SoundTreks | Everybody Wants Some!!
Nostalgia is one of the most glorious, and one of the most dangerous of emotions. I allows us to re-experience a version of our youths that has been sweetened and embellished by memory, while, at the same time, robbing us of any sort of objective view of the past. Musical nostalgia is particularly insidious. Looking back through your own halcyon years, you will find that any pop song that was released on or about your 16th year will likely be fondly remembered. Case in point from my own past: There is no way I can think of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” as anything less than important.
The soundtrack record for Richard Linklater’s new film Everybody Wants Some!! is a ripe and hefty slice of late-’70s and early-’80s nostalgia writ large. The film takes place in 1980, when Linklater himself was only 19 or 20, and contains what is, no doubt, the soundtrack of his youth. The following 16 tracks are, more or less, Linklater (and his music supervisors) casually attempting to create the defining sound of early-onset Generation X kids.
We here at SoundTreks have listened to the soundtrack, and we’re going to report on how successful this little experiment was. Get your shorts on, drop a quarter into Space Invaders, and pop in the tape. It’s time to dance.
Track 1. “My Sharona” – The Knack
Released in 1979, “My Sharona” is – lyrically speaking – one of the more disgusting of pop songs. I doesn’t quite rival AC/DC singing about women who keep their motors clean, but The Knack does indeed sing about getting erections when thinking of “the younger kind.” I also wince a bit when they sing about something running down the length of their thigh. Are we meant to picture a grown man being groped through his pants by a young girl? Is that gross?
Having said all that, “My Sharona” is bloody amazing. That powerful guitar riff, that booming drumline, that passionate vocal caterwaul. It’s enough to make even the most staunch wallflower want to get up and dance.
It’s a very well-known song, however. Does including it on a soundtrack in 2016 count as a cheap trick or an obvious choice made without thought? I would say no. This is not fake nostalgia. As we shall see in future tracks, this is the real thing. “My Sharona” was a hit in 1980. If you’re going to compile legit hits from the era, then this is no cheat.
Track 2. “Heart of Glass” – Blondie
Weird thing: I used to hate “Heart of Glass.” Now I like it a lot. The song can function as disco, which angered a lot of Blondie’s purist fans at the time, who felt that a New Wave band going disco was a sell-out regression. I would argue that “Heart of Glass” functions perfectly well as both a dancefloor standard and as an example of the New Wave. A hipper music supervisor would have, perhaps, found a deeper Blondie cut, but we may be seeing what this record has set out to do: Figure out what an 18-year-old was casually listening to in the Summer of 1980.
Track 3. “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” – The S.O.S. Band
1980 was right on the cusp of anti-disco sentiment. For many years, it was hip to hate disco, even though disco records were still selling well. The S.O.S. Band is a funk band that also practiced the disco sound. This 7 ½-minute song of their was a big hit, proving that dance clubs were still the place to be for a young person in 1980. It’s also telling that a song this long was a hit. Dance tracks could get away with that. Because dancing for 7 minutes is twice as good as dancing for 3 ½.
How do I feel about it? Frankly, I’m not familiar with this one, so it sounds like a pretty good dance song, but it doesn’t grab me right away. Which is fine. After two ringers, it’s nice to have a song clearly resurrected from a Gen-Xer’s memory.
Track 4. “Heartbreaker” – Pat Benatar
Who doesn’t love Pat Benatar?
Track 5. “Alternative Ulster” – Stiff Little Fingers
While I often vaunt the 1990s as being a time of striking musical diversity, one should not shortchange the late ’70s and early ’80s for their eclecticism. This was a time when hard rock was still breathing, metal was coming into being, disco was still riding high, weird New Wave bands were rattling the zeitgeist, punk rock was gaining pop traction while also (curiously) spawning post-punk, and rap was just evolving from the oceans. There was a lot of newness and a lot of experimentation. So any soundtrack about the time would, by necessity, have to be diverse, right?
Enter Stiff Little Fingers, an Irish punk band that springboards off of Pat Benatar and thrashed you about a little bit. And why not? In the movie, the main character seems equally at ease in a disco club, a country club, and a punk club. Represent each, and you have a healthy musical diagram.
Track 6.”Every 1’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate
Squint a little bit, and you can almost pretend that this is a Mark Ronson and/or Bruno Mars project from 2016. While Hot Chocolate’s “I Believe in Miracles” is their better-known hit, “Every 1’s a Winner” is the better song. It’s more musically complex, better produced, and feels more authentic. Even if you fear being mocked for owning disco records (the disco stigma, it seems, lasts to the present), you can happily boast liking a song like this one. It’s retro cool is enough to knock you over.
Track 7. “Everybody Wants Some!!” – Van Halen
Ah, Van Halen. Hello, metal. Hello, completely unguarded adolescent lust.
There was a time when hard rock was heavy, dark, poetic, complex. At some point, it turned into horny drinkers singing about getting laid. This is fine. There is a place in this great big world for that. But even though Linklater’s movie takes its title from this song, it feels least of a piece with the rest. I did just state above that diversity was a healthy consequence of the surrounding epoch, but this one feels out-of-place to me.
Track 8. “Let’s Get Serious” – Jermaine Jackson
Another 1980 hit that I wish I had heard earlier in my life. Co-written by Stevie Wonder, “Let’s Get Serious” is fine-ass funk production with a pop edge, possessed of some vaguely dull lyrics. While Jermaine may not have had the clout as his more famous brother and sister (Donny and Marie), he does a fine job in the solo works I have heard.
Track 9. “Pop Muzik” – M
New York, London, Paris, Munich.
M is often cited as one of the 1980s best-known one-hit wonders, even though “Pop Muzik” is technically from the 1970s. “Pop Muzik” comes halfway through the soundtrack, and almost seems to delineate a change in 1980 pop. Music was beginning to affect a more electronic sound, and things became more playful from time to time. A lot of musical acts of the ’80s were downright avant-garde, so weird stuff like this could become a hit totally unironically.
Discuss: Is “Pop Muzik” a great song? Is it good for dancing? Or does it function better as satire? Is it even satire?
Track 10. “Because the Night” – Patti Smith Group
And, yes, there was even a moody side to 1980. It wasn’t all electro-pop and dancefloor fun. Some of it was soulful and a little bit dark. “Because the Night” came out in 1977, but it feels oddly timeless. Hence, you may forgive me when I reveal that I thought it came out in the 1990s. Squint your ears a little bit, and it could be a grunge song.
Track 11. “I Want You to Want Me (Live Version)” – Cheap Trick
Here’s some more power pop metal-ish music, but more in-keeping with the overall spirit of the record than the Van Halen song.
Track 12. “Hand in Hand” – Dire Straits
If you want a love song or a ballad from 1980s, you could do infinitely worse than this one. There was still a lot of bland, awful “adult contemporary” floating around the charts (do I need to remind you that Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” was one of the biggest singles of all time?) and that music must have leaked into radio playlists from time to time. But a hip 18-year-old wouldn’t want to listen to that. When they want ballads, they turn to blues-rock anthems from otherwise rock-y bands.
Track 13. “Whip It” – Devo
“Whip It” was Devo’s biggest hit. It was intended to be a spoof of mealymouthed self-help language that was floating through culture at the time. Devo, never not cynical, turned their playful disgust with the phenomenon into a catchy, weird pop hit that is often played and rarely analyzed. Either way, the song holds up, and is a fun listen, even for those who may be a little tired of ’80s one-hit wonders. Yes, despite their popularity and influence, Devo is still technically a one-hit wonder band.
Once again, we face a ringer. While Devo could have been included in a hipper context (take anything at all from either volume of “Hardcore Devo”), we have to recall that this is what the greatest number of youths were listening to. College kids in 1980 would not have gathered to listen to the demo version of “Be Stiff.” They danced to this. Ringer accepted.
Track 14. “Romeo’s Tune” – Steve Forbert
I know little about Steve Forbert, and had not heard “Romeo’s Tune” until seeing Everybody Wants Some!!, so this counts as a deep cut. Forbert is a blues rock musician who managed to chart this song in 1980, and who is still making music (his last album dropped in 2015). He comes from Mississippi, so it’s possible that the Texans in the movie would have had easier access to this song than a California or New York kid might. If this is true… authenticity!
Track 15. “Good Times Roll” – The Cars
Like Talking Heads, The Cars are passingly observed by mainstream audiences as a pop band, but who are actually a musically brilliant New Wave band let by a brilliant songwriter. Listen to this one. It’s not a party anthem. It’s winsome. It’s positive in melody, but sneaky in its darkness. I dig the lyrics: “If the illusion is real, let them give you a ride, if they got thunder appeal, let them be on your side.” It’s a song about giving up.
Track 16. “Rapper’s Delight” – The Sugarhill Gang
“Rapper’s Delight” is often cited as the very first rap song. That may or may not be true, but it was certainly the first to bring rap to the public’s attention. In Everybody Wants Some!!, the main characters flawlessly recite the song while cruising around in their car. The characters are not into “the rap scene” or anything. They just know a good song when they hear it.
Which may be the subtle brilliance of both the film and of this soundtrack record. When you’re young, just entering college, and your identity is essentially up for grabs, you tend to be more musically omnivorous. You listen to everything that’s hot, and don’t bother hanging your shingle on any of it. It’s all about dancing, having a good time, stumbling upon pop excitement.
So why not rap along?
Which Is Better? The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The movie has more to say, but the soundtrack may be deceptively deep. If you know what to listen for, you begin to see more than a fun mix tape. You’re seeing a powerful nostalgia anthem to a very specific time and place. This is not a half-remembered giggle or recognition, nor a boring as-seen-on-TV ’80s compilation of haphazardly assembled chart-toppers. This is a clear view of what it was to be 18 in 1980, and what the world sounded like.
And, as it turns out, there was a lot of fun to be had. When one is 18, there are no musical tribes yet. In a movie about the discovery of a new life and the opening of new social and cognitive frontiers, it stands to reason that the music should be equally open to possibilities.
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.