This is the eighteenth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
This is a special theme week – all legends involving the soundtrack of films!
MOVIE LEGEND: Fast Times at Ridgemont High used the song “Kashmir” even though it did not fit into the script.
Led Zeppelin has had a strong history in their career with the protection of their songs as far as allowing them to be licensed for films and stuff like that.
This is a policy that has been wasted away a bit over the years as:
A. The large sums of money available to them for licensing plus
B. The large amount of other respected artists who have licensed their songs
have led to Zeppelin being a bit more willing to allow their songs to be used. That is why you can now hear, say, “Black Dog” being used to sell cars.
However, in 1983, that was not the case – they were practically Fort Knox when it came to using their songs in ANY sort of context.
This is where Cameron Crowe fits in.
Cameron Crowe was a rock journalist for Rolling Stone while still a teenager. While working for Rolling Stone, he did articles on Led Zeppelin and came to be quite friendly with the band (years later they would choose Crowe to do the liner notes for their career-spanning Box Set).
In the early 1980s, the 22-year-old Crowe went undercover as a high school student to write a book.
That book was called Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The book was optioned for a movie, and Crowe was hired to write the screenplay.
Directed by Amy Heckerling, Fast Times was very much about music. The soundtrack was very important (and led to at least one hit song, Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby”). Amusingly enough, as you can tell from the soundtrack, there were very divergent tastes involved in making the soundtrack.
Here’s the track listing…
1. “Somebody’s Baby” (Jackson Browne) – 4:05
2. “Waffle Stomp” (Joe Walsh) – 3:40
3. “Love Rules” (Don Henley) – 4:05
4. “Uptown Boys” (Louise Goffin) – 2:45
5. “So Much in Love” (Timothy B. Schmit) – 2:25
6. “Raised on the Radio” (The Ravyns) – 3:43
7. “The Look in Your Eyes” (Gerard McMahon) – 4:00
8. “Speeding” (The Go-Go’s) – 2:11
9. “Don’t Be Lonely” (Quarterflash) – 3:18
10. “Never Surrender” (Don Felder) – 4:15
11. “Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives)” (Billy Squier) – 3:41
12. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (Sammy Hagar) – 3:36
13. “I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme)” (Jimmy Buffett) – 3:00
14. “Love Is the Reason” (Graham Nash) – 3:31
15. “I’ll Leave It up to You” (Poco) – 2:55
16. “Highway Runner” (Donna Summer) – 3:18
17. “Sleeping Angel” (Stevie Nicks) – 3:55
18. “She’s My Baby (And She’s Outta Control)” (Jost/Palmer) – 2:53
19. “Goodbye, Goodbye” (Oingo Boingo) – 4:34
As you can see, there’s a mixture of younger artists popular among the teen set, as well as a bunch of Southern California soft rock artists. This was because Heckerling wanted the former group of songs on the album, while producer Irving Azoff felt that artists like the Eagles would be best for the movie. That Azoff was the manager of the Eagles I’m sure had absolutely no impact on what he felt made for a good soundtrack.
Anyhow, one of the neatest things about having Crowe write the movie was that presumably he could use his connections with famous rock artists to get good songs for the soundtrack. Specifically, it was felt that Crowe would be able to deliver what few (I think literally ONE other film had done this at this point, and it was a minor French art film) others could – a Zeppelin song for use in the film!
In fact, Crowe actually wrote a scene in the film specifically ABOUT Led Zeppelin’s music.
In the scene, geeky Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) is taking Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) out on a date. He has been told by his more “sophisticated” (read “sleazier”) friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) the following five-point plan:
First of all Rat, you never let on how much you like a girl. “Oh, Debbie. Hi.” Two, you always call the shots. “Kiss me. You won’t regret it.” Now three, act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be. “Isn’t this great?” Four, when ordering food, you find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. It’s a classy move. “Now, the lady will have the linguini and white clam sauce, and a Coke with no ice.” And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.
So, while Rat and Stacy are in the car, Rat plays “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin…
Now, naturally, a lot of rock fans would scream, “But ‘Kashmir’ isn’t ON Led Zeppelin IV!”
Which is true.
It is not.
It is on Physical Graffiti.
However, while Crowe was able to score a big coup by getting Led Zeppelin to agree to let him use A song in the film, they would NOT let him use any song from Led Zeppelin IV (their fourth album to be self-titled).
Years later, when Crowe made a film based on his years as a rock journalist, Almost Famous, he screened the film specially for Led Zeppelin and they loved it.
And they agreed to let him use a number of their songs. But even THEN they had limits on which songs he could use (to wit, they wouldn’t let him use “Stairway to Heaven,” which was going to be used in an amazingly bold scene where Crowe was going to have the character based on him play the entire song (which is famously quite long) for his mother to convince her to allow him to go on tour with a rock group).
Crowe and Heckerling, though, figured it was better to get A Led Zeppelin song than to not get any just because it didn’t fit the script, so they went with “Kashmir.”
So it is an intentional “mistake.”
Over the years, well-intentioned fans have made a couple of good “no-prize” answers (a “no-prize” is a comic book term – it is something you come up with to explain why an error wasn’t REALLY an error), like “Damone says that Led Zeppelin IV is good for making out, and since they’re not making out in that scene then it explains why he isn’t playing Led Zeppelin IV” or “This shows that Ratner is so geeky that he played the wrong album!.” However, that’s unnecessary, as Crowe admits the “mistake” – it just wasn’t worth changing the script just because they couldn’t get the right song, and heck, getting “Kashmir” was still quite a coup!
MOVIE LEGEND: Carol Reed hired Anton Karas to do the soundtrack of The Third Man based on seeing him play at a bar in Vienna.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
To start with, we can pretty safely debunk one of the major stories of how Anton Karas got the gig of doing the soundtrack for the Third Man.
An old story was that the director of the film, Carol Reed, came upon Karas at a bar in Vienna while filming the movie (which is, naturally, set in Vienna) and hired him on the spot to do a song for the soundtrack and once he did the one song, Reed asked him to do more and thus, a star was born (here’s Karas below with his unique musical instrument, the zither)!!
It’s pretty clear from various histories of Reed, Karas and the film itself that Reed first hired Karas to do a song for the soundtrack after Karas was playing his zither at a production party for The Third Man in London, well after the conclusion of the filming in Vienna.
Otherwise, the story is similar – Reed hired Karas to do A song and quickly decided that he wanted Karas to score the entire film (for quite a lot more money than Karas was making at the time playing his zither to entertain bar patrons in Vienna). This was a major endeavor for Karas, who was almost entirely a performer and not a writer of music. So now he had to suddenly score an entire film! The story of Karas living in London with Reed for three months as Karas worked 12-15 hours a day on the film is truly remarkable – and it’s almost like the film Boxing Helena, in that Reed literally would not let Karas leave!! Karas wanted to take a trip back to Vienna, but Reed would not allow it!
But it all paid off when both…
A. The film was released and was a big hit…
B. The soundtrack came out and was almost a BIGGER hit!
The trailers for the film even used Karas’ music as a selling point for the film – “He’ll have you in a dither with his zither!”
The most popular song by Karas, “The Harry Lime Theme” (Harry Lime was Orson Welles’ character) sold 500,000 copies!! It increased zither sales, well, a lot (if you sold 10 more zithers that would probably have tripled the zither sales in the U.S. in 1948).
So it is not true that Reed hired Karas out of a Viennese bar.
HOWEVER, SOMEbody hired him to work at the production party in London, right?
And here, history is not so helpful.
No one seems to know exactly who had the idea to hire Karas to play at the production party in London. It most certainly was someone who was with the film crew in Vienna, as who else would think of hiring a Viennese bar performer to come to London to play a party for the film?
So if it WAS Reed, then that would sort of combine the two stories into one cohesive narrative, doesn’t it?
MOVIE LEGEND: A case of mistaken identity led to the inclusion of a number of Al Kapone songs on the soundtrack to Hustle and Flow.
Director Craig Brewer worked with producer John Singleton in finally getting Brewer’s film, Hustle & Flow, out to the masses (Brewer had been trying to get the film out for years) in 2005.
The film, starring Terrence Howard as a hustler deciding to take one last shot at his dream of becoming a rapper, became a surprise box office AND critical hit, making Howard a star and securing the first Academy Award for a rap group for the song, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” by Three 6 Mafia.
Obviously, the soundtrack for a film like this is very important, and Singleton specifically wanted to work with the Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia because of his relationship with the group from his 2001 film, Baby Boy.
Brewer is from Memphis, and he was familiar with the rap scene in Memphis, so he was fine with going with Three 6 Mafia, as he was a big fan of theirs. He was also a fan, though, of fellow Memphis rapper Al Kapone.
In any event, when getting ready to get some songs for the soundtrack (including tracks that could be performed by Howard’s character, DJay), Brewer was waiting on a call from DJ Paul, the head of the Three 6 Mafia.
However, DJ Paul had mentioned to Al Kapone about the fact that the film was looking for Memphis rappers (that wasn’t exactly what the film was doing, but I suppose that’s what DJ Paul got out of it), so he gave Kapone the phone number as well, and while Brewer was waiting for Paul’s call, he instead got a call from Kapone.
While Brewer was familiar with the music of both men, he did not know them personally, so Brewer had an extensive conversation with Kapone THINKING HE WAS DJ PAUL!
When the truth came out, Brewer was embarrassed, but he also felt that Kapone deserved a chance to pitch a song for the film. So Kapone auditioned for John Singleton and Singleton loved him.
The song they agreed to get at that point, “Hustle & Flow (It Ain’t Over),” made the film’s soundtrack (here’s a picture of Kapone).
But they liked Kapone enough they let him pitch MORE songs, and one of them, “Whoop That Trick,” was made one of DJay’s main songs in the film.
Kapone has had a lot of success since the film came out (maybe not as much as Three 6 Mafia, who really exploded due to the film, but still…) and it was all due to luck and a case of mistaken identity (or perhaps lack of Caller I.D.!).
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org