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You know, writing about cutouts in the digital age is more difficult than it looks. Not a week goes by that some knucklehead doesn’t decide to start up a reissue label, hoping to license crappy old records on the cheap and siphon mythical big bucks out of niche markets. (For instance, as we discovered last week, both the Village People’s Rendezvous and The Ethel Merman Disco Album are in print.) To find an album that’s both out of print and worth writing about is easier said than done. (For instance, I’ve had a copy of the last Quarterflash album in the Cutouts Gone Wild! on-deck circle for close to a year.)
But this? This, friends, is the magic fucking bullet. Today we gather to discuss an album that will never be in print so long as Tom Hanks, or any of his heirs, walk the earth.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Dragnet soundtrack.
It’s a movie nobody ever talks about anymore, but the Dragnet movie — starring Dan Aykroyd as…well, shit, let’s just take a look at the synopsis:
Sgt. Joe Friday’s nephew is involuntarily assigned to a smart-alecky, street-wise partner, Pep Streebeck, and they are charged to investigate a series of religious cult crimes in Los Angeles. The two cops follow the trail to a phony televangelist, the Reverend Jonathan Whirley. From there, they are only a step away from uncovering an Orange County-based religious cult calling itself P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy). After sneaking into a secret ceremony, Friday falls in love with the sacrificial virgin Connie Swail. So much so that even his superior Captain Bill Gannon orders him off the case, but Friday continues on.
Aykroyd was Friday, Hanks was Streebeck, and and the movie was awful — one of the bigger disappointments of the year. It tried to be both a parody and an homage to the old TV show (Harry Morgan even plays the police chief), but it sucked at either, at least partly because of the troublingly high Aykroyd quotient: an Aykroyd in front of the camera, an Aykroyd getting a screenwriting credit, and two — two! — Aykroyds on the soundtrack.
Oh, the soundtrack. Children of today, who are too young to have experienced the joy and wonder of the ’80s soundtrack album, my heart goes out to you. Your closest point of reference to the wonderful trainwrecks your elders experienced over their closing credits is probably Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page’s cover of “Kashmir,” which although legitimately terrible, in no way compares to what I’m about to show you.
Behold the rapping, dancing duo of Aykroyd and Hanks:
(And yes, I’m aware of the fact that the audio and video are terrible. Trust me, this is one case when lower fidelity is preferable.)
The video you just watched, mouth agape, eyes full of dumb wonder, was for “City of Crime” (download), a tragedy of Biblical proportions that went straight the fuck into heavy rotation on MTV in the summer of ’87. (Yes, AOR nerds, that’s Glenn Hughes and Pat Thrall you hear on the track. And see in the video, too, if I’m not mistaken.) This song makes me wish I knew Tom Hanks, so I could play it loud whenever he came over. I’d play the video, too. Dragnet marks a sort of mid-career high point for Dan Aykroyd (file under: “At least it isn’t Nothing But Trouble“), but it’s easily one of the worst things Hanks has ever been involved with. You could fit the entire run of Bosom Buddies, The Money Pit, and Joe vs. the Volcano six times lengthwise in here.
But I digress. Back to the music. Is this a novelty soundtrack? No sir. Why, who kicks things off on the first track but Patti LaBelle? Her irritating hit “On My Own” notwithstanding, solo success proved elusive for Patti in the ’80s, but goddamn if she didn’t keep popping up on soundtrack after soundtrack, and here she is again, demanding “Just the Facts” (download). (Fact one: Patti LaBelle sucks.)
So we’ve got Patti LaBelle and a Tom Hanks/Dan Aykroyd rap duet. What’s the next logical step? If you answered “Art of Noise,” then punch yourself in the face, because you know this soundtrack far too well. Yes, Trevor Horn’s favorite acoustic folk combo is here, whipping up a brand new, totally ’80s version of the “Dragnet” theme (download). And if you’ve got Art of Noise on the soundtrack, shit, you had damn well better get yourself a piping hot cup of New Edition. I’m reasonably certain that “Helplessly in Love” (download) has nothing to do with anything in the film, but it’s probably the best thing here, a glossy ball of ’80s R&B (now with 100% more synth harp!)
The piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance, however, is “Dance or Die” (download), credited to Peter Aykroyd and Pat Thrall, which bears the delightful distinction of being one of the nuttiest songs I’ve ever heard in my life (this includes the entire recorded output of the Shaggs). It’s like technically proficient outsider music, if you can imagine such a thing, and for almost 21 years now, I’ve been trying to figure out anything about this song — such as who wrote it and why — that will help explain its reason for being. I know Aykroyd sings “the gods are angry” a few dozen times — and they surely were — but the rest of the song has me stumped. It’s like one of those horrible, kitschy pieces of poster art that were so popular in the ’90s — the ones that “turned into” another picture if you stared at them long enough. I keep listening to it, hoping it’ll reveal itself to me, but it doesn’t, and I still can’t turn away.
Agh. Anyway, the rest of the soundtrack consists of boring instrumental pieces from Ira Newborn, who should have known better than to get involved with this batch of dookie, but must have been blinded by his friendship with Aykroyd. That probably explains a lot of people’s involvement in this turkey, actually; Dan’s brother was really the only one done any favors here. Which reminds me — if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to “Dance or Die” again.