1998 was certainly an exciting year to be a G-fan. The big guy was set to make his American debut in the Hollywood blockbuster GODZILLA, and to capitalize on the hype, stores were stuffed with more G-merchandise than ever before. Old titles were quickly reissued on VHS, books ranging from children's storybooks to cinema essays spotlighted the King of the Monsters, and there were aisles filled with TOYS TOYS TOYS of Godzilla, Mothra, and the rest of the gang. Of course, Sony wanted to prime audiences for this new version of G coming to theaters, and the tagline “Size Doesn't Matter” could be found plastered on posters, billboards, bus ads, and even your local Taco Bell! The countdown to this modern day Zilla came with all the usual trappings of big movie marketing: t-shirts, action figures, collectible cups.... and the pop soundtrack album.
Now, everyone's pretty familiar with what movie soundtracks are, yet it seems like the pop soundtrack album is being slowly phased out these days. To more clearly define it, the pop soundtrack album is a collection of contemporary songs that were featured in a particular movie. It's typically anchored by one or two radio-ready singles from big name artists, and the rest of the running time is usually supplemented by B-sides of other popular musicians or throwaway stuff from under-the-bubble bands. There's generally no rhyme or meaning to the structure of the playlist. It's just meant to invoke the general tone of the movie. Actions films had rock albums, romantic comedies had light adult compilations, horror flicks had metal records, and so on. Even though they were just another piece of marketing to support the movie, they could dominate the music charts as its own entity with huge sales comparable to top selling performers. These days however, this brand of soundtrack albums has become something of a rarity compared to their dominating heyday from the 1970s to early 2000s. Soundtracks generally today are for instrumental scores or collections of retro tracks (such as Wes Anderson's films or the massively successful AWESOME MIX from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). Now if a pop song is created for a film's promotion, it's typically released as a single unattached to an album. Heck, even pop singles aren't as commonplace in movie marketing as they used to be.
For me personally, the pop soundtrack album is a nostalgic relic from my film watching youth. My GHOSTBUSTERS-loving self bought the CD to have the Ray Parker Jr. song, but I listened to the tracks from the Bus Boys, the Thompson Twins, and other 80s artists so much that they're just as identifiable to the movie to me as the iconic “Who Ya Gonna Call” theme. Many more CDs were added to my collection (MEN IN BLACK, SPACE JAM, NINJA TURTLES), and of course I had to purchase Sony's GODZILLA: THE ALBUM in anticipation for big G's blockbuster release. Like many 90s action flicks, its pop soundtrack had a general rock & roll feel and came packaged with not one but FOUR radio singles: the Wallflowers' cover of David Bowie's “Heroes”, Puff Daddy's “Come with Me” (which sampled Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir” and featured lead guitarist Jimmy Page), Jamiroquai's “Deeper Underground”, and Rage Against the Machine's “No Shelter”. Of course, me as the young G-fan listened to the album over and over again because hey, it's got Godzilla on it! I'm gonna love it! Woo hoo! Relistening to it today though, I recognize it as the empty piece of promotion it is. A mish mash of over-baked songs and bizarre oddities (and a good song here or there) that leaves no other impression than “well, that was the soundtrack to GODZILLA”. It's as soulless and commercial as the Roland Emmerich movie, but since it's supposed to be a commercial for GODZILLA anyway, does it seem even more empty? Luca, what can you make of the soundscape of 1998 and the Year Godzilla Tried to Rock?
Oh man, I too have some very concrete (if not always fond) memories of pop soundtracks. If you've stuck with us through this entire series without scrubbing your reading device clean of our filth, you'll probably have a pretty good sense of where we're both coming from on the pop culture front. Here, however, is where I must reveal my utter ignorance on all things musical. I grew up in a family that considered the only worthwhile music purchases things that were called "[Artist's] Greatest Hits" or "[Genre] Classics of the [Decade]". The few albums I bought as a kid were usually quickly skipped through once I found that I didn't like any of the songs as much as the radio single that prompted me to want this disk. And so, I quickly quit buying albums! Why spend all that money if you're just gonna listen to one, maybe two songs? For some EXTRA LUCA TRIVIA: I think the most successful soundtrack I ever bought (as in, I listened to at least five, six songs regularly) was SHAFT (2000). Note that I'm specifically talking about these pop song soundtracks as you described, Travis! Scores and musical albums were a whole different ballpark.
After a few listens in 2015, I'm pretty sure I would have disliked the GODZILLA: THE ALBUM as a 13 year old in 1998! The amazing Diddy song "Come With Me" captivated my imagination for months, whipping my young self up into such a frenzy that I was convinced I liked the movie for years afterward! None of the songs come close to the bombastic decadent energy so particular to Sean Combs at the height of his Bad Boy powers. I probably would have been slightly annoyed that, for some reason, the producers deemed "Heroes" by the Wallflowers worthy of the album opener position rather than Diddy, so that I'd have to pop in the disc and skip to #2 if I wanted a fix of YEAH... UH HUH! Now, I'm sure plenty of 1998 kids hadn't heard of "Kashmir", the song "Come with Me" was sampled from, but I'll do ya one better ont he musical illiteracy front, Travis! I had only the vaguest clue of the existence of a man named David Bowie, so "Heroes" being a cover only came to me years and years later. Heck, let me pile up the heresies here. "Come with Me" is SO ingrained into my mind that whenever I hear "Kashmir", it just sounds wrong to me. Where's the ad-libs? Where's the Godzilla roars?
Oh yeah, I hope you like Godzilla roars! Almost every single track on this album had its producers try and be cute, and mix Godzilla roars over certain phrases. Good to see that the wit and originality so typical of the cinematic incarnation carries over to its musical scion. The Wallflowers one-up all the rest, though, by also adding in some stompin' Godzilla sounds. Their video is hliarious too, with Jakob Dylan pouting and preening like a retro Edward Cullen, making sex eyes at a girl in a red hoodie who aimlessly (yet soulfully) wanders the streets of a G-terrorized New York in search of... something to drink? Which she then gets from a convenience store deserted by its owner in light of the kaiju kavalcade running rampant over the Big Apple? Hilarious sidenote: she still goes through the effort of dropping some change on the counter. Was this a producer note? "Sexy wet cleavage hoodie girl shouldn't be a filthy LOOTER in this great city's hour of need", some moral music producer says. Now, Sean Combs, a New Yorker born and bred, takes the fight to the G-man himself. After being woken up from a pleasant dream in which he was mackin' on a honey to the tunes of Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" by a giant iguana wrecking his block, Diddy does his civic duty as a true Noo Yoahkuh and just flips his shit at Godzilla UNTIL HE DIES FROM IT AND HIS GHOST HAS A GODZILLA DEFYING PERFORMANCE IN TIMES SQUARE. This was probably the best thing that ever came out of 1998's manufactured American Zilla craze and, I daresay, probably the biggest exposure to ANY kind of Godzilla for a generation. Even if you didn't go see the movie, man, MTV played that video a LOT. With our current day pop culture as fractured and compartmentalized as it is, Travis, do you think this album (or, more specifically, its videos) may actually have reached more people than even 2014's GODZILLA did?
It's very possible that the ancillary stuff supporting '98 Zilla infiltrated the collective consciousness of the public more than the 2014 film since it was such a juggernaut of advertising. Heck, I even remember eating the special Eddy's ice cream flavor that came with Godzilla cookie crumbles (mmmm...). Comparing the marketing between the two films reveals how the times have changed. The promotions for the Gareth Edwards film were mostly dignified (except for that delightful Snickers commercial where G partied with some college bros), and its soundtrack release only contained the score by Alexandre Desplat. Roland Emmerich's flick was clearly trying to hit as many demographics as possible, including those hip, cool kids who love Jamiroquai! Like the videos from the Wallflowers and Puff Daddy, Jamiroquai's video for their song “Deeper Underground” has the artist in the middle of the big monster's rampage. In this case, he's trapped in a movie theater (that's showing GODZILLA! Meta!) as it collapses around him from the destruction of Zilla. The theater floods with water as cars and helicopters crash into the seats, but that doesn't stop ol' Jay Kay (the funny hat-wearin' guy) from dancing! It's as though they couldn't figure out how to do a Jamiroquai video without him dancing, so why not have him do his foot shuffling around panicked audience members and crushed taxi cabs? At least Puff Daddy was brave enough to stand up to that bully of a beast!
As peculiar as the sight of the Jamiroquai dude bouncing around Michael Bay-like levels of destruction is, it may not be quite as odd as a few of the other tracks found on GODZILLA: THE ALBUM. The fourth radio single came from counter culture rockers Rage Against the Machine, and it's pretty hilarious how they didn't change their tone at all for this commercial venture. In fact, the video for their song “No Shelter” doesn't have them facing off with Zilla at all! It's your average abstract RATM joint filled with totalitarian imagery for the sake of political satire. Not every 90s blockbuster can claim they have a music video that visually references the case of the Scottsboro boys (where nine African American teens were wrongfully accused of rape and sentenced to jail by a racist justice system)! The only shout out to Sony's monster in the song is with the lyric “Godzilla pure motherfuckin' filler/get your eyes on the real killer!” Stop watching the lizard adventures of Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitallo, ya sheeple, 'cuz Big Brother's actually watching YOU!
I could go on more about other out of place tracks on this soundtrack (who at Sony thought that Silverchair's reflection on anorexia and depression “Untitled” was a good inclusion?), but I need to wrap up with some of the songs I actually liked! I'm a fan of Ben Folds Five, and their track “Air” is a nice respite from the general hard rock feel of the album. Foo Fighters' “A320” is also good and shows signs of the more melodic tone that would be prevalent on their 1999 album THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE. And of all the oddity filler that makes up the back half of the CD, I gotta admit that Fuzzbubble's pop punk ode to aliens and UFOs “Out There” ended up on my play rotation more than some of the other tracks during the writing of this review. It's catchy, and if you wanna stretch it, you can pretend it's about Ghidorah or Gigan or whatever space kaiju you can think of! Lastly, of the few genuine nice things you can say about '98 GODZILLA, the two excerpts from David Arnold's score that are included on the album are good pieces of music that deserved a better movie. Luca, any other favorite tunes or bizarre novelties you wanna talk about before we put down the headphones?
Yes, I would also like to point out the strange lounge-jazzy pop-rock song "Undercover" by one Joey Deluxe (who is only represented on Spotify by his presence on this here very OST). IMDb however also credits him as contributing to the EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS soundtrack with a song called "Itsy Bitsy Spider"... who is this mysterious gimmick man of the late 90s??? "Undercover" talks about the tough yet sexy lives of secret agents and detectives. I certainly don't recall the song popping up in the movie anywhere, and even though it's somewhat more appropriate to the tone and content of GODZILLA than something like "No Shelter" and "Untitled", its inclusion on the album as an organic whole is hilarious after all the bombast and bravado of the tracks preceding it. To make it even funnier, it's the final pop song before the two selected David Arnold score excerpts that cap off the album. Ponder if your life could mayhaps be a Mickey Spillane book hmmm? Okay, you done? Now please consider the majesty of the tragic hubris of man as exemplified by the short-lived Zilla species. Ironically, I think "Undercover" wouldn't be out of place in a Showa movie, especially a Jun Fukuda directed one with score by Masaru Sato*. You know what they say about monkeys and typewriters... somehow, somewhere in the pre-production to this massive Godzilla onslaught of the late 90s, someone managed to vaguely strike a chord that made an infinitesimal aspect of this media juggernaut be somewhat in the spirit of the property they were nominally adapting. Now, if only they could have had Jean Reno and his comedy bumbling spies infiltrate an army facility to this song!
*If you're following this series without ever having seen any Toho Godzillas, know that the song also very might have been on the OST to a mid-90s Mike Myers comedy, so please consider this strange intersectionality.