Mystery Music March

41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti

Even though most of us would list Star Wars as one of our favourite films, American Graffiti is director George Lucas’s best work. It’s the perfect marriage of story and period, evoking nostalgia for that moment in the US which straddled the more clear cut 50s way of life and the moral ambiguity that straddled the Vietnam war, the effects of which are still being endured today. It’s funny, smart, sweet, has great performances and above all an amazing soundtrack.

In developing the film, Lucas and screenwriters Gloria Katz, and Willard Huyck understood that for authenticity the music of the period should be omnipresent, creeping out of radios and jukeboxes in diner and cars and in the radio station that Richard Dreyfuss visits at one point. The idea, at least initially, was that each of the scene should last for the duration of a song the nature of which should punctuate was that scene was about. It was expensive, costing at least a tenth of the total budget of the film.

Which means that the soundtrack album is as all encompassing survey of the music of the period as you’re likely to hear. Just look at the track listing:
Disc One

1. "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets (1954)
2. "Sixteen Candles" by The Crests (1958)
3. "Runaway" by Del Shannon (1961)
4. "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (1956)
5. "That'll be the Day" by Buddy Holly (1957)
6. "Fanny Mae" by Buster Brown (1959)
7. "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors (1957)
8. "She's So Fine" by Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids
9. "The Stroll" by The Diamonds (1957)
10. "See You in September" by The Tempos (1959)
11. "Surfin' Safari" by The Beach Boys (1962)
12. "He's the Great Imposter" by The Fleetwoods (1961)
13. "Almost Grown" by Chuck Berry (1959)
14. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by The Platters (1959)
15. "Little Darlin"' by The Diamonds (1957)
16. "Peppermint Twist" by Joey Dee and the Starliters (1961)
17. "Barbara Ann" by The Regents (1961)
18. "Book of Love" by The Monotones (1958)
19. "Maybe Baby" by Buddy Holly (1958)
20. "Ya Ya" by Lee Dorsey (1961)
21. "The Great Pretender" by The Platters (1955)

Disc Two

1. "Ain't That a Shame" by Fats Domino (1955)
2. "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry (1958)
3. "I Only Have Eyes for You" by The Flamingos (1959)
4. "Get a Job" by The Silhouettes (1958)
5. "To the Aisle" by The Five Satins (1957)
6. "Do You Wanna Dance" by Bobby Freeman (1958)
7. "Party Doll" by Buddy Knox (1957)
8. "Come Go with Me" by The Del-Vikings (1956)
9. "You're Sixteen" by Johnny Burnette (1960) written by Bob & Dick Sherman
10. "Love Potion No. 9" by The Clovers (1959)
11. "Since I Don't Have You" by The Skyliners (1959)
12. "Chantilly Lace" by The Big Bopper (1958)
13. "Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning (1960)
14. "Crying in the Chapel" by Sonny Till & the Orioles (1953)
15. "A Thousand Miles Away" by The Heartbeats (1957)
16. "Heart and Soul" by The Cleftones (1961)
17. "Green Onions" by Booker T. & the M.G.'s (1962)
18. "Only You (and You Alone)" by The Platters (1954)
19. "Goodnight, Well It's Time to Go" by The Spaniels (1953)
20. "All Summer Long" by The Beach Boys (1964).
Sound editor Walter Murch’s selections are just plain scholarly; many of these songs have later turned up on other soundtracks and commercials which is probably where most of us had heard them from. But I would imagine that the non-fiction adult versions of the characters in the film couldn’t fail to be transported backwards to the early 60s, when music still had an innocent quality.

But even those of us who were born a decade later and enjoyed and endured the 70s can still be transported through the decision to not simply include the music of the period but also the patter. The legendary DJ Wolfman Jack appears as himself in the film, imparting advice to Dreyfuss and and also actually appears on this soundtrack, taking requests, joshing about and introducing the records. For all the innovation that the likes of Danny Baker, Kenny Everett, Chris Evans and Chris Moyles are credited with, Jack was doing exactly their kind of zoo radio in the 60s, albeit with slightly less sophistication.

Unlike Robin Williams inclusion on the Good Morning Vietnam album though, which was essentially his dialogue from the film dropped in between tracks and skippable on a cd, the Wolfman is part of the fabric of some of the tracks even singing along and talking over the fade out. It’s almost as though we’re listening to the very radio show from the film or that a recording of one the DJs own shows has been saved and cleaned up or if you in a magical mood, dropped through a time warp. Which makes it one of my favourite soundtracks especially since apart from anything else you can dance and sing along to it.

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