Wednesday, July 26, 2017

House of Dark Shadows: Music from the Motion Picture

If you see something on this website and wonder if it's real, the answer is almost always "No."
By WALLACE McBRIDE

When Dan Curtis made his first feature film, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, he brought with him much of the cast and crew of the television series. Series writers Sam Hall and Gordon Russell banged out a script that retold the introduction of vampire Barnabas Collins. The cast was made up entirely of actors (and, in the case of George DiCenzo, a producer) from the television series. Robert Cobert was even brought over to create a cinematic interpretation of his small-screen music

Perhaps because of the rushed production schedule (and also because MGM was calling the shots) the  marketing blitz of its television counterpart was missing from the feature film adaption. Absent were the trading cards, posters, toys and other products sold under the DARK SHADOWS brand. The movie's merchandise was more or less limited to the Marilyn Ross novelization. We didn't even get a soundtrack release until many, many years later.

The television series, of course, had its own pop soundtrack. It was populated mostly by Cobert's music, with some newly crafted spoken-word parts written for actors Barnabas Collins and David Selby. It sold well, but was aimed more at mopey proto-goths than the kind of kids you saw dancing every week on AMERICAN BANDSTAND. Which made me wonder: What would a contemporary pop soundtrack for HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS had sounded like?

It would probably have sounded awful, to be honest, most likely stuffed to the gills with acts like The Cowsills, Bread or Tony Orlando and Dawn. Barf.

But hindsight is 20/20. Given unlimited resources, what kind of album could I have built that would be an honest reflection of both the movie, the year and the market? Which brings me to the point of this nonsense: "House of Dark Shadows: Music from the Motion Picture," a Spotify playlist. You can find the playlist  online HERE. Below is commentary on the playlist.

Did Lou Reed watch DARK SHADOWS? It's a question you might ask yourself while listening to the lead track, "Ocean," a 1969 outtake from The Velvet Underground that would later find its way to Reed's first solo effort. "Ocean" sounds at times as if Reed is narrating the opening credits to DARK SHADOWS: "Here comes the ocean/And the waves down by the sea," with the lyrics diving deeper into the kinds of imagery that once haunted by Edgar Allen Poe. It's also a reminder that we never see the iconic shores of Collinwood in either of Dan Curtis' feature films, which is weird, right? (Note: Bob Dylan apparently saw more than a few episodes of DARK SHADOWS.)

From here, I wanted the songs to explore 1970 as much as possible, no matter how painful the results. I wanted the sounds and lyrics to lightly touch on the movie's themes and imagery, while also saying something about the musical landscape of the year. "Love Buzz" by Shocking Blue would have made a superior substitute for the rock and roll muzak playing at the start of the film, as Maggie is searching for David. Simon & Garfunkel's "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" is a reminder that this is 1970, and popular music was still kind of precious. "Can I See You In the Morning" finds The Jackson 5 at their most cinematic and esoteric. It's not a song many people are ever going to dance to, but it's still pretty cool.

After that is the even slower, dirge-ier "Planet Caravan" by Black Sabbath. As my late grandmother used to say, "Dark Shadows is metal as fuck," so it seemed weird to overlooked Sabbath's 1970 masterpiece, "Paranoid." But there's no one moment in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS that calls for Sabbath's driving, bottom-end rhythms ... but "Planet Caravan" is a perfect song for DARK SHADOWS, regardless of context.

I think George Harrison's (i.e., "The Best Beatle") 1970 song, "Beware the Darkness," speaks for itself, doesn't it? The Beatles were too much of a thing to graft themselves well to DARK SHADOWS, but the solo tunes are a different story. Paul McCartney is just too damn chipper for DARK SHADOWS, while I just want to punch John Lennon in the throat. And Ringo is ... Ringo. Which ain't a bad thing to be, but it's just not DARK SHADOWS.

Hey, it's The Velvet Underground again! Sorta! Nico's "Janitor of Lunacy" is as cold as ice, and makes me wonder what an entire score for the film by Nico and her collaborators might have sounded like. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS already has the atmosphere of an extended funeral. (It's telling that Curtis has to use an actual funeral in the film to break up the extended moments of darkness.) This isn't my favorite track of Nico's, but I've always been impressed that she was willing to carry the chilly banner of the first Velvets album for as long as she did. RIP, you magnificent warrior woman.

Don't forget, this is 1970. So here's "Down is Up, Up is Down" by the Delfonics to bring the movie's themes home in the most contemporary way possible. "If I told you the sky was brown/would you look up or down?" kinda sums up the Barnabas/Maggie "relationship" as well as anything Bob Dylan would write. Meanwhile, Krautrock band Can conjures up music for a Spaghetti western with "Deadlock," while also foreshadowing Italy's Goblin by a few years.

For reasons I can't quite explain, Neil Diamond and DARK SHADOWS go together like peas and carrots, at least for me. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS doesn't call for one of his bouncy, Everly Brothers-inspired songs, so I opted for "Coldwater Morning." It's the kind of ballad that would have been at home in the closing credits of an Irwin Allen movie. The next track, Hawkwind's "Hurry On Sundown," might hit the nail on the head a little too fiercely, but is also a good chaser for Diamond's sentimentality.

Which brings us to the theme for our closing credits: "Thunderbuck Ram" by Mott the Hoople. I 1970, the band was on the eve of a makeover, courtesy of David Bowie, and were still ... well, I don't know what the hell they were in 1970. This song isn't quite heavy metal, but I'm at a loss as to how else to describe it. Making it all the weirder is that lead guitarist Mick Ralphs is handling vocals here instead of Ian Hunter. "Life must still go on whatever's right or wrong/Realize what's gone and was never healing" describes a great many of the characters in this movie, most notably our anti-hero. It's sad, epic and loud. Just like HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

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