Popdose Rewind: Soundtrack Saturday: “Bull Durham”
“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” — Walt Whitman
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.. I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” — Annie Savoy
This post originally ran five years ago, on the eve of the 2009 All-Star Game. It was pretty popular at the time, but the links had gone dead. With this year’s All-Star Game set to be played on July 15, I thought it’d be a nice opportunity to revisit the post, update it a little, and add some bonus features to make it “fresh” for those of you read it back then. Oh yeah, the music is live again, too.
At the time, I suggested to Kelly Stitzel that she feature Bull Durham for an installment of her wonderful Soundtrack Saturday column. I was shocked — shocked, I tell ya! — to find out she’d never seen writer-director Ron Shelton’s 1988 summer hit, one of the best sports movies of all time, if not the best movie about baseball. It’s also one of the finest romantic comedies of the past 25 years (I’m sure that Kelly has seen it by now, right Kelly?). Kelly offered me the opportunity to compile the complete soundtrack to one of my favorite films.
First-time director Shelton drew from his own experiences as a minor-league ball player for Bull Durham‘s screenplay, and he was blessed with a stellar cast that brought his richly drawn characters to life. It’s a movie full of smart dialogue, and character-based comedy that celebrates the lunacy, hijinks, and joys of America’s two favorite pastimes — baseball and sex.
Susan Sarandon, radiant as ever, flew on her own dime from Italy to audition and win the role of Annie Savoy, a part-time teacher in Durham, North Carolina. Annie dedicates each summer of her life to tutoring one player on the Durham Bulls, the local minor-league team, that she believes has the best potential to get a call up to the majors. However, Annie isn’t interested in improving the player’s understanding of literature, and she isn’t a coach, although she knows as much about baseball as any manager. No, she’s more of a spiritual and sexual adviser. As she says, “You know how to make love, then you’ll know how to pitch.” Annie reads Walt Whitman to her lover-players, and plays Edith Piaf records in the hopes of making them well-rounded human beings and therefore better ball players. At the top of the film she chooses as her new student Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, the Bulls’ latest gifted pitcher, a kid with a million-dollar arm, but a five-cent head on his shoulders.
The role of Nuke went to Tim Robbins in a breakthrough performance. Shelton had to fight to get Robbins cast in the part; up to that point the actor’s most visible role had been in the infamous flop, Howard the Duck. Besides being a part of that box office disaster, Robbins’ other jobs were mostly blink-and-you-missed-him bit parts (raise your hand if you recall him in Top Gun). In addition to his lack of experience as a leading man, executives at Orion Pictures felt that a woman as classy as Sarandon would never fall for a regular looking guy like Robbins. Luckily, Shelton prevailed and the two actors worked wonderfully on the set. Moreover, they fell in love, started a family, and were together for 23 years. Shows you how smart movie execs can be.
At the same time Annie’s taking Nuke under her wing, the Bulls bring in “player to be named later” named Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). He’s a journeyman catcher and 12-year veteran of the minors. As a ballplayer, Crash is hardcore. He respects the game of baseball for all that it is and should be. However, despite his dedication and excellence on the field, he’s only made it to “the show,” i.e. the majors, once. Oh, but they were the best 21 days of his life. Now in the twilight of his career, Crash is prepared to quit when presented the offer of being Nuke’s mentor and babysitter. Reluctant at first, when Crash realizes that he’ll get to play ball for one more season, he agrees to look after this “utterly fucking hopeless” phenom.
Costner seems so perfectly suited for Crash that it’s surprising to learn the character was written with Kurt Russell in mind. Russell starred in 1986’s The Best of Times, written by Shelton. Russell would later work with Shelton on 2003’s Dark Blue, playing a part originally offered to Costner. When Costner signed up for Bull Durham in 1987, he was a newly minted star, having held his own on screen playing Eliot Ness opposite Robert De Niro and Sean Connery in that summer’s big-screen adaptation of The Untouchables. By the time Bull Durham began filming, the thriller No Way Out had made him a sex symbol. Who can forget that limo scene with Sean Young? Bull Durham took him to a new level of popularity and made him an A-list actor, eventually giving him the clout to direct his Academy Award winning epic, Dances with Wolves.
Throughout the course of Bull Durham, it’s obvious that Annie and Crash are meant for each other. Unfortunately, their egos and each one’s code of ethics stall them from consummating their passion until Nuke graduates to the show. Like all great romantic comedies, the erotic tension between Annie and Crash is just as exciting as the moment they finally consummate their attraction.
In between there are a multitude of classic scenes, like the moment when exasperated Bulls manager Joe Riggins (the late Trey Wilson) is chewing out his young players after a poorly played game. He mocks them, calling them “lollygaggers,” then storms off, muttering a string of obscenities at such a rapid clip that it becomes one lone curse word: “Goddamnsonofabitchinmotherfuckinshit!”
Then there’s the scene where the players all meet on the pitcher’s mound in the middle of the game to discuss everything but baseball. Coach Larry Hockett (a hilarious Robert Wuhl) eventually joins them, and they discuss what kind of wedding gift to buy a recently engaged couple.
Of course we can’t forget the many lessons Crash bestows upon Nuke. My favorite has always been this pearl of wisdom: “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”
Finally, there’s Crash’s speech about what he believes. I could transcribe it, but it’s better if you just hear it for yourself.
Bull Durham is a classic American movie, but its themes are universal, which is why it’s so revered by critics and fans alike.
When the movie came out, Capitol Records released a woefully incomplete soundtrack album that’s now out of print (although copies can still be found in the CD section of various libraries, and there are $30 used copies available at Amazon.com). While it was missing several key songs from the movie, the soundtrack was still a good collection of the bluesy rock and jazz you’d expect to hear in the North Carolina bars where the film takes place.
The record begins with the obligatory smooth ballad that plays over the film’s closing credits. Joe Cocker’s “A Woman Loves a Man” is soulful and comes off much classier than it would if a lesser singer were trying to pull it off. After a solid rocker by the Fabulous Thunderbirds comes “I Got Loaded” by Los Lobos, which was originally used as a temp track during the “rainout” scene where Crash floods the playing field to ensure a day off for the Bulls. Shelton so much loved how the spirit of the song made the grown men look like boys having fun in the mud that he kept it in the movie.
George Thorogood & the Destroyers are in the cleanup spot with “Born to Be Bad.” I’m not a Thorogood fan, but this song is used well when Nuke is shown dancing with four girls at once. The Blasters follow with “So Long Baby, Goodbye,” which accompanies a great montage in the film. House of Schock closes out side one with “Middle of Nowhere”; I’ve never heard anything else by Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock’s side project, but this is a great power-pop song.
Side two begins with the obvious but still classic “Centerfield” by John Fogerty, followed by Tennessee singer-songwriter Pat McLaughlin’s “You Done Me Wrong.” The remaining three numbers on the record are courtesy of jazz saxophonist Bennie Wallace collaborating with Dr. John; Shelton had heard Wallace’s 1985 album Twilight Time and invited him to contribute to the movie (he also scored Shelton’s next two films, Blaze and White Men Can’t Jump). One of the songs, “All Night Dance,” originally appeared on Twilight Time. It’s noteworthy for featuring some killer guitar playing by Stevie Ray Vaughan and it’s never appeared on any of the late musician’s compilations.
So, what’s missing? Let’s begin with Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” — the song plays in its entirety as the movie opens and Annie enters Durham’s baseball stadium. While the late Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, dances and entertains the crowd, you’re immersed in the atmosphere of minor-league baseball. Then there’s the Ike & Tina Turner soul song “I Idolize You,” which plays under Crash and Nuke’s first confrontation outside a bar: Crash clocks the rookie and gives him his first lesson, after which they come back inside to find Annie and Patkin dancing. Nuke grouses, “We fight and she gets the clown. How’s that happen?” To which Crash replies, “God, I like this song.”
Shelton has stated that he listened to French chanteuse Edith Piaf during the writing of Bull Durham, so the inclusion of her music is organic to the film. “That crazy Mexican singer,” as Nuke calls her, is featured in two pivotal scenes, yet neither “La Vie en Rose” or “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” were on the soundtrack album.
The most egregious omission was the Dominoes'”Sixty Minute Man”: when Crash and Annie finally hook up, the song plays over a montage that’s sexy and fun, and it ends with the lasting image of the two characters framed in a doorway, dancing in her living room.
On Bull Durham‘s DVD commentary, Shelton says many studios passed on the script because it was a sports film (The Natural is great, but Roy Hobbs is a mythical creature next to Crash Davis). When Capitol cranked out the soundtrack album, it’s doubtful they expected the movie to be a hit, seeing as how it was a low-budget baseball movie competing with high-profile blockbusters like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Coming to America that summer. Eighteen songs show up in the film, so there was no way all of them would have fit on a single LP (even though the overall running time is less than an hour), but still, a couple of the songs certainly should have wound up on the cassette or CD as bonus tracks.
In the new millennium it’s surprising that the complete soundtrack hasn’t already been included as part of a special-edition Bull Durham DVD or Blu-ray. Perhaps someone at MGM, which now owns Orion Pictures’ library — the studio went bankrupt in the 1990s — will read this post (fingers crossed!) and remaster the soundtrack sometime in the future. They could even take a cue from Quentin Tarantino’s excellent soundtracks and include some of the memorable dialogue from the film.
In the meantime, I present the near complete Bull Durham soundtrack. Near complete because the song “Baseball Boogie” by James “Skunk” Baxter, of Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers fame, is impossible to locate (if you’re reading this and you happen to own this song or if you know Mr. Baxter and he wants to share it, send me a copy and I’ll add it to this post), and I’ve never been able to find any of Michael Convertino’s score, either. Load the tracks onto your iPod or phone and take a drive out to the local ballpark. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch a home run. Or you can go parking with your sweetheart, put on “Sixty Minute Man,” and hopefully you’ll get lucky with America’s other favorite pastime.
Bill Haley & His Comets, “Rock Around the Clock”
The Smithereens, “Only a Memory”
George Thorogood & the Destroyers, “Born to Be Bad”
Ike & Tina Turner, “I Idolize You”
House of Schock, “Middle of Nowhere”
Edith Piaf, “La Vie en Rose”
Pat McLaughlin, “You Done Me Wrong”
The Blasters, “So Long Baby, Goodbye”
Los Lobos, “I Got Loaded”
Bennie Wallace and Dr. John, “Try a Little Tenderness”
The Everly Brothers, “When Will I Be Loved”
John Fogerty, “Centerfield”
The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Can’t Tear It Up Enuff”
Edith Piaf, “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien”
Bennie Wallace and Dr. John with Stevie Ray Vaughan, “All Night Dance”
The Dominoes, “Sixty Minute Man”
Bennie Wallace and Dr. John with Bonnie Raitt, “Love Ain’t No Triple Play”
Joe Cocker, “A Woman Loves a Man”