Back in the 1990s, there were these things called non-sequel movies, and the people that made these movies promoted them with youth-marketed soundtrack albums, shiny round objects containing primarily filler and unused album cuts from bands and singers enjoyed by the movie’s target demographic. In the weeks leading up to the film’s release, one would be bombarded with ads for both the film, as well as MTV and radio airplay for the soundtrack’s first singles, which are also ads for the film. It was largely irrelevant that in the actual movie, these much-hyped soundtrack songs would usually muster about three seconds of screen time, blaring out the window of a passing cab approximately three blocks away from the main action of the scene. Some of the biggest, most iconic hits of the ’90s are songs that were “featured on the hot soundtrack,” sometimes even backfiring and becoming way, way more popular than the actual movies themselves. The forgotten street basketball melodrama Above the Rim produced Warren G.’s classic “Regulate”; Bjork’s “Army of Me” came from a film version of the comic book Tank Girl, which most people didn’t know existed, then or now. Then there’s the Empire Records soundtrack, which spawned Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You” and the Gin Blossoms’ “Til I Hear it From You,” while anecdotal evidence suggests that the movie is so forgettable that it may not have ever actually been a real thing.
No ’90s movie and soundtrack album enjoyed a bigger success disconnect than Reality Bites and its music. The definitive ’90s movie, in both title and content, made a mere $20 million at the U.S. box office, presumably because the slackers, grungsters, and disaffected grad students the film both glamorizes and appeals to, had not the money, wherewithal, or ironic desire to head down to the mall’s multiplex. And yet the soundtrack was a huge success. It sold more than a million copies, peaked at #13 on the album chart, and spawned seven singles of varying success. Crowded House’s “Locked Out,” Juliana Hatfield’s “Spin the Bottle,” enjoyed some radio play and hit the lower ranks of various charts. Big Mountain’s cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love You Way” hit #12.
The album was such a juggernaut that even the old, nostalgia-factor inclusions became hits. Squeeze’s “Tempted” re-entered the charts, as did U2’s “All I Want is You,” and the Knack’s 15-year-old “My Sharona.” Hell, even the filler by unknown artists inexplicably did well. Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” stayed on the Hot 100 for months and hit #1 after Reality Bites was out on VHS. Loeb didn’t actually have a record deal at the time, the first and last time an unsigned artist had a #1 hit single (and about the last time a singer-songwriter type had a #1 hit to boot).
Seven singles is amazing for any album, so I probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but of all the songs to resonate with its audience, the one song that was actually current-to-1994, and that boasted legitimate rock cred to bullshit-detecting, corporate-hating Generation Xers was the one that couldn’t ride the Reality Bites wave. That song was the Posies’ “Going, Going, Gone.” How 1994 is this song? The band is from Washington! They’d just come off the success of grunge-meets-power pop (the two big alt rock movements of the era) classics like “Dream All Day” and “Golden Blunders.” Band member Ken Stringfellow even once reportedly dated Winona Ryder, a rite of passage for all ’90s alt rockers.