Soundtrack Saturday: “Singles”

One of the great things about art is that as you grow, a piece of art — whether it be a painting, a piece of music, a book, a film, or whatever — grows with you. How you interpret and relate to it can change as you get older and acquire more life experience.

I was 15 when I first saw Singles (1992). Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, and set in Seattle in the early ’90s, it was widely considered the movie that most accurately portrayed “the Seattle scene,” though it should be noted that the film was conceived, shot, and intended for release before said scene exploded all over the place.

Crowe’s movie has intersecting story lines that center on a group of single people who (mostly) live in the same Seattle apartment building, and their search for love and success. Its cast features some of the most talented young actors of the era, including Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelley, and Bill Pullman.

I loved Singles when I first saw it, but I didn’t really relate to its characters or their problems that much — I was still in high school, still living with my parents, didn’t have a job, hadn’t started dating, and hadn’t fallen in love. That’s not to say I didn’t relate to it at all, though; there were aspects that resonated with me at the time, just not many.

But the fact that I couldn’t relate to Singles didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of it. I loved the cast, and I was obsessed with the idea of “the Seattle scene,” with its flannel shirts, Doc Martens boots, grunge music, and coffee shops. As a midwestern teenager, TV, radio, and magazines were the only connections I had to what’d become the center of the pop-culture universe.

Of course, once the grunge movement hit Cincinnati, it was almost entirely mainstream. The halls of my high school were filled with kids who dressed like Dillon’s character in Singles, regardless of whether they knew why or how grunge came about.

Musically, my friends and I went from listening to mostly pop to mostly “alternative” and grunge. I went from having crushes on members of boy bands to drawing hearts around pictures of Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell. I was ready for substance, maturity, and angst, dammit!

Fast-forward to almost 20 years later. I’m around the same age as, or older than, the characters in Singles. I’ve graduated high school and college, have a job, live on my own, and continue to date, though I can’t say I’ve ever truly been in love (cue sad trombone).

My teenage restlessness and angst have been replaced with adult restlessness and angst, and my penchant for falling for guys in bands has never gone away. If I were to be plucked from 2010 and sent back in time to live in Seattle in 1991, I’d probably be living a life very similar to one of the Singles characters (Bridget Fonda’s, perhaps). When I watch the movie now, rather than long to live the lives of these characters, I realize that in many ways I already am. These days I can do nothing but relate to it.

While Singles got a good critical reception, it wasn’t as financially successful as Crowe’s first film, Say Anything … (1989). But despite the fact that it didn’t do well, Warner Bros. decided to turn it into a TV series. Cameron Crowe was completely against the notion, but the studio went ahead with it anyway, changing many elements of the story (location, characters, etc.), and in 1994 the long-running series Friends was born. Kind of makes you want to yak, doesn’t it?

The most successful aspect of Singles was its soundtrack, which was released a full three months before the movie hit theaters. It features some of the biggest bands in the alternative and grunge scene, and the movie includes live performances by Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Interestingly, the film’s score was provided by a Minnesotan — ex-Replacement Paul Westerberg.

One of the best elements of the movie is Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff, and his band, Citizen Dick. Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam play the other three members of the band, and they do a pretty great job. Citizen Dick’s big “single” is a song called “Touch Me I’m Dick,” a play on Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick.”

During filming, Ament, Pearl Jam’s bassist, came up with a list of song titles for Citizen Dick, and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell decided to write songs for the film using those titles; thus, “Seasons” and “Spoonman” were born. The former, which Cornell performs solo, appears on the soundtrack album, and an early version of “Spoonman,” which later appeared on Soundgarden’s 1994 album Superunknown, can be heard in the background of a scene as a Citizen Dick flier is stapled to a lamppost.

Here’s a great clip I found from an MTV News story about Singles and the bands that participated:

If you’ve seen the film, or know anything about its soundtrack, you know that Nirvana was the only major grunge band at the time who didn’t take part. Here’s an interview that explains why:

It appears that the Singles soundtrack album, which only features half of the songs that appear in the movie, is out of print, which I find surprising. I’ve got the entire official release, though, as well as almost all the songs that didn’t make the cut, for your listening pleasure. So put on your flannel shirt, holey jeans, and Doc Martens and grab a cup of coffee, then crank this baby up and take yourself back to 1992.

Paul Westerberg – Waiting for Somebody
Pearl Jam – State of Love and Trust
Mother Love Bone – Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns
Alice in Chains – It Ain’t Like That
Alice in Chains – Would?
Muddy Waters – Little Girl
R.E.M. – Radio Song
Sly & the Family Stone – Family Affair
The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – May This Be Love
Lovemonger – The Battle of Evermore
Jane’s Addiction – Three Days
Pearl Jam – Breath
Chris Cornell – Spoonman [Demo]
Pixies – Dig for Fire
Screaming Trees – Nearly Lost You
Truly – Heart and Lungs
Tad – Jinx
Chris Cornell – Seasons
Soundgarden – Birth Ritual
John Coltrane – Blue Train
Smashing Pumpkins – Drown
Mudhoney – Overblown
Paul Westerberg – Dyslexic Heart

Bonus tracks:
Mudhoney – Touch Me I’m Sick
Soundgarden – Spoonman




  • EightE1

    WHAT??!!! The Singles soundtrack is OOP? And the Backstreet Boys are still making records? What the fuck?

    I was in college when this came out, and I took my girlfriend at the time to see it. Like you, I was moved in many strange and mysterious ways; the girlfriend … not so much (I later married her anyway). I rooted for the characters and hoped their connections held fast, even as I suffered through the tricks and tics I find annoying in most Crowe films (particularly the close-up shots of actors looking dead into the camera and reciting their lines – that's always bothered me).

    The music was the heartbeat of the film – Westerberg's score was loose and casual, and “Dyslexic Heart” was a perfect distillation of the film's themes. To see in-their-prime Soundgarden and Alice perform, however briefly, was also very cool, particularly if your theater had a decent sound system and/or was playing it loud. But my two fave scenes in the film had to be the scenes in Steve's apartment, with his vinyl albums strewn all over – the first as he's wooing Linda (as Sly and the Family Stone play in the background), and the second as he's going through his nervous breakdown (if Alice's “No Excuses” wasn't written for that scene, it shoulda been). The composition of each and how music is woven into each make them real creative touchstones for me, to try to do in my writing what Crowe did on the screen.

    Thanks for this piece, and for the extended soundtrack. Still can't believe it's out of print. Maybe they're gearing up for a super-boffo 20th Anniversary reissue next year. Let's hope.

  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    Here's hoping, Rob. I'd lay down some hard earned cash for an extended soundtrack and DVD.

  • http://genxsingalong.wordpress.com Gigi

    “She Sells Sanctuary.” Thank you.

  • Eric S.

    I bought the soundtrack on CD a few years ago just to get “Dyslexic Heart” (this was before Westerberg's “best of” came out). That song and “World Class Fad” are still my favorites of his solo work. Not being a huge grunge fan, I was pleasantly surprised by the rest of the CD. The Wilson sisters do good Led Zeppelin whether it's as The Lovemongers or Heart. I also like solo Chris Cornell better than Soundgarden

  • EightE1

    Amen, my friend. Selah.

  • JT

    This and the Trainspotting sound tracked defined my musical tastes during the 90's.

    This just dont make soundtracks like this anymore..do they?

  • JE

    I love Nirvana, but they certainly come off as insufferable in that interview clip. Really, that's all the worst aspects of early 90s alt-culture distilled into 90 seconds.

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  • BostonPE

    I’m a newbie to Singles, and, although I was in the same age range as the cast of the film, did not see the film until last year. I was one of those young Reagan Republicans when the film debuted, and considered myself more of the mainstream rock ‘n’ roll type than the grunge scene. Now that I’m older and wiser, I appreciate the genre of the film and its theme — and Seattle scene! I don’t think I was ready to embrace alternative rock until decades later (I’m in my 40s!). And I had the pleasure of seeing AIC last year and was right at the stage at the Paradise in Boston, where I live (and was within touching distance of Jerry Cantrell). Believe it or not, I also saw Pearl Jam this past summer for the first time as well. Where was I during the 90s???? I feel in some ways I missed out on the entire alternative rock theme, so I bought the DVD of Singles last year and fell in love with the film and music. Cameron Crowe captured Seattle just like he did Southern California in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of my favorite films. I wish Nirvana and the Pixies (though a Boston-based band) were in the film as well. While in Seattle in June, I went to the Kurt Cobain exhibit, which I found interesting and informative. It’s never too late to acquire new tastes and Singles helped usher in a brand new musical era for me and I’m loving every moment of it — thanks, Cameron!

  • BostonPE

    I’m a newbie to Singles, and, although I was in the same age range as the cast of the film, did not see the film until last year. I was one of those young Reagan Republicans when the film debuted, and considered myself more of the mainstream rock ‘n’ roll type than the grunge scene. Now that I’m older and wiser, I appreciate the genre of the film and its theme — and Seattle scene! I don’t think I was ready to embrace alternative rock until decades later (I’m in my 40s!). And I had the pleasure of seeing AIC last year and was right at the stage at the Paradise in Boston, where I live (and was within touching distance of Jerry Cantrell). Believe it or not, I also saw Pearl Jam this past summer for the first time as well. Where was I during the 90s???? I feel in some ways I missed out on the entire alternative rock theme, so I bought the DVD of Singles last year and fell in love with the film and music. Cameron Crowe captured Seattle just like he did Southern California in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of my favorite films. I wish Nirvana and the Pixies (though a Boston-based band) were in the film as well. While in Seattle in June, I went to the Kurt Cobain exhibit, which I found interesting and informative. It’s never too late to acquire new tastes and Singles helped usher in a brand new musical era for me and I’m loving every moment of it — thanks, Cameron!

  • BostonPE

    I’m a newbie to Singles, and, although I was in the same age range as the cast of the film, did not see the film until last year. I was one of those young Reagan Republicans when the film debuted, and considered myself more of the mainstream rock ‘n’ roll type than the grunge scene. Now that I’m older and wiser, I appreciate the genre of the film and its theme — and Seattle scene! I don’t think I was ready to embrace alternative rock until decades later (I’m in my 40s!). And I had the pleasure of seeing AIC last year and was right at the stage at the Paradise in Boston, where I live (and was within touching distance of Jerry Cantrell). Believe it or not, I also saw Pearl Jam this past summer for the first time as well. Where was I during the 90s???? I feel in some ways I missed out on the entire alternative rock theme, so I bought the DVD of Singles last year and fell in love with the film and music. Cameron Crowe captured Seattle just like he did Southern California in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of my favorite films. I wish Nirvana and the Pixies (though a Boston-based band) were in the film as well. While in Seattle in June, I went to the Kurt Cobain exhibit, which I found interesting and informative. It’s never too late to acquire new tastes and Singles helped usher in a brand new musical era for me and I’m loving every moment of it — thanks, Cameron!