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Soundtrack Saturday: “Scrooged”

I wasn’t going to resurrect another holiday Soundtrack Saturday post, but I couldn’t help it. A) This is such a great movie, B) It has a great soundtrack and C) I wanted an excuse to reintroduce you all to that bananas Unicef “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” clip. This was originally posted in December 2009, and was the last installment of A Soundtrack Saturday Christmas. Enjoy and have a great holiday!

Since the moment I first saw Scrooged (1988),  it instantly became one of my favorite holiday films. I mean, you have to love any adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that includes the Solid Gold Dancers and casts once-and-future New York Dolls frontman David Johansen as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The problem I faced was that the soundtrack album for Scrooged is woefully out of print. I was having a hell of a time finding most of the tracks, and I really thought I might have to scrap this post altogether and find another film. But I was determined to write about the movie, so I soldiered on and managed to find the entire soundtrack, thus saving my dream of A Perfect Soundtrack Saturday Christmas.

If you’ve never seen Scrooged, I’m sure you have your reasons, e.g. you don’t like Christmas movies, you hate Bill Murray, you’re angry at Johansen for the Buster Poindexter years. If that’s the case, then maybe I can change your mind, because this is a funny film whether Christmas is your thing or not.

By telling you that Scrooged is a Reagan-era update of A Christmas Carol, I probably don’t need to dig too deep to describe the movie’s plot. Directed by Richard Donner (Murray reportedly asked Sydney Pollack, who directed him in 1982’s Tootsie, to take the reins first), with a screenplay by Mitch Glazer and former Saturday Night Live writer Michael O’Donoghue, it stars Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge surrogate Frank Cross, a ruthless TV network executive.

Frank is a miserable son of a bitch. He overworks his poor assistant, Grace (Alfre Woodard), who gets to spend very little time with her family, including her troubled, mute son, because of her boss’s demanding schedule. When one of Frank’s employees, Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), disagrees with an approach Frank wants to take to advertise the network’s live Christmas Eve broadcast of “Scrooge,” the umpteenth adaptation of A Christmas Carol (wink wink), Frank fires him. He also neglects his relationship with his brother, James (Murray’s real-life brother John), thinking so little of it that he tells Grace to send him a bath towel emblazoned with the network’s logo for Christmas.

After many displays of dickish behavior, Frank gets a special visit from his dead mentor, Lew Hayward, played by Dynasty‘s John Forsythe. (Side note: when I first saw this movie, I was 100 percent shocked that it was Blake Carrington under all that makeup.) Lew tells his former protegé that if he doesn’t change his ways, he’ll end up just like Lew, a prospect Frank doesn’t really seem to mind. Since the network honcho needs a little convincing, Lew tells him that he’ll be visited by three ghosts.

The whole experience shakes Frank up, prompting him to leave a message on the answering machine of his ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen), who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years.

Now, you know how the rest of this goes, right? The first ghost to arrive is the Ghost of Christmas Past (Johansen), and in this version of the story he takes the form of a New York City cab driver. (Personally, if I were to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, I would want it to look and sound exactly like David Johansen.) He takes Frank on a supernatural trip to revisit his childhood, his first job at the network, his first year with Claire, and their subsequent breakup.

He then meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, a masochistic fairy played by the glorious, scene-stealing Carol Kane. She delights in beating the crap out of Frank as she shows him Christmas Eve at Grace’s home and his brother’s.

Before the third and final ghost gets a chance to visit, a very drunk and angry Eliot returns to the network’s offices with a shotgun, threatening to kill Frank, who’s momentarily saved by the Ghost of Christmas Future, a grim-reaper type with a TV screen for a head.

This specter shows Frank a future in which Grace’s mute son winds up in a mental institution and do-gooder Claire turns into a bitter, uncaring social climber, not unlike Frank. Finally, he witnesses his own cremation, then begins experiencing it from inside his coffin. As he feels the heat of the flames, he finally realizes what a jerk he’s been and asks for a second chance in order to make things right.

Frank wakes up in his office just as the live “Scrooge” broadcast is ending. The new-and-improved network exec rehires Eliot and enlists his help in securing the control booth as he steps in front of the rolling studio cameras and proceeds to deliver a lengthy monologue about his discovery of the true meaning of Christmas.

Scrooged marked Murray’s first lead role in a comedy since Ghostbusters four years earlier. It opened the day before Thanksgiving in 1988 and was a sizable hit, debuting at number one and earning $60 million, which was pretty good for a holiday movie back then. It even got an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup.

I’d like to say that I saw it when it was in theaters, but I’m not 100 percent sure I did. I do know that when it came out on video my brother and I demanded our parents let us rent it — three weekends in a row. And we watched it pretty much every time it aired on cable.

The Scrooged soundtrack even spun off a hit song, the Annie Lennox-Al Green cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” The single reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and was a hit in various other countries as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the soundtrack album is long out of print. It doesn’t include the wonderful score by Danny Elfman, but it does feature almost all the songs you hear in the film. For those who’ve seen Scrooged, you may have noticed that Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn, and Paul Shaffer appear in a cameo as a street band playing a jazz rendition of the classic Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Luckily, it’s included on the album.

We also get a hip-hop/dance track from Kool Moe Dee, “Get Up ‘n’ Dance,” which is the song the Solid Gold Dancers are gyrating to during the rehearsals for “Scrooge,” plus there’s Natalie Cole’s take on “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” David Johansen-slash-Buster Poindexter’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” and a wonderful gospel-choir version of U2’s “Sweetest Thing” performed by New Voices of Freedom.

I’ve compiled the entire soundtrack for you, including two songs that weren’t on the album: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully” and “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. I also thought I’d share a couple of visual representations of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”: the official video for the Lennox-Green version and a very special version sung by a motley crew during a 1979 TV special benefiting UNICEF (if you only watch one of the clips, I beg you to watch this one).

Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn, and Paul Shaffer – We Three Kings of Orient Are
Kool Moe Dee – Get Up ‘n’ Dance
Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – Wooly Bully
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – I Second That Emotion
Natalie Cole – The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Buster Poindexter – Brown-Eyed Girl
Annie Lennox and Al Green – Put a Little Love in Your Heart
New Voices of Freedom (featuring Adriane McDonald and George Pendergrass) – The Sweetest Thing
Mark Lennon – A Wonderful Life
Dan Hartman and Denise Lopez – The Love You Take
Robbie Robertson – Christmas Must Be Tonight