Soundtrack Saturday: “Satisfaction”

Last summer I wrote about one film starring a Family Ties cast member as a struggling rock musician. Now I bring you another. That’s right, girls and boys, it’s time to get some Satisfaction (1988).

Retitled Girls of Summer for TV, Satisfaction is probably most notable for being the feature-film debut of two of its stars, Justine Bateman and Julia Roberts.

While Bateman already had a successful television career, having starred as Mallory Keaton on NBC’s Family Ties since 1982 as well as in several TV movies, Satisfaction was Roberts’s first big acting gig (she had previously only appeared in an episode of Crime Story, another NBC series, and a dinky little movie called Firehouse, in an uncredited role).

Also starring Trini Alvarado (Little Women), Scott Coffey (Shag), Britta Phillips (of rock duo Dean & Britta), and Liam Neeson, the movie centers on Bateman’s character, Jennie Lee, a recent high school grad who’s also the lead singer of an all-girl rock band called the Mystery. After convincing her older brother — the head of the household, since their parents are dead — to allow her to spend the summer with the band, Jennie Lee and the Mystery — bassist Daryle (Roberts), drummer Mooch (Alvarado), guitarist Billy (Phillips), and newly recruited male keyboard player Nickie (Coffey) — head off to audition for a gig as the house band at a beachfront bar.

They arrive for their audition only to find the bar closed, so they track down the address of the owner and go to confront him, discovering that he’s Martin Falcon (Neeson), an award-winning songwriter who now spends his time drinking rather than crafting melodies. He reluctantly allows the band to stay in his garage, despite the fact that they broke into his house, and tells them they can still audition — but he’s already made up his mind that he probably won’t need them. Once Martin sees them perform, though, he changes his mind and gives them the gig as his club’s house band.

The Mystery has a blast spending time on the beach during the day and playing music at night — and sometimes getting into trouble. Daryle, who made the trip with the band against her possessive boyfriend’s wishes, meets some yuppies one day and tries to fit in with their scene (something that Roberts’s character in Mystic Pizza, released later in ’88, also attempts). Jennie begins a romantic relationship with the much older Martin, which threatens her relationship with the band. Meanwhile, Billy almost ODs on drugs, and the leader of a street gang whose van Mooch stole finally finds her and the band after pursuing them all summer. Things don’t end badly for any of the characters, as they all pretty much get (wait for it) satisfaction from the whole experience.

This movie definitely qualifies as a guilty pleasure for me. It’s not very good, but it’s one of those films I found as a kid, and it just stuck with me. I mean, it’s about an all-girl rock band (though the Mystery is a truly mediocre band). There weren’t a lot of movies about all-girl rock bands back then, so I had to settle for what I could get.

Watching it now, I realize that while it was supposed to be the breakout film for both Bateman and Roberts, Britta Phillips is the one who really steals the show. She’s the cast member who was an actual musician: she already played bass but learned how to play guitar for the role of Billy, and before Satisfaction she was the singing voice of every ’80s girl’s favorite cartoon rock star, Jem of Jem and the Holograms (Phillips went on to become the bassist for Luna, where she met husband Dean Wareham, the other half of Dean & Britta). She also had the funniest lines and the most charisma on-screen.

Since Satisfaction is a movie about a band, music plays a central role. All of the songs the Mystery play are covers except for “Talk to Me,” which, from what I can tell, seems to have been written for the movie (interestingly, the credits say, “Title and inspiration — Roy Orbison”). The choices for cover songs are pretty interesting — songs by the likes of the Knickerbockers, Eddie Cochran, Elvis Costello, and of course the Rolling Stones.

As Jennie Lee, Bateman doesn’t do a terrible job singing; her voice is kind of perfect for a bar band. Phillips has a great voice, though, and while the arrangement of the Mystery’s cover of “Mr. Big Stuff” isn’t great, she shines as the lead vocalist. I will say that one thing this movie doesn’t need is more cowbell — Bateman beats the hell out of that thing, particularly during the Mystery’s cover of “Knock On Wood.”

An official soundtrack album was released, and credited as being performed by the cast, who were billed as Justine Bateman & the Mystery (though in the movie’s credits, the songs are listed as “performed by Jennie Lee & the Mystery”). However, the instruments are all performed by session players, with Bateman singing lead and Phillips providing backing vocals (plus lead vocals on “Mr. Big Stuff,” as mentioned). The soundtrack also features songs by John Kay & Steppenwolf and the Chantels, as well as a piece of Michel Colombier’s score (the same Michel Colombier who did the score for Purple Rain).

Whether you like it or not, I’ve gathered up every song from the complete, out-of-print official soundtrack album, along with one song that didn’t make the cut: “Stimulation,” by Wa Wa Nee.

Jennie Lee & the Mystery – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction [Version 1] Jennie Lee & the Mystery – Knock On Wood
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – Lies (Are Breaking My Heart)
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – Mr. Big Stuff
John Kay & Steppenwolf – Rock and Roll Rebels
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – Iko, Iko
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – C’mon Everybody
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – Talk to Me
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – Mystery Dance
The Chantels – Maybe
Wa Wa Nee – Stimulation
Jennie Lee & the Mystery – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction [Version 2] Michel Colombier – Love Theme From Satisfaction

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