Soundtrack Saturday: “Light of Day”

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett as rockin’ blue-collar siblings? Only in the ’80s — and only in Paul Schrader’s Light of Day, the subject of this week’s Soundtrack Saturday.

So, I hope you enjoyed last week’s guest post by the lovely Scott Malchus. I also hope that you missed me and are delighted by my return. If you’re not, well, fuck you — I never liked you anyway.

I had considered writing about a space-related film this week in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission since I’m a giant space nerd. (If you follow me on Twitter, you are well aware of my geekiness and are likely totally sick of my NASA-related tweets.) But I changed my mind once I managed to finally piece together a fairly complete soundtrack for one of my favorite music-related films from the ’80s, Light of Day (1987).

I’ve wanted to write about this Michael J. Fox movie for several months now, after finding a near-mint-condition vinyl copy of the soundtrack album at Half-Price Books earlier this year. That led me to purchasing a used VHS copy of the movie, which is, tragically, not on DVD yet. But since (1) the soundtrack is out of print, (2) I don’t have a turntable I can use to rip my vinyl to digital, and (3) I’ve had a hell of a time finding MP3s of most of the songs elsewhere, I’ve been putting off writing about it, hoping to get it together one day soon. Finally, I have.

Written and directed by Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Taxi Driver), Light of Day stars Fox and Joan Jett as Joe and Patti Rasnick, struggling-musician siblings who head up the Cleveland, Ohio, rock band the Barbusters, also featuring Michael McKean, Paul J. Harkins, and Michael Dolan. Joe and Patti live with her young son, Benji (Billy L. Sullivan), and Joe is constantly in the middle of her battles with their superreligious mother, Jeanette (Gena Rowlands), who doesn’t approve of her children’s lifestyles. Patti decides she wants to commit all her energy to the band and that they should head out on tour — with young Benji along for the ride.

After witnessing her use Benji to shoplift from a grocery store, Joe decides the road isn’t the place for a little boy and leaves the tour, taking his nephew with him. After getting into a huge fight with Joe over his refusal to share her ambitions for the band and for siding with their mother instead of her, Patti takes off on her own to audition for the Hunzz, another local band. Joe stays home and, with the help of his parents, tries to provide a stable home for Benji. After learning their mother has cancer, he convinces Patti to come home and make amends before it’s too late.

I’m sure the Bruce Springsteen fans know all about his connection to Light of Day, but I didn’t until a few years ago. I’ve read a couple different versions of the story, but the most common is that the film’s original title was “Born in the U.S.A.“: Schrader had asked Springsteen to write a title song for the movie in 1984, which the Boss ended up liking so much that he decided to keep it for himself. To make amends for ripping off Schrader’s film’s title, he wrote and donated the song “Light of Day,” which ended up being the new title and theme song of the movie; “Light of Day” was released as a single and hit number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve also read that the role of Joe was originally offered to Springsteen during a time when he was considering pursuing an acting career (possibly influenced by his first wife, actress Julianne Phillips), but ultimately he decided to stick to music and turned the project down.

A couple of other bits of trivia: A young Trent Reznor appears as the keyboard player of the fictional band the Problems in a scene toward the end of the movie. Also, legendary roadie and production manager Jolly Roger plays a manager at a club where the Barbusters want to play; I mention this mostly because I met him at a party a few years ago and he is quite the character.

As I mentioned earlier, the soundtrack album is out of print and fairly difficult to find, but I’ve got all the songs from the official release and quite a few that didn’t make the cut for your enjoyment. Rock and roll, people!

The Barbusters – Light of Day
Bon Jovi – Only Lonely
The Untouchables – F.B.I. (I Spy for The)
The Barbusters – Rude Mood
The Barbusters – This Means War
Ian Hunter – Cleveland Rocks (Live)
The Barbusters – It’s All Coming Down Tonight
Dave Edmunds – Stay With Me Tonight
The Fabulous Thunderbirds – Twist It Off
Kenny Rogers with Nickie Ryder – The Pride Is Back (The film’s credits list the song as being performed by Kenny Rogers & Sandy Farina. I couldn’t find that version, so you get this one. Close enough.)
Mötley Crüe – Looks That Kill
The Hunzz – Rabbit’s Got the Gun
Solomon Burke – You’re Good for Me
Michael J. Fox – You Got No Place to Go
Rick Cox, Chas Smith, Jon C. Clarke, and Michael Boddicker – Elegy (Instrumental)

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