It's Pop Quiz time.
Question: What familiar ingredient is missing from film maker John Hughes' new hit, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" (besides lots of Angst -ridden teen-agers)?
Answer: The sound-track album.
Don't worry. Hughes, who's in the midst of a lucrative five-album sound track label deal with MCA Records, didn't forget to make a record. It's just a little late. In fact, MCA execs have been complaining that the sound track won't be out until after Christmas, nearly six weeks after the movie's release.
As any industry vet could tell you, that's bad news, especially for the record company, which normally gets the biggest percentage of its sound-track sales in the first month of a movie's run, when enthusiasm for a new film is still running high. Worse still, MCA sees so little commercial potential in the sound track that it hasn't even worked a pop single from the record (though it's released Emmylou Harris' "Back in Baby's Arms" as a country 45).
What went wrong? According to Tarquin Gotch, who runs the film maker's Hughes Music label, the sound-track wizards experimented with "too many ideas" while putting together the "Planes" record.
"First we tried to do an all-classical theme record, sort of like something you'd hear on a Frank Capra film," Gotch explained. "And that went down like a lead balloon--it just didn't bring out the comedy in the picture.
"Then we went down to Nashville and recorded a bunch of C&W tracks. It was really a pleasure working down there, but to be honest, the music just didn't play very well. The reaction we got was that it slowed the movie down and made it seem sort of old-fashioned."
However, Jimmy Bowen, president of MCA's Nashville division, disputed this account. "First off--and this is typical of what happens when we deal with movie people--it was like amateur night when they came down here," he said. "They told us they wanted to do 80% of the sound track in Nashville, but they only had about two weeks to do it.
"Then after we cut some tracks, they previewed the movie and told us it got terrible numbers and the music got an even worse reaction. That's fine, but it's not fair for them to blame it on the music we cut here--it wasn't even done when they tested the movie. They just used a bunch of old demo country tracks, not the stuff we recorded."
(Songs that ended up on the cutting-room floor included a Lee Greenwood and Glen Campbell duet on "Thanksgiving" and a remake of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" by Bill Monroe.)
After scrapping much of the Nashville sessions, Gotch said he opted for more traditional Hughes-film fare like "Power to Believe" by the Dream Academy. However, by this time the film was locked into a release date.
The resulting sound track is a big disappointment, especially after such satisfying past collections as "Pretty in Pink" and "Some Kind of Wonderful." It offers a hodge-podge of salvaged Nashville tunes (Steve Earle's "Six Days on the Road"), predictable pop (Dave Edmunds' "Gonna Move") and uninspired remakes (a group called the Stars of Heaven do a sound-alike rendition of the Flying Burrito Brothers classic, "Wheels").
Another letdown: The two songs that have the most impact in the film--Ray Charles' "Mess Around" and Linda Hall's version of Darryl Hall's "Everytime You Go Away"--are both missing from the sound track.
Gotch blamed production problems, especially in the case of "Mess Around," which accompanies an inspired comic car scene with John Candy behind the wheel. "We had been re-editing that scene, trying different music in it because something wasn't working right," Gotch said. "Then we finally realized it wasn't the music, it was the way we'd done the scene. When we re-edited it, it ended up working great with the Ray Charles song. But by then we'd already delivered the album and it was too late to get the song onto the sound track."
While MCA execs have grumbled privately about the handling of the album, they've so far refused to voice any beefs in public. "My only complaint was that we made all of our Nashville people available and most of their work didn't end up on the album," said MCA Records chief Irving Azoff. "But I think John Hughes is a genius. And we'll make a lot of money from this deal before it's over."