic plot involves two young high school graduates, Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve Bolander (Ron Howard) who must decide whether to leave for college the next morning, or stay in town, and redirect their futures. The film is about change and how emotions drive decisions that alter entire lives. While the story is rich in angst, romance, comedy, fear and conflict, the backbone of the movie is the music. The majority of the action takes place in cars cruising the main drag, at the local drive-in, and at the Freshman Sock Hop—all with the music of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s flowing from the speakers.
Besides the remarkable cast, that includes Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, Paul LeMat, Candy Clark, Suzanne Somers and lots of others, one remarkable and maybe the most memorable character in the film is the disc jockey on the radio, played by the real DJ, Wolfman Jack. His deep graveled voice announces the songs and dedications throughout the film, giving an almost omniscient property to his character.
The 45 songs on the American Graffiti soundtrack are incredible, not only in sheer numbers, but also in the quality and content. Besides the fun summer songs like “At the Hop,” “Love Potion #9,” “Rock Around the Clock” and “Come and Go with Me,” it also includes timeless love ballads like “I Only Have Eyes for You,” Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Since I Don’t Have You.”
The American Graffiti soundtrack album cover was even more recognizable when it came out than the movie poster. It sported an orange background and neon-styled lettering over a pretty teenage female car hop balancing a tray in one hand. Any good vinyl collection has this soundtrack in it.
If you haven’t seen American Graffiti yet, get a copy on DVD or Blu-ray and get ready for a blast from the past with hot cars, fun music, and some very big—very young actors. This was one of the first movies I remember seeing where they ended the film with “where are they now” shots and explanations about what happened to each of the main characters after the film, repeating the idea that one night’s decisions carry far-reaching consequences. Enjoy!
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!