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'Performance': Memo From Jagger, Friends

December 28, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

It's easy to think of the celebrated "Performance" album soundtrack--which has just been reissued in compact disc--as a Mick Jagger album.

After all, the most famous Rolling Stone co-starred in the unsettling 1970 cult film. He also sang and co-wrote "Memo From Turner," the best-known song on the album. And it's Jagger's face on the cover.

Yet "Performance," one of the most striking soundtracks of the rock era, is more accurately a showcase of three other talents, each of whom has had considerable success in creating music for films: Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and Randy Newman.

Nitzsche--whose score for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was nominated for an Oscar in 1975--not only wrote most of the album's 13 songs, but he also served as arranger and producer of the soundtrack.

The music conveys remarkably well the tension and emotional disintegration of the tale of a small-time English hoodlum (played by James Fox) who discovers that mental sparring--in this case with a retired, drug-obsessed rock star (Jagger)--can be more unsettling than the physical violence of his old world.

Besides his credit as conductor, Newman--who later wrote the scores for such films as "Ragtime" and "The Natural"--sang and played piano on the opening track, "Gone Dead Train." The latter is a rowdy, Stones-accented number with some of the rock flavor of Newman's version of his own "Mama Told Me Not to Come."

Cooder's bottleneck guitar style is spotlighted at several points in the album, telegraphing much of the lonesome, evocative soundscapes he would later offer in his own music for such films as "Paris, Texas" and "Alamo Bay."

Jagger's "Memo From Turner"--a track that was included in the Rolling Stones' recent CD box set, "Singles Collection * The London Years"--is a cynical tale written by Jagger and Keith Richards in the impressionistic, Dylan-influenced style of "Sympathy for the Devil."

Other members of the rich album cast include the Last Poets, Merry Clayton and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

More '70s Sounds: Perhaps the most unlikely album series of 1990 was Rhino Records' "Have a Nice Day" collection. Who would have figured there would be enough of a market for the disposable pop of the '70s (Sugarloaf's "Green-Eyed Lady" to Mark Lindsay's "Arizona") to justify a single volume, much less 10 volumes?

But there was sufficient response to the series--including, oddest of all, a fair amount of critical applause--for Rhino to come back with five more volumes.

What's left after the approximately 120 songs in the first 10 volumes?

Some noteworthy singles, along with a lot of songs that you thought you'd never hear again.

The line-up of Vol. 11 pretty well illustrates the blend of the good, the bad and the ugly found on the other volumes: Clint Holmes' "Playground in My Mind," Maureen McGovern's "The Morning After," Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell's "Dueling Banjos," Donna Fargo's "Funny Face," Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra," Gallery's "Big City, Miss Ruth Ann."

Plus Jud Strunk's "Daisy a Day," Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Get Down," Albert Hammond's "The Free Electric Band," the Charlie Daniels Band's "Uneasy Rider," B. W. Stevenson's "My Maria" and El Chicano's "Tell Her She's Lovely."

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