Happy Halloween! To celebrate this spookiest of holidays, we’re bringing you a special holiday reprise from The Second Disc Archives in which we revisit the immortal, undead “Son of Dracula,” starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr!
October 2010 will bring a major reissue campaign devoted to the Apple Records discography, seeing most of that storied label’s output arrive in editions remastered by the same team behind the Beatles’ catalogue overhaul last year. But one Apple-related LP is among the titles not coming on CD: the 1974 soundtrack to Son of Dracula. Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr’s musical horror/comedy romp was the sole release on the Rapple label (Nilsson’s label RCA + Apple = Rapple, get it? Good!) and has only enjoyed a CD appearance via a short-lived Japanese edition (RCA BVCP-7314).
The germ of the idea for Son of Dracula originated with Ringo Starr, who quickly approached his pal in debauchery, the talented, eccentric singer and songwriter Harry Nilsson. Harry had already explored the “rock Dracula” theme with the cover to his 1972 Son of Schmilsson (RCA LSP-4717) which followed up his breakthrough Nilsson Schmilsson (RCA AFL1-4515). Son of Schmilsson’s cover featured the artist in full vampire mode, cape and all, with the album’s title dripping in blood. The idea for the film must have been irresistible to Nilsson, though he was surprised to find that Ringo wasn’t inspired by his album cover at all (despite having played on the LP!), but rather arrived independently at the concept. Son of Dracula would be written by Jennifer Jayne and directed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, with Starr sharing executive producer credit and setting the film up with Apple Films. Francis had previously honed his B-moviemaking abilities working at Britain’s infamous Hammer studio in the 1960s and brought that unique sensibility to the project.
Got your plastic fangs in, and your cape on? Click on the jump to read more about the wild musical adventures of Count Downe (uh huh) and his arch-nemesis Baron Frankenstein (or is that Fronk-en-steen? Sorry, wrong movie!) set to the songs of the one and only Mr. Harry Nilsson…
A brief prologue with Ringo as a bewigged, bearded Merlin the Magician in Transylvania opens the film, and we then meet Harry Nilsson’s Count Downe in the present day. The good Count considers abandoning his blood-sucking ways to live the life of a human, with the help of one Dr. Van Helsing. Along this way, Count Downe fronts a rock band with members including Peter Frampton, Keith Moon and John Bonham (why not?) and falls in love with a girl by the name of Amber. Oh yeah, Count Downe is also vying for the title of King of the Netherworld with Baron Frankenstein (played by Freddie Jones), who is none too happy with the competition. Things only get zanier (and more incomprehensible!) from there. The largely lip-synched musical numbers in the film were mainly derived from Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson: “The Moonbeam Song,” “Down,” “Jump in the Fire” and “Without You” from the former, and “Remember (Christmas)” from the latter. Nilsson debuted the tune “Daybreak” in the film, which would become a charting single (No. 39 pop) in 1974, and it was later included on Legacy’s remastered CD of Son of Schmilsson (RCA/Legacy 82876-78249-2).
To write the film’s instrumental score, Starr and Nilsson enlisted Paul Buckmaster, best-known as the orchestral arranger of many of Elton John’s greatest hits. Buckmaster’s work had already appeared on both Nilsson LPs in an arranging capacity (including on the chart-topping “Without You,” itself a cover of a song by Apple’s own Badfinger) so he was a natural choice. Unfortunately, the soundtrack LP, co-produced by Nilsson and Starr, obscured much of Buckmaster’s atmospheric score with ridiculous dialogue from the film over it. One track, “Frankenstein, Merlin and the Operation” was credited to another Apple artist, composer John Tavener, whose LPs The Whale and Celtic Requiem are seeing reissue on October 26 from Apple and EMI.
Naturally, the restless Nilsson couldn’t resist the temptation to remix and tinker with the tracks on Son of Dracula, so the LP is worth tracking down for any fan. It’s a wild, bizarre listen, juxtaposing straight-ahead rock songs, ballads, campy dialogue and Buckmaster’s heightened, macabre instrumentals. It’s particularly strange to hear the beautiful “Without You” introduced with plummy British tones speaking of fangs and vampires. Even the LP packaging reflected the production’s offbeat humor; the yellow Rapple label featured a vampiric dog, presumably RCA’s Nipper, and a half-eaten apple! The original album came with a T-shirt decal reading “Bite it” with an image of the titular vampire.
Son of Dracula has never seen an official DVD release. Nilsson didn’t exactly disown it, however. Harry himself brought a VHS copy to the 1982 Beatlefest convention in New Jersey, for a special screening. Ringo, on the other hand, has reportedly said he can’t bear to watch it. Since its initial release, it’s largely been in “midnight movie” territory on television, but due to its rock pedigree, it’s achieved cult status. Surely enough Beatles fans would be willing to snap up a DVD edition, but one supposes it would have to “take a number” after Let It Be and Magical Mystery Tour! For intrepid lovers of good, bad flicks, the movie is out there if you know where to look. Son of Dracula’s strongest asset remains its soundtrack, so c’mon, Apple! It’s time to reactivate Rapple and begin the “Count Downe” to Son of Dracula’s return from the undead.
Harry Nilsson, Music from the Apple Film: Son of Dracula (Rapple Records ABL1-0220, 1974)
- It Is He Who Will Be King
- At My Front Door
- Count Downe Meets Merlin and Amber
- The Moonbeam Song
- Perhaps This Is All a Dream
- Intro/Without You
- The King’s Vulnerability
- Frankenstein, Merlin and the Operation
- Jump Into the Fire
- The Abdication of Count Downe
- The End (Moonbeam)
Tracks 1, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13 performed by Paul Buckmaster and orchestra, with dialogue from the film
Tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14 performed by Harry Nilsson