Hooks ‘N’ You: “Still Crazy”

Written by Hooks 'N' You, Music, Popdose Interviews

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If you’ve been dreading the return of this column ever since Popdose ended its holiday hiatus, then allow me to tell you who you have to blame for my decision to come out of hiding: the one and only Dw. Dunphy. There had been precious little in the way of concern about the absence of “Hooks ‘N’ You” from the Popdose landscape, and fair enough to that, given how much fantastic stuff is already filling the site on a daily basis, but Mr. Dunphy called me out on Facebook for the column’s absence, and I felt obliged to rise to the challenge and prove that, yes, I’m still around. And what better way to prove this than by spotlighting the soundtrack to a film with a title that handily describes my ongoing level of sanity?

There are plenty of great rock-themed flicks out there, and, indeed, many of them have some phenomenal soundtracks to accompany them. I have found, however, that not nearly enough fans of this genre are aware of “Still Crazy.” The film chronicles a ’70s stadium rock band called Strange Fruit, which ended its existence rather badly after first suffering through the unexpected death of their original lead singer and then replacing him, only to have their stage set-up struck by lightning during the 1977 Wisbech Rock Festival, an event which led to the break-up of the group. In 1998, the Fruits – as they are prone to call themselves – attempt to perform a resurrection of sorts and not only bring the band back together but rewrite history and be remembered for their music rather than their misfortunes.

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It’s a blending of bits and pieces from several real-life tales, but “Still Crazy” is also a film that achieves a remarkable degree of realism in the way it portrays the majority of the former band members not as a bunch of guys living posh off their royalties but, rather, real people who have spent the interim years since their original success having to struggle to make ends meet. Plus, it has a great cast, including Bill Nighy, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall, Hans Matheson, Stephen Rea, and Juliet Aubrey, currently best known as the villainous Helen Cutter on BBC America’s “Primeval.” Most importantly, though, it’s full of more musical references than you can shake a stick at. My personal favorite has always been when Connolly’s character, Strange Fruit’s longtime roadie, drives up in the band’s new tour bus and boasts that it offers “tinted windows, air conditioning, and twin portaloos, not to mention an extensive library of pornography, courtesy of the Psychedelic Furs!”

Given this information, it will likely not surprise you that is a film very much beloved by quite a few musicians, including the members of the Fratellis, who not only named their first album after Stephen Rea’s character, Tony Costello, but, indeed, made time during the acceptance of their award for British Breakthrough Act at the 2007 BRIT Awards to thank the members of Strange Fruit. Furthermore, those who have seen and fallen in love with “Still Crazy” are almost certain to run out and purchase its soundtrack…and this is where we transition from talking about an unheralded film to discussing an unheralded album.

The best bit for music geeks about the soundtrack to “Still Crazy” is the spotting of the various names which pop up in the songwriting credits:

* Jeff Lynne
* Chris Difford
* Mick Jones (the one out of Foreigner)
* Russ Ballard (former frontman for Argent)
* Clive Langer (who, with production partner Alan Winstanley, has twiddled the knobs for dozens of fine albums)
* Marti Frederiksen (a regular Aerosmith and Motley Crue collaborator, but he also provided the vocals for Stillwater in “Almost Famous”)
* Rosie Vela (whose 1986 album, Zazu, deserves its own column at some point, given its Gary Katz production and Becker & Fagen contributions)
* Guy Pratt (bassist extraordinaire, who’s worked with everyone from Icehouse to The Orb but is probably best known for playing the Roger Waters role in the Gilmour-led incarnation of Pink Floyd)
* Oh, and leave us not forget Owen Vyse, who was…wait for it…the lead singer of Starclub. (Hey, I don’t know about you, but I played “Hard to Get” to death when it first came out, and I’ll gladly give the gentleman his due.)

Perhaps the best known song on the soundtrack is “The Flame Still Burns,” but to be fair, it’s a track that holds up a lot better once you’ve actually seen the film and can better appreciate the emotional heft behind the lyrics. That’s not intended as a holier-than-thou statement; it’s just that, well, it’s almost eight minutes long, and when a song passes the five minute mark, I’ve found that it sometimes helps to have a little bit of emotional investment to inspire you to make it to the end. Not that that stopped the track from earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song in 1999. (It’s also rarely remembered that the film itself scored a nod in the category of Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical…but it did, dammit!)

Personally, the song that never fails to make me want to cheer along with the crowd is “All Over The World,” which is about as great a stadium rock anthem as you could hope for. Really, though, the whole album is filled with songs which capture the feel of ’70s hard rock from the UK as well as “Almost Famous” succeeded for our side of the pond. There are even a few ventures into other genres of the era, including a bit of psychedelia from Hans Matheson (“Live For Today“) and a rollicking bit of folk-rock from the aforementioned Mr. Connolly (“Stealin’“).

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I had the opportunity to meet Timothy Spall, a.k.a. Beano, Strange Fruit’s drummer, when I was in Los Angeles recently (he was promoting his role as Fagin in an upcoming PBS production of “Oliver Twist”), and when I mentioned that I was a big fan of “Still Crazy,” his eyes lit up.

“Oh, are you?” he asked, with a grin. “It’s a good movie, innit? I loved doing it. Interestingly enough, the guys who wrote it, Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, have written three of the most seminal TV series in Britain: ‘Porridge,’ ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet,’ which I was in, and ‘The Likely Lads.’ They’ve lived here in the U.S. for years, and they’re screenwriters, but they also have a love for rock music, so this film was kind of an embodiment of that wonderful British institution of the failed rock band that regurgitates itself. But it’s a wonderful story about triumph over adversity of people who are really reluctantly trying to keep themselves alive.”

In a sense, Spall also did an American equivalent to “Still Crazy” when he appeared in “Rock Star,” a film about a band trying to keep itself alive by bringing new blood into their organization.

“That was one of the first movies I did here on American soil,” said Spall, “and when I got there, all the young actors who were playing the band, they’d all been given copies of ‘Still Crazy’ as a research thing to see what an English band was like!”

Spall still thinks fondly of the “Still Crazy” soundtrack. “They’re great songs,” he said. “One of ‘em won an Ivor Novello award: ’The Flame Still Burns,’ which is one of my favorites. But I think the best is the one from when they go and do their first triumphant gig. What’s it called…? ‘All Over the World,’ that’s it. Great song.”

Great song. Great soundtrack. Great movie. Go investigate “Still Crazy” post-haste…and if you’ve already seen it, then see it again, because, go on, you know you could use a few good songs and a few good laughs.