I recently had the absolute pleasure of watching Return of the Living Dead at the Hudson Horror Show III in glowing 35mm. You think you like Blu Ray. You think you like DVD. You think you like AVI’s. I think you need to see a 35mm print of one of your favorite films. There’s no added content and sometimes the quality of the print can make you woozy with strange abnormalities, but the absolute nostalgia of watching a film in its originally displayed medium is inspiring. Thus we have our little entry into Dr. T’s world today.
Let’s talk about one of the best horror film soundtracks of our time. I’m not talking about original score. Elfman, Simonetti, Mothersbaugh, Herman and the crew have that nailed. They are brilliant artists, but let us not forget the power of a truly punk rock, new wave infused accompaniment to make a movie that is filled with tongue in cheek humor to be escalated to cult proportions. Is the soundtrack to Return of the Living Dead solely responsible for its cult stardom? Not on your life (or undeath as the case may be). Without it, horror fans miss a number of slightly off kilter numbers that have cemented the legacy of the underground horror punk genre only second to the Misfits, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Zacherley albums. Without further delay join me in understanding a bit more about each of the contributor’s to this soundtrack as well as the opportunity to sit back and listen to each one sans Dan O’Bannon’s genius creation taking your attention away from his epic music selection.
The Cramps - “Surfin’ Dead”
Probably the most famous of a the surf horror, garage band scene, the Cramps came on board in 1976 under the watchful eye of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, Bryan Gregory and Pam Ballam. They would go through numerous line up chancges over their thirty plus years in the biz only stopping due to the death of Lux Interior. This entry is a one of recording done specifically for our prized picture. It holds up as a throwback surf rock, jerk for zombie lovers.
Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon… clearly worth your time:
45 Grave - “Party Time (Zombie Version)”
45 Grave is a ruckus California punk rock band that had a nack for combining creepy lyrics with four chord rock. This particular entry comes off like a hair metal band offering less the CBGB’s punk of the late 70’s. Described as Deathrock, these guys certainly do rock the dead. “Party Time” is actually a slightly altered version of the 45 Grave tune thus the zed word moniker above.
A nice offering from 46… no wait… 45 Grave:
Movie version or the Zombie Version:
T.S.O.L. – “Nothin’ for You”
T.S.O.L or the True Sounds of Liberty are also a very straightforward punk band with some horror punk roots. Also hailing from California they were often referred to as the “West Coast Misfits”. Apparently these guys were buddy’s with Guns N’ Roses and were even featured in the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” video so there’s another pop culture reference in our cult line up. Alongside their appearance on the Return of the Living Dead Soundtrack they also accompanied the film Suburbia and Dangerously Close. This particular entry wants you to swing your arms in traditional 80’s dance fashion. Somebody call Carlton Banks.
The Flesh Eaters – “”Eyes Without a Face”
Members of The Flesh Eaters came from as far as Los Lobos, Wall of Voodoo, X and even Stan Ridgeway. This band could be seen as the great amalgam of low key 80’s new wave artists that we’ve come to know and love and so many “I Love the 80’s” compilations. Their dark sound is more straight forward punk based then horror punk. They’re anything but a re-visitation of 80’s new wave. “They’re a way of life” to paraphrase Suicide.
And then there’s another entry into the Flesh Eaters canon:
Roky Erickson – “Burn the Flames”
Found of the 13th Floor Elevators, who were revived to be part of the Hi Fidelity soundtrack with John Cusack, Roky Erickson split from the Elevators under the pressures of drugs and mental illness. While the 13th Floor Elevators were clearly psychedelic rock with several common “trippy” guitar tricks to accentuate their music, Roky yearned for a different creative direction and began his post-Elevators music in 1974 citing old horror and sci fi films in his lyrics. His solo albums include Gremlins Have Pictures, The Evil One, Demon Angel, Casting the Runes and Halloween. This entry into the soundtrack is a slow moving dirge of a rock ballad ode to death. In Return of the Living Dead it is showcased as the song to which Frank throws himself in the cremation fires. It’s a touching moment. A selfless act.
Night of the Vampire by Roky (original folk punk?):
The Damned - “Dead Beat Dance”
These guys were a British punk rock band who were a bit on the darker side and came out of the ashes of bands such as the Pretenders and Masters of the Backside. Sid Vicious auditioned for this band. Their music, lyrics and album titles as well as their appearances can all be seen as a reference to the horror genre. They continue to play to this day recently having supported Motorhead and performing at music festivals in England. Very typical four chord punk with reverb on the vocal gives you a “haunting” feel with pop sensibilities. Some of the vocalization is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd and vocals akin to Peter Murphy.
With vampire image firmly in place:
Tall Boys – “Take a Walk”
Not much is known about the Tall Boys (at least that’s what Lois Lane told us when she used the Google Tool Bar), but what can be said of their music is that the vocals come off more than just slightly off key. It would appear that most what we know about them actually is their involvement in this soundtrack. What a way to fame. There’s also an “old time string band” under the name the Tallboys. I think you’ll find them somewhat different than our dear new wave, punk offering.
A fairly low quality entry by the Tall Boys:
Jet Black Berries - “Love Under Will”
This band released several albums into the mid-80’s and is the most “Goth” of any of the bands on this soundtrack. Bears similarities to anything you might have heard off the Goth Rock Compilations you may or may not have purchased from Hot Topic. We’re talking something akin to the Skeletal Family not so much Bauhaus or Christian Death. Enjoy the Asian-esque riffage and the seemingly Pagan lyrical influence. When you get your manicure later today, paint ‘em black.
Is that Oasis? No wait… it’s the Jet Black Berries:
SSQ – “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)”
The two most pop entries into the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack are from SSQ. SSQ stands for Stacey Swan and Q, the original name of the band. This entry into the soundtrack is clearly danceable and could have been played on your favorite DJ’s radio program on the top twenty count down. I’m sure it was the dark lyrics that kept it off the radio. Or maybe when Frankie said “Relax” it clashed with the life ending love making session implied by the lyrics. Note: Linnea Quigley’s strip tease will always and forever be associated with this song so you better learn to like it if you’re not fond of 80’s new wave/dance tunes.
SSQ - “Trash’s Theme”
Dark synth driven music. Probably good for playing on your Halloween scare sound effects loop after you’ve carefully planned and designed your haunted house. Not much more to say. Enjoy.
I hope this entry into our little project has helped you to appreciate some of the songs that you’ve heard on endless repeat as you watched this picture over the years. Not everyone is a soundtrack junkie. I’m clearly someone who pays a little too much attention to music in pictures. I’ve been known to sing along with some of my favorite movie tunes while the picture is still playing. I do it under my breath but am always afraid some will out me. Make this a part of your next kegger’s soundtrack. Make this a part of your life… the soundtrack of you death. The touch… the feel of BRAINS!!!
-Dr. Jimmy Terror
Source Note: I’m not a musical genius and most of the info I have about the bands come directly from other sources not limited to your favorite user updated content site Wikipedia. The effort here was really to gather info about the bands and comment on their contributions. If anything the info is paraphrased. I do not claim to be a punk rock info god. I do claim to be a tremendous slacker.
Also, in my research I found this absolutely brilliant article (although I despise the formatting) on the subject. Please enjoy. We clearly have the same idea as most horror fans would. The author talks more about how it was fund and the label as well as some of the technical aspects of the recording. A good article to be sure.