All Killer No Filler: Valley Girl OST
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 19, 2009
OK fine, for sure, for sure
I never really got why Valley Girl isn’t better remembered than it is. OK, there are some weird sub-plots (hippie parents, some MILF-y affair between two supporting characters that I can barely even remember but which predates the “Stacy’s Mom” video by 20 years), and some parts of it haven’t dated so well (unlike, say, every other teen movie ever made, especially those of the 1980s). But it’s got everything that a teen movie of its period should need to put it up there with the Fast Times and Breakfast Clubs of the era–zeitgeist-defining cultural cachet (the title, if nothing else), great before-they-were-stars performances (Nicolas Cage, but also That Guy Michael Bowen, whose asshole boyfriend here is somehow only like the 17th most despicable character he’s ever played), charmingly dated dialogue (Cage’s assertion of “That techno-rock you guys listen to is GUTLESS!!!” remaining a personal favorite) and an impressively sweet different-worlds love story between Cage and the unfortunately time-forgotten Deborah Foreman. To me, it’s pretty much the Clueless of the 80s–except not quite as good, of course, because nothing is quite as good as Clueless.
Perhaps the best credit to Valley Girl‘s resume, though, is its soundtrack–about as good a single-disc document of the new wave era as exists in non-retrospective form. A number of the genre’s classic radio standards are included–Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?,” the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” the last of which the movie was largely responsible for popularizing. You know these songs, you love these songs, they’re great. But beyond those songs you already know, the Valley Girl OST’s appeal comes from being a soundtrack that’s totally inextricable from the movie it comes from–one that not only reminds you of specific scenes from the movie, but also has the same feeling of the movie in general–as irresistibly romantic, irrepressibly quirky, and as generally young and naive and all heart. (Strangely, the bizarro Frank Zappa hit of the same name is nowhere to be found, in movie or soundtrack).
The key songs to the soundtrack are the ones a tier below those standards-to-be in popularity. Several of them come courtesy of the two artists that actually appear in the movie–The Plimsouls, the power-pop group from punk Cage’s corner of the world, and Josie Cotton, the chirpy new-waver who plays at Foreman’s prom. Of course, in a slightly more realistic picture, The Plimsouls would likely have been replaced with the Circle Jerks or The Urinals or some such, but one imagines that “I’m a Bug” wouldn’t have been quite as wistful a love theme as the Souls’ “A Million Miles Away,” one of the great chimey heartsick love songs of the decade. It became a minor genre hit as a result of the movie and still gets played on New Wave weekends on alt-rock stations, as does Cotton’s “Johnny, Are You Queer?” a song that would sound unbearably obnoxious if released today, but seems more like an innocent update of a Shangri-Las-type girl group song here, and sounds surprisingly sincere about it’s un-PC subject matter (Cotton does not judge, rather, she just wants to know if she should find a new date to prom).
For my money, though, two slightly lesser known songs by both artists are the soundtrack’s real gems. The Plimsouls’ positively aching “Oldest Story in the World” takes them out of Big Star or Raspberries-type territory and puts them more in league with the drunken-3AM sound of Replacements ballads like “Unsatisfied” and “If Only You Were Lonely,” whose bleary-eyed forthcomingness should’ve been the golden standard for just about any heartfelt rock/pop band of the early/mid-80s. Likewise, Josie Cotton’s “He Could Be The One” (actually the bigger pop hit of the two) is the more enduring of her contributions, not as too-cute as “Johnny” and with a fantastic, timeless-sounding organ hook and chorus.
Best of all, even, is a song not by any of these guys–The Payola$, an almost completely era-lost group of Canadian New Wavers, who at least approached US cult success with the stunning “Eyes of a Stranger.” The song’s vaguely dubby beat, vastly atmospheric production and mystery-courting lyrics make it sound like the great lost Police single–like “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” if Sting was capable of writing an exotic love song without using the words “Mephistopheles” and “alabaster”. I can’t get enough of it, personally.
But as this post title suggests, it’s just about all good. Oddities like Sparks’s “Angst in My Pants,” solid little rockers like Pat Travers’ “I La La La Love You,” whatever Felony’s “The Fanatic” is–the more forgotten numbers just help further craft the disc’s personality. You don’t see Valley Girl OST listed on essential New Wave discographies much, but that’s largely attributable to the fact that it was out of print for a decade before Rhino’s merciful 1994 re-issue–at which point, they also saw fit to release More Music from the Valley Girl Soundtrack, which looks nice enough, despite the fact that I really don’t remember any of it being in the movie. More notable is the compilation’s AMG write-up, penned by dear friend of IITS Richie Unterberger, not exactly known for his passion for the genre or time period. “It’s unlikely that there will ever be a groundswell of nostalgia for that peculiar hybrid of new wave and bubblegum pop that came into vogue in the early 1980s,” Richie writes. “The Jam’s ‘Town Without Malice’ [sic] provides a much-needed blast of credibility.” Oh well.