Perhaps the time just wasn’t right for The Idolmaker. Director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray) made his feature-length motion picture debut with the 1980 film based on the life of Philadelphia impresario Bob Marcucci, enlisting Ray Sharkey to play the fictionalized manager Vincent Vacari. In reality, Marcucci had discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian; in the film, the teen idols were Tommy Dee (Paul Land) and Caesare (Peter Gallagher). The United Artists picture received some plaudits for its tale of a rock-and-roll Svengali, including from Roger Ebert. The future At the Movies host called it “not a dazzlingly original idea, but [one that] understands its passions well enough to entertain us with them.” It also was the recipient of a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy, but it underperformed at the box office. The 1950s nostalgia wave brought on by American Graffiti was already a thing of the past. In the years since, The Idolmaker has become a minor cult classic, and now, its original A&M Records soundtrack album written and produced by Jeff Barry is finally on CD from Varese Sarabande Records.
Hackford first approached Phil Spector to score The Idolmaker, but when the one-time First Tycoon of Teen was unable to complete the project, Hackford turned to Spector’s old friend and collaborator Jeff Barry. Reportedly, little did the director know that Spector had already contacted Barry about working with him on the movie! The co-writer, with Ellie Greenwich, of such hits as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Leader of the Pack” in turn enlisted two talents associated with Spector – Darlene Love and Nino Tempo – as well as The Sweet Inspirations to craft a score that would also feature the film’s stars. Peter Gallagher, future star of the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, provided his own vocals for the role of Caesare, warbling “Baby” and “However Dark the Night.” As Vacari, Ray Sharkey performed his character’s “I Believe It Can Be Done.” Paul Land, portraying Tommy Dee, was deemed not to have a strong enough voice, and was dubbed by Jesse Frederick for the double-sided hit depicted in the film, “Here is My Love” and “Sweet Little Lover.”
Hit the jump for more, including the track listing and order links!
The soundtrack reflects Hackford’s approach to the film’s music, which was to present it in a late 1950s/early 1960s style but with contemporary touches. So, while Barry’s score recalls some of his own earlier triumphs, it’s sonically of 1980, not 1960. Frederick’s performances in the voice of the idolmaker’s original teen idol Tommy Dee are both solid rock-and-roll numbers with prominent guitar and boogie-woogie piano. The former boasts catchy “ooo-ooo-wee-ooo” backing vocals and handclaps, and the latter has some tasty saxophone solos. The young Peter Gallagher is effective on “However Dark the Night” and “Baby,” his two songs as Fabian stand-in Caesare. But with his raspy voice and growl on the inspirational, dramatically-building “However Dark the Night,” Gallagher’s style is far-removed from Fabian’s brand of pop. Gallagher’s voice occasionally recalls another teen idol, David Cassidy, on the brassy, up-tempo yet still theatrical “Baby.”
Darlene Love is unsurprisingly strong belting out the movie’s opening “Ooo-wee Baby.” Although the Wall of Sound production isn’t wholly emulated, the bells, tight backing vocals and forceful beat all can’t help but recall Love’s classic recordings with Spector and Barry. (Barry co-wrote Love’s immortal “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” among other perennials.) Nino Tempo’s honking sax is spot-on for in his three appearances on the soundtrack: the rollicking instrumentals “Come and Get It” and “I Know Where You’re Goin’,” and a reprise of the wistful Sharkey-sung “I Believe It Can Be Done.” (The rockabilly-with-horns “I Know Where You’re Goin’” also has some brief vocals.) As Vacari, Sharkey sincerely sings “I Believe” near the end of the film as the Idolmaker gains the strength to strike out on his own and perform his own music. This low-key, stick-to-your-guns-and-don’t-give-up ode is one of the soundtrack’s simplest and strongest moments.
Colleen Fitzpatrick’s AM pop-styled “I Can’t Tell” could have been recorded by Olivia Newton-John; that wouldn’t have been a stretch for Barry, who provided the Australian singer with one of her most enduring records, “I Honestly Love You.” The Sweet Inspirations, the legendary R&B group who backed Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and so many others, teamed with The London Fog for the soundtrack’s “A Boy and a Girl” which begins with an a cappella section showing off the groups’ vocal virtuosity.
Varese’s CD premiere of The Idolmaker has been nicely remastered by Steve Massie, and contains an insert with brief liner notes by filmmaker John Trujillo. Though sparse, the booklet has been well-designed by Varese’s Bill Pitzonka, as has the CD itself. No additional material has been added to the original LP sequence. The Idolmaker is one of the most unexpected soundtrack releases of the year, and stands tall as an intriguing side project for one of the all-time great rock-and-roll songwriters.
The Idolmaker: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is available tomorrow, July 23, at the links below!
The Idolmaker: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (A&M LP SP 4840, 1980 – reissued Varese Sarabande 302 067 188 2, 2013)
- Here is My Love – Jesse Frederick
- Oo-Wee Baby – Darlene Love
- Come and Get It (Instrumental) – Nino Tempo
- Sweet Little Lover – Jesse Frederick
- I Can’t Tell – Colleen Fitzpatrick
- However Dark the Night – Peter Gallagher
- Baby – Peter Gallagher
- I Know Where You’re Goin’ (Instrumental) – Nino Tempo
- A Boy and a Girl – The Sweet Inspirations and The London Fog
- I Believe It Can Be Done – Ray Sharkey
- I Believe It Can Be Done (Instrumental) – Nino Tempo