Everything is excessive in Russ Meyer's bombastic exploitation extravaganzas! The music is blasting, the colors are too bright, and the babes are oh-so Buxotic--bouncing out of tight bikinis as they Go-Baby-Go! Here's an interpretive survey of Meyer's career giving a Who's Who of his musical cohorts. Let's run down the pedigrees of this pack of Double D-movie mongrels!
Russ Meyer has been an action photographer from the age of 12. Russ hit the beach on D-Day with a 16mm camera. His Battle of the Bulge footage was used in Patton. Postwar Meyer was cameraman on Pete de Cenzie's French Peep Show, took stills for George Stevens' Giant and distinguished himself as a trend-setting glamour photographer with several popular centerspreads in Playboy. When it came to making his own films, Meyer was always able to attract top musical talent who share his enthusiasm for Buxotica.
The Immoral Mr. Teas exposed the sexual hang-ups of an uptight generation. This '59 skinflick was so low budget voice-over narrator Edward J. Lakso provided the soundtrack with a small combo. A transitional promenade links various vignettes portraying characteristic fantasies of Modern Man. Thus Lakso's composition takes the inherently voyeuristic form of Pictures At An Exhibition. Significantly the Bourbon Street beat of Dixieland jazz bumps and grinds with the sultry sway of seductive striptease. After this labor of love, Lakso scripted Combat, Mission Impossible, The Big Valley, Star Trek, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix and Starsky & Hutch.
Teas' most memorable landscape foregrounds a guitar strategically shielding a nude while echoing her hourglass figure. The lack of synchronization between the overdubbed audio track and the model's strumming is inadvertently funny. Later films would exploit such incongruity of sight and sound deliberately for intentional comic effects. Meyer's early experiments simply spliced together readymade musical components into makeshift montages.
Eroticon's music editor David Chudnow cut his fangs on The Mad Monster and Dead Men Walk with George Zucco and Dwight Frye. In 1950, Chudnow formed Mutel to provide canned music for television. When the American Federation of Musicians refused to play, Chudnow went to Europe to recycle music from Monogram, PRC and Eagle-Lion films. Eventually, these musical cues were used in Boston Blackie, Captain Midnight, Racket Squad, Ramar of the Jungle, Sky King, Space Patrol and--on CD--Superman!
Chudnow's colleague Tommy Morgan had arranged exotica for harmonica on his Tropicale album. Tommy later sessioned with the Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, The Simpsons and Frank Zappa among others. Now the veteran of over 200 films and commercials has gone gospel--Against the Grain.
Like Eve and the Handyman, Wild Gals of the Naked West is an episodic series of melodramatic vaudeville skits with appropriately horny music. Naked West's Marlin Skiles provided music for Lucille Ball in My Favorite Husband on CBS Radio. After Bomba, Lord of the Jungle and 10 Bowery Boys misadventures in the mid '50's, Marlin scored Man From God's Country and Cole Younger, Gunfighter. Meyer cuts the corn to the quick, so don't shoot the player piano!
Meyer then filmed his Southern Gothic thrillers Lorna and Mudhoney in black and white and invested the savings in live sound and original music. Heel we love to hate Hal Hopper provided the theme song for Lorna.
Hopper had harmonized with The Pied Pipers, top vocal group in Down Beat polls from '44 to '49. Originally formed to croon Irving Berlin standards in Zanuck's production of Alexander's Ragtime Band, The Pipers backed up Frank Sinatra on The Old Gold Radio Show (on CD), Tommy Dorsey on The Raleigh-Kool Radio Show and sang "Ac-Cent-Tchu-ate the Positive," "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," "Personality" and "Winter Wonderland" on Johnny Mercer's Music Shop. The '86 collection Good Deal McNeal compiles favorites such as "Mairzy Doats" and "The Trolley Song." The Pipers appear in several movies with Sinatra as well as joining Ann Miller's '44 Jam Session and howling "Too Darn Hot" in Kiss Me Kate.
In the '50's, Hopper wrote the theme songs for Rin Tin-Tin and Mickey Dolenz' Circus Boy and "There's No You" in Kubrick's Lolita. Ever the Beau Geste Maverick, Hal was the chauffeur in Kitten With a Whip and the vet in Perry Mason's "Case of the Startled Stallion."
Although Hopper extemporized a salty a cappella ditty to tease Lorna's husband into action, Bob Grabeau warbled the theme song. Now with the Bob Noval Orchestra, Grabeau sang "Exactly Like You" from The Eddy Duchin Story on the Pickwick CD Movie Memories, a reissue of '57's Johnny Williams Plays Sounds from Screen Spectaculars. Bob also acted out "Put Me In Your Pocket" with April Stevens in a Scopitone jukebox film loop.
After his Gothic period, Russ moved into a go-go phase to grab the teenage drive-in audience. Meyer's displaced young nomads grooved to the driving sounds of guitar rock. The capable hands of Shefter, Sawtell and Jarrard provided the throbbing, pulsing, and pounding musical motivation for Meyer's gyrating go-go girls.
Bert Shefter, now a trustee of the Film Music Society, directed Motorpsycho's music. In '39, Shefter and Peter de Rose spent 9 weeks on Hit Parade rising to #3 with "The Lamp Is Low." Lyrics were by Mitchell Parish who wrote "Stardust" with Hoagy Carmichael, and melody was adapted from Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess." Shefter performed as a piano duo with Morton Gould, but by '65 Bert had Curse of the Fly.
Paul Sawtell's catalog covers several popular genres. Paul composed music for modern myths Tarzan, Dick Tracy, Black Scorpion and Godzilla. Sawtell fetched Dog of Flanders, rode west with Lex Barker in The Deerslayer and Clint Eastwood in Ambush at Cimarron Pass, spaced out with Kronos: Ravager of Planets and accompanied Irwin Allen to The Lost World and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Sawtell even helped Jerry Goldsmith produce Frankie Avalon Sings.
Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! lyricist Rick Jarrard was a Nashville guitarist transferred to RCA's west coast studio to produce Jose Feliciano, John Hartford, and Harry Nilsson. Jefferson Airplane complained that Rick used too much reverb on Surrealistic Pillow, but his new collection of Love Songs is a bouquet of Balin's best ballads. Feliciano's '98 Senor Bolero continues the collaboration begun with "Light My Fire."
In Meyer's movies, we not only hear the music, but we often see its source as well--no matter how improbable that instrument may be. How can all that noise be coming from a sports car or transistor radio? This disparity has a disturbing effect in an ultraviolent film noir. Meyer uses incongruity of satirical absurdities for exhilarating comic relief.
Mondo Topless is wall-to-wall go-go eye candy often depicting a lone nude dancing with her tiny radio in the great outdoors. Russ inserted footage from '63's Europe in the Raw with whiny concertina a la fromage. Meyer had shot from the hip many of the Continent's hottest acts with his trusty Arriflex concealed in a suitcase. The Aladdins generate the mondo fuzztones motivating the movements of some of the Frisco Tenderloin's most outstanding strippers including Pat Barringer, star of Ed Wood's Orgy of the Dead.
Another Wood alumnus arranged music for Meyer on his series of soap opera satires in the late Sixties. Igo Kantor learned his trade from Wood's Bride of the Monster and produced Hillbillys in a Haunted House with Ferlin Husky and Merle Haggard. Kantor's music direction is unmatched in spoofing Hollywood stereotypes as we hear in his soundtracks for The Monkees' Head and Kentucky Fried Movie.
Kantor's main satirical device is what Roger Ebert has called the "musical pun." These gags may be standard musical motives associated with characters: an industrial worker is accompanied by Handel's "Anvil Chorus" and exotic erotic encounters evoke the familiar refrain of "Stranger in Paradise." It's corny, but it works.
Another comic device is the aforementioned incongruity between music and its source. In Common Law Cabin, the teenage daughter puts a 78 on an ancient gramophone, and we are surprised when modern go-go music comes out of the antique. This non sequitur is a reflective scheme of envagination turning the medium inside out to make us aware that this is after all just show biz. So why take it so seriously?
At the end of a successful decade, 20th Century Fox signed Meyer and writer Roger Ebert to go "Beyond the Valley" of two popular themes in a soap opera plot about buxotic pop stars. The Carrie Nations were played by Dolly Read (Playboy's Miss May '66 bka Ms. Dick "Laugh In" Martin), Cynthia Myers (Miss December '68), and Marcia McBroom.
As good as they looked, the Playmates weren't singers, so their vocals were dubbed in by actor McDonald Carey's daughter Lynn. Her Mama Lion album has a nude centerfold nursing a lion cub and features the single "Give It Everything I've Got." Ivar Avenue Reunion rendesvouzed with harpist Charlie Musselwhite, Space Ranger Neil Merryweather, and Electric Flag's Barry Goldberg. Lynn sang with Eric Burdon in the '80s and is now known as the Mae West of The Los Angeles Jazz Choir.
Carey was lucky to have Stu Phillips at the control board. Stu produced "Blue Moon" for The Marcels adapting the intro from "Zoom" by The Cadillacs, "Goodbye Cruel World" for James Darren, and "Johnny Angel" for Shelley Fabares. Phillips also wrote many orchestral arrangements of pop tunes: 10 LPs with The Hollyridge Strings as well as Castaway Strings on Vee-Jay, Sunset Strings on Liberty, Fantabulous Strings on MGM and Music for Outer Space with Harry Revel. Phillips scored Angels from Hell, The Wild Angels, '72's Martin Sheen vehicle Pickup on 101 with Igo Kantor, Quincy, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Working with a major studio allowed Meyer to hire name talent. The Sandpipers of "Guantanamera"/"Kumbaya" fame swoon mood music, and Strawberry Alarm Clock are special guest stars at Z-Man's party. Always trendy, the Clock started as "Swamp Surfer" ho-dads The Irridescents and then went mod as Thee Sixpence. Later axman Ed King strengthened Al Kooper's first Lynyrd Skynyrd lineup.
The studio system cramped Meyer's style, and Ebert who began to use a pen name when Sneak Previews became successful. Meyer himself had long used pseudonyms in credits to make it look like he had a larger crew. Now he could get the best.
Meyer's later independent films were scored by William Loose who had administered the Hi-Q music library for Capital and worked with Kantor on Vixen as well as Cherry, Harry and Raquel. Bill's credits range from the squeaky clean Doris Day and Donna Reed shows to David Friedman's Trader Hornee. Loose even worked with Ozzie--on Love and Kisses starring Rick Nelson directed by his dad. Bill now composes for WQED's Planet Earth series on PBS.
The Hi-Q library was a top source of production themes featuring the "Structural Music" of Sandor Lazlo, a pioneering theorist and master practitioner. This program music elicits moods to indicate the rising and falling actions within a plot. Meyer brings the satirical use of stereotypical cues to hilarious climaxes by framing cliches within ironic contexts.
For Blacksnake, Bill Loose tottered with Al Teeter of The Three Ambassadors. This Coconut Grove vocal group cranked out country standards at a marathon session used for many Republic westerns. Then Teeter became a music editor at Disney for everyone from Alice to Zorro.
Loose rallied reinforcements Paul Ruhland and Syd Dale for Meyer's epic Up! Paul Ruhland is an arranger for the Vancouver Jazz Fest with a background in relaxed improvisation who arranged "I Will Play a Rhapsody" for Burton Cummings. Conductor Syd Dale spent decades with England's Amphonic music library and can be heard on the Scamp compilations Music for TV Dinners and The Sound Gallery.
Here we see Meyer coming full circle. His early low-budget productions used typical program music. After experimenting with original pop music, Meyer went back to using the much more strongly motivated structural music that is the basis of most movie and TV melodrama. This time, however, he was able to hire the musicians who had canned the music in the first place to synthesize original scores based on practical dramatic principles to deconstruct the entire genre. Meyer's masterful sendup of Wagner turns musical motives topsy-turvy.
With this radical agenda in mind, it is not such a great leap from Syd Dale to Sid Vicious. The Sex Pistols raved about Meyer's vision of Who Killed Bambi? in the "Big Tits Across America" radio interviews on Some Product. Julian Temple retains traces of Meyer's original concept in Tenpole Tudor's title tune and the ubiquitous Martin Bormann's return when Sid split with Nancy in the twilight of the gobs.
What Russ really couldn't stand was that stupid swastika Sid wore. Meyer hates Nazis. Russ stands for freedom and hopes to stamp out all the little Hitlers springing up in small town America. Those narrow minds with their tight assets took Meyer to court several times on obscenity charges. But he never gave up.
Meyer released many of his movies on video in the '80's. Immediately his irreverence inspired the punk and metal scenes to emulate his outrageous pricking of middle-class morality. Meyer continued to audition new talent for a magnum opus that has yet to appear. In the '90's, the soundtracks were wisely packaged with three scores on a disc mixing popular favorites with obscure delicacies. All products are available directly from Meyer's website.
Meyer's movies are the ultimate in burlesque. They travesty other genres by reducing self-important stuffed shirts to ridicule. Meyer's absurdity is effective because he's using the same music as the cheesy movies and TV series he's spoofing. And while they may sound the same, Meyer's showing things you'll never see on TV. He's pushing the limit in every way.
The breast man is expansive in his personal expression unlike the cramped anal retentives the extrovert prods. This expansion leads to overstatement as its most natural means of articulation. Hyperbole is Meyer's prime figure of speech: two complimentary conic sections mimicking the female form. These mirroring arcs approach yet never quite reach their limits. Sound echoes sight with the reverberation of thematic icons reaching a thundering climax of hysterically histrionic hilarity.
Do you come when you laugh or laugh when you come?
For Meyer, music is motivated by sex. That primal drive is the beat that pulses through every social transaction. Money, power, fame? These are only means to sexual fulfillment. Our pride leads us into diverse forms of denial, but eventually we have our dramatic comedown. And the music rises and falls with our fortunes. Those who determine their own destinies are triumphant, while those who deny are drowned in the riotous uproar of folly.
We have yet to see The Breast of Russ Meyer. Meanwhile check out his new deluxe illustrated autobiography. Hopefully he will release videos of his early experimental exploitation explorations and discover fresh flesh. Our appetite for delight is insatiable. There can never be enough Buxotica!