There are many weeks when I sit at my computer and lament the fact that I have no fucking clue what I’m going to write about for this column. The list of movies and soundtracks I want to write about is a mile long, but finding complete soundtracks, whether they were once in print or never at all, is a daunting task sometimes.
The frustrating thing is that I have some soundtracks on vinyl that I’d love to share, but I haven’t been able to invest in a quality USB turntable that would allow me to rip them into MP3 format myself. Some are soundtracks to movies I’ve never seen that are out of print on DVD, VHS, or both, but the albums looked so great I had to buy them. This week’s movie was just such a case until a few days ago.
On one of my many visits to Chicago last year, my home away from home, I found a used copy of the double-LP soundtrack album for Times Square (1980) that was in really great condition. I’d never heard of the movie, but the record’s front cover immediately grabbed my attention, because listed among the names of the featured artists was the Ruts — and I love the Ruts. A lot.
I flipped the soundtrack over and read the entire track listing. Despite the fact that I already had many of the songs, I bought the album anyway, because I had a feeling it might be kind of rare (the $3.99 price tag didn’t hurt, either). It turns out I was right — it’s way out of print, and new or used, good- to mint-condition copies go anywhere from $15 to $100 on sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace.
Directed by Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume), produced by Robert Stigwood (Saturday Night Fever), and starring Trini Alvarado, Robin Johnson, and Tim Curry, Times Square is about two New York City teenagers — rebellious, street-smart Nicky Marotta (Johnson) and rich but troubled Pamela Pearl (Alvarado) — who both feel misunderstood by everyone around them. They run away from the mental hospital where they’re roommates and take to the streets of New York City — specifically, Times Square. The film’s script, cowritten by Moyle and Jacob Brackman, was inspired by a diary Moyle found in a secondhand couch detailing the life of a young, mentally disturbed woman who lived on the streets.
Rather than go into an in-depth synopsis, I’ll just let you watch the movie’s trailer:
I watched Times Square for the first time this week after deciding to write about it for this column. My first impression was that it felt like two different movies — about halfway through, the story seemed disjointed and I felt like I’d missed something, as the focus of the story completely changed. I purposefully didn’t read any reviews or information about Times Square before I watched it so I wouldn’t have any preconceived notions about what I was about to see. But after finishing it, and being a little confused about the storytelling choices that were made, I did some research to find out what was up.
I watched the movie online, so I didn’t have the luxury of listening to Moyle’s audio commentary on the out-of-print DVD. After looking around the Interwebs for a while, I learned that in the commentary he said the original cut contained overtly lesbian content that was almost entirely deleted from the final version of the film, leaving only subtle hints. In Moyle’s opinion the removal of that content, as well as Stigwood’s insistence on adding songs to the soundtrack that Moyle felt didn’t fit the film’s tone, greatly compromised the integrity of Times Square. Apparently Stigwood had decided it should be the punk-rock Saturday Night Fever, so he made sure the soundtrack was a double album to give the movie more commercial appeal (clearly he missed the point of the punk culture entirely).
According to remarks Moyle and Johnson made on the DVD commentary, the loss of the lesbian scenes are what made the narrative disjointed, damaging its emotion and impact (I guess it wasn’t me that was missing something, it was the film itself). Examples they give are how the focus of Times Square abruptly changes from Pamela to Nicky and how the story becomes increasingly unrealistic and over-the-top, ultimately undermining the documentary style in which the film was shot.
Moyle left the production before shooting was completed (some sources say he was fired), reportedly because of his disagreements with Stigwood, and the remaining footage was shot under the supervision of others, such as the scenes with the fans of Nicky and Pamela’s underground punk band getting ready for the girls’ Times Square “concert.”
Moyle apparently said the version of the film that was finally released wasn’t what he’d envisioned, but he acknowledged that it’s still important, because it documents a Times Square that ceased to exist in all its gritty glory once it was cleaned up in the mid-’90s. I also read that Moyle doubts a director’s cut of the film will ever be released since the footage that’s needed to restore it to his original vision is missing.
Despite the allegations that the soundtrack was a point of contention between Moyle and Stigwood and was ultimately blamed for ruining parts of the film, I still think it’s a pretty incredible album, chock-full of some of the best punk and new-wave songs of all time.
But there’s definitely one track that sticks out like a giant, throbbing sore thumb and that’s the Marcy Levy-Robin Gibb track “Help Me!” I’m sure Stigwood thought the soundtrack had to include a song performed by a Gibb, but he was dead wrong on this one. “Help Me!” isn’t terrible on its own, but it’s so, so terribly inappopropriate for this movie. Like, ridiculously so.
Other than that, I can’t really pinpoint any song that doesn’t fit. Some are used incredibly well. For example, there’s Nicky’s blaring of “I Wanna Be Sedated” on her boombox when she’s in the mental hospital — and when she’s running away from it; Patti Smith’s “Pissing in the River” when Nicky goes a little nuts after finding LaGuardia (Tim Curry) and Pamela together; Roxy Music’s “Same Old Scene” when we first meet Nicky; Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” when Pamela’s father finds her working at the cabaret; and Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park” (though, technically, that song was recorded when Numan was using the name Tubeway Army) when LaGuardia and Pamela are bonding.
In all of these scenes the song choice fits perfectly with the story and the characters. Other songs are just played in the background, but they definitely add to the film’s atmosphere. The Ruts’ song “Babylon’s Burning” is one of these background numbers, but its seamless placement on the soundtrack album right after Johnson and Alvarado’s angry duet “Your Daughter Is One” is absolutely perfect.
While there are some recognizable songs here that are available on other releases, the Times Square soundtrack includes some interesting rarities too, like XTC’s “Take This Town,” which was written specifically for the film and for a long time was available only on the soundtrack album. Another notable track is the Desmond Child & Rouge track “The Night Was Not”: On the movie’s DVD commentary Moyle says that David Bowie was asked to write a song for Times Square, but his label at the time, RCA, wouldn’t allow the filmmakers to use it. Child has reportedly said that he collaborated with Bowie on “The Night Was Not,” but the Thin White Duke’s name isn’t mentioned in the songwriting credits. It’s also been rumored that Bowie was planning to contribute a rerecorded version of “Life on Mars?” to the Times Square soundtrack. Oh, the intrigue!
I’ve compiled the complete official soundtrack album, including one track that didn’t appear on the release, the Cars’ “Dangerous Type.” As a bonus, I’ve also provided the Manic Street Preachers’ cover of “Damn Dog,” one of the songs Robin Johnson performs as Nicky in the film.
P.S. Remember when I told you I used to be scared of Tim Curry after a nightmare I had that he tried to kill me? Yeah, well, I’m glad that’s not the case anymore, because I think he’s really hot in this movie. Just sayin’.
P.P.S. If you want to plan a night of rebellious punk girl movies, try watching Times Square back to back with one of my favorites, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.
Suzi Quatro – Rock Hard
Pretenders – Talk of the Town
Roxy Music – Same Old Scene
Gary Numan – Down in the Park
Marcy Levy & Robin Gibb – Help Me!
Talking Heads – Life During Wartime
Joe Jackson – Pretty Boys
XTC – Take This Town
Ramones – I Wanna Be Sedated
Robin Johnson – Damn Dog
Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado – Your Daughter Is One
The Ruts – Babylon’s Burning
D.L. Byron – You Can’t Hurry Love
Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side
Desmond Child & Rouge – The Night Was Not
Garland Jeffreys – Innocent, Not Guilty
The Cure – Grinding Halt
The Cars – Dangerous Type
Patti Smith Group – Pissing in the River
David Johansen and Robin Johnson – Flowers in the City
Robin Johnson – Damn Dog (Reprise: The Cleo Club)
Manic Street Preachers – Damn Dog