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Thanks for the Turkeys

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November 23, 2004

Music from some of my favorite turkeys (i.e. box office bombs) from the stage and screen, plus Story Time with The Firesign Theatre.

Selection Source Performer(s) Comments
Duke of Madness Motors Dear Friends The Firesign Theatre We hope you're enjoying the all-night images!
Mystery Dance Zero Effect (OS 1998) Elvis Costello This is the main title music for an underrated film that stars Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller as a kind of modern-day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Pullman is Darryl Zero, the misanthropic, reclusive genius detective and master of disguise. Stiller is his long-suffering front man (Zero never actually sees clients) and dogsbody. Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of famed director Lawrence Kasdan), this gloss on the Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia" is an odd mix of mystery, comedy and romance that baffled the Hollywood PR machine and therefore bombed at the box office.
Nowhere Fast Streets of Fire (OS 1984) Fire Inc. Walter Hill directed and co-authored this genre-bender that is basically the classic Western re-set in "another time, another place". Sets and costumes are a mix of '50s and '80s styles and the location is a dark urban landscape that's part NYC and part Chicago. The whole thing is set to a kick-ass rock score by Jim Steinman (who wrote this one and the closing anthem, "Tonight is What it Means to be Young"), Ry Cooder and others.
Countdown to Love Streets of Fire (OS 1984) Greg Phillinganes Phillinganes does all the vocals and most of the instrumentals. In the film this is performed by a black doo-wop group that gets sucked into the action.
One Bad Stud Streets of Fire (OS 1984) The Blasters This Lieber and Stoller classic takes place in the saloon run by The Bad Guy (Willem Dafoe). The cast includes Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Amy Madigan and Rick Moranis (cast against type as a tough-talking music promoter).
Dungeons and Dragons The Dead Alewives web site (now deceased) The Dead Alewives The truth about the Scourge of America's Youth. Pass the Cheetos. The Dead Alewives are/were a Wisconsin-based comedy group.
A Study in Terror Sherlock Holmes - Classic Themes from 221B Baker Street Un-credited orchestra The music is by John Scott from a 1965 film that pits Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) and Dr. Watson (Donald Houston) against Jack the Ripper. It boasts the best Holmes-Watson relationship on the big screen.
Suite from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes - Classic Themes from 221B Baker Street Un-credited orchestra Hollywood veteran Miklos Rozsa scored this 1970 Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond take on Holmes. Originally conceived as an epic-length work with four separate stories, Private Life was cut down to a little over two hours with a corresponding loss of continuity.
The Last Starfighter - Main Theme Space 3 - Beyond the Final Frontier City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine Directed by Nick Castle, this 1984 science fiction adventure has digital animation that looks a bit dated today but is still great fun. The cast includes Robert Preston (his last film) as a kind of alien Professor Harold Hill, conning videogame ace Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) into signing up for a real-life intergalactic war. The score is by Craig Safan.
Voice Prints of the '60s Dear Friends The Firesign Theatre Yes, they did take away our music - but now you can buy it back!
The Black Hole - Overture The Science Fiction Album, V. 1 City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine This is another SF film that tanked, partly because the Disney organization couldn't match their state of the art (for 1979) effects with a script that wasn't cartoonish. The score by John Barry is top-notch, though.
Silent Running - The Space Fleet The Science Fiction Album, V. 1 City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine Peter Schickele (best known for his "P.D.Q. Bach" parodies) showed the straight side of his musical personality for this 1971 ecological SF tale about a botanist (Bruce Dern) on a space station trying to save earth's last samples of vegetation from destruction.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai - Main Theme and End Titles Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi Neil Norman Like many of my favorite films, this one (from 1984) is another genre-bender, with a dense story line requiring close attention, imaginative production design, and a warped perspective that suggests that the writers ingested some illegal chemicals and then read several years of Marvel superhero comics. The cast includes Peter Weller (in the title role), John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd.
My Drugs Are Red, White and Blue GOP Party Monsters Pete Levin Celebrity junkie Rush Limbaugh tells all!
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Broadway - The American Musical Bing Crosby This Jay Gorney and E.Y. Harburg classic was written for the 1932 show New Americana. Two days after the show bombed and closed, Crosby made this recording. Rudy Vallee did the same and both were No. 1 hits, but Crosby's has stood the test of time.
Joe Worker The Cradle Will Rock (Revival cast, 1964) Micki Grant Written for the Federal Theatre Project in 1937, this bit of classic Marc Blitzstein agitprop is a reminder of why the labor union movement started in the first place. The government tried to prevent its first performance by padlocking the theatre, so producers Orson Welles and John Houseman led the entire audience through Manhattan to another theatre, where actors performed the show from the audience.
The Cradle Will Rock American Musical Theatre, V. 2 Howard Da Silva Da Silva was one of those actors, playing the lead role of union organizer Larry Foreman. This recording dates from May, 1937.
Bess, You is My Woman Now American Musical Theatre, V. 2 Todd Duncan, Anne Brown Gershwin's Porgy and Bess is considered a classic now but was a commercial failure in 1935, running only 124 performances and getting mixed critical response. These two recordings were made in 1940 and feature the stars of the original production.
Summertime Broadway - The American Musical Anne Brown Porgy and Bess didn't receive the full, uncut, operatic production Gershwin envisioned until 1976
September Song American Musical Theatre, V. 2 Walter Huston Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) has music by Kurt Weill (his second American show) and book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. The show uses a historical subject - the reign of colonial New Amsterdam governor Pieter Stuyvesant - to comment and the conflict between freedom and autocracy. It ran for 168 performances.
Lost in the Stars Broadway - The American Musical Todd Duncan Another Weill/Anderson collaboration, Lost in the Stars (1944) is based on Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton's novel set in apartheid South Africa. The show ran for 273 performances. Duncan was the first black singer to join the New York City Opera, by the way.
Glitter and Be Gay Broadway - The American Musical Barbara Cook An ambitions failure from 1956 (73 performances), Candide has been through so many re-writes that it now exists in multiple versions. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, the lyrics and book by a raft of writers including John Latouche, Lillian Hellman and Richard Wilbur.
Anyone Can Whistle Anyone Can Whistle (OC 1964) Lee Remick An absurdist social satire about insanity and conformity (among other things), this Sondheim show bombed on Broadway and has rarely been seen since then. New Line Theatre mounted a production locally in 2001.
The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea Pacific Overtures (OC 1976) Mako, Ensemble Stephen Sondheim's ambitious aim here was to relate to story of Japan's metamorphosis from isolated feudal empire to modern industrial nation. The original production borrowed heavily from the Japanese tradition of Kabuki.
Thanksgiving, or, Pass the Indian Dear Friends The Firesign Theatre From a live concert at the Ash Grove on 11/15/1970, the Four or Five Crazy Guys bring you a surrealist version of the first Thanksgiving

Acronyms and other mysteries defined:

OC: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Cast recording of a Broadway show, along with the date.

OS: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Soundtrack recording of a film, TV show, etc.

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