BREAKING! Well, blow me down! Varese Sarabande has just shared the news with The Second Disc that the label will be bringing the soundtrack to composer-lyricist Harry Nilsson and director Robert Altman's loopy film musical version of Popeye to compact disc for the very first time in July - but that's not all. This 2-CD deluxe edition will not only feature all of Nilsson's memorable songs as performed by the perfectly-cast likes of Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, and Paul Dooley, but will also debut Thomas Pierson's instrumental score on CD, and an entire disc of previously unreleased demos performed by Nilsson! Varese continues to fill in the gaps of the Nilsson discography with this release; in addition to premiering Flash Harry on CD, the label previously brought the original album back into print on vinyl for 2016's Black Friday Record Store Day event with two previously unreleased score tracks. (Needless to say, both are included on this release.)
The 1980 film Popeye, a rare co-production between Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions (the partnership later yielded the fantasy Dragonslayer), wore its countercultural credentials on its sleeve. Robert Altman (MASH, Nashville) would hardly have been the obvious choice to bring E.C. Segar's classic comic strip to life, yet that's what he did - aided by maverick producer Robert Evans, cartoonist and acclaimed playwright-screenwriter Jules Feiffer, and rock-and-roll iconoclast Nilsson. By the time production began, Segar's strip was already well-represented on screen by both Max Fleischer's beloved cinematic cartoons and subsequent television series, but Altman's adaptation would be the first to present Popeye (Williams), Olive Oyl (Duvall), Wimpy (Dooley), Poopdeck Pappy (Ray Walston), Bluto (Paul L. Smith), and co. in live-action.
Popeye's home of Sweethaven was built in the country of Malta; the larger-than-life sets still stand today and are in use as a popular tourist attraction called Popeye Village. Cast, crew, and creative team (including Nilsson and arranger-conductor Van Dyke Parks) bonded on Malta for the unusual location shoot, resulting in a colorful, offbeat film like no other. Among the Sweethaven denizens were musicians Klaus Voormann, Ray Cooper, and Doug Dillard, joining Nilsson and Parks as The Falcons, the house band. Upon its December 6, 1980, Popeye was greeted by mixed reviews, with many critics not quite knowing what to make of Altman's excursion into family filmmaking. Though the film performed respectably at the box office, it was considered a disappointment by not attaining blockbuster status.
Nilsson's score, however, was one of the more acclaimed aspects of Popeye. The New York Times wrote a couple of months after the movie's opening that it was "the rare film score that works better as a record than as an actual soundtrack...[evoking] a gentle, slightly wistful, childhood world." Indeed, the composer-lyricist of The Point was able to channel that spirit for Popeye. The newspaper went so far as to compare his tunes (deftly arranged with nostalgic flair by Parks) such as "Sweethaven," "I Yam What I Am," "He Needs Me," and "Sailin'" to the likes of Cohan, Gershwin, and McCartney.
Until now, Popeye (released on LP by Boardwalk Records) has never been released on CD. Varese's deluxe edition betters the original album by adding music not on that release, including Thomas Pierson's instrumental underscore and Paul Dooley's song "Everything is Food." The first disc of this set is a full 20 tracks compared to just 12 on the LP. The second disc here is another cause for major excitement, boasting a full 18 never-before-released demos performed by Harry Nilsson himself, including duets with Shelley Duvall and Paul L. Smith.
The expanded CD premiere of Popeye is due from Varese Vintage on July 28. Pre-order links are available below, along with a confirmed track listing!
Popeye: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (original album on Boardwalk Records LP 36880, 1980 - reissued Varese Sarabande, 2017) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada Links TBD)
- Sweethaven (Performed by The Citizens of Sweet Haven)
- Blow Me Down (Performed by Robin Williams as Popeye)
- Everything Is Food (Performed by Paul Dooley as Wimpy, Allan F. Nichols as Roughhouse, The Toughs, Barbershop and The Steinettes) *
- Rough House Fight *
- He's Large (Performed by Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl)
- I'm Mean (Performed by Paul L. Smith as Bluto)
- Sailin' (Performed by Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl and Robin Williams as Popeye)
- March Through Town *
- I Yam What I Yam (Performed by Robin Williams as Popeye)
- The Grand Finale *
- He Needs Me (Performed by Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl)
- Swee'Pea's Lullaby (Performed by Robin Williams as Popeye)
- Din' We (Performed by Robert Fortier as Bill Barnacle - the Town Drunk)
- It's Not Easy Being Me (Performed by Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy)
- Kids (Performed by Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy)
- Skeleton Cave *
- Now Listen Kid/To The Rescue/Mr. Eye Is Trapped/Back Into Action *
- Saved/Still At It/The Treasure/What? More Fighting/Pap's Boy/Olive & The Octopus/What's Up Pop/Popeye Triumphant * 3:10
- I'm Popeye The Sailor Man (Performed by Robin Williams as Popeye)
- End Title Medley*
CD 2 (The Harry Nilsson Demos):
(NOTE: The running order is not finalized)
- I'm Mean
- Swee Pea
- Blow Me Down
- Everything Is Food
- He Needs Me
- Everybodies Got To Eat**
- Sail With Me
- I Yam What I Yam
- It's Not Easy Being Me
- I'm Popeye The Sailor
- I'm Mean - Harry Nilsson with Paul L. Smith
- He Needs Me - Harry Nilsson with Shelly Duvall
- Din We
- I'd Rather Be Me**
(*) denotes track previously unreleased on the soundtrack album, but featured in the film
Composed and Arranged by Thomas Pierson, except as noted.
(**) denotes track or song not included in the film
Mark Zutkoff says
This is fantastic news! You might want to note that Din' We, while on the original album, was not in the movie unless it was sung in the background somewhere and I've missed it all these years. The open question I have is whether some of the songs on the CD will be the album versions or the movie versions. There are differences in at least two songs. I'm Mean was edited in the film to omit the last word of "meaner than spit" (though the "that's it, that's it" rhyme was retained), and to lose the spoken asides from the villagers. And It's Not Easy Being Me was significantly better on the album, but there were a few interjections in the film that didn't make the record. (He's Large may also differ between the two sources.) I will be happy with the album versions, but it would be nice if the film versions could appear as well. It doesn't look like it, though. But kudos to Varese for releasing this!
Sean Anglum says
Well, I have always wondered why Harry never got solidly behind the promotion of the film and his music. Internal movie-making strife, behind-the-scenes shenanigans?! You might have helped answer my question, in part. With the debut on Dec. 6, 1980...it was only another 24 hours or so until the murder of John Lennon. And we know what energy Harry put into the anti-gun law campaigning from then on. His heart wasn't in Popeye....it was in avenging the death of his dear friend. Interesting.
Joe Marchese says
Indeed, Sean...a very astute observation!
Steve Maietta says
One small correction, Joe. The soundtrack was in fact issued on cd in 2010 out of Japan on a label called Think! Records.
And of course the Nilsson demos have been available for several years on various bootlegs.
I am particularly looking forward to the instrumental score. I believe Nilsson's music, which is absolutely wonderful, never got the credit it deserved because of the subpar vocal performances in the film. Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall and the rest were not exactly known for their vocal abilities. Even Ray Walston, a veteran Broadway performer, "talked" through his numbers in keeping with the quirky nature of the film and its characters.
The score itself, sans vocals, is one of my all-time favorites, combining catchy pop melodies with a delightful sense of whimsy. I hope the instrumental portions of the cd capture some of its special flavor. I would have really preferred hearing the entire score without the vocals, but that probably would have required a third disc.
Joe Marchese says
Hi Steve, thanks for writing. To my knowledge, the 2010 Japanese CD reissue (however attractively packaged) was not fully authorized by the copyright holders of POPEYE; hence, Varese's reissue can accurately be called a CD debut. (If we counted all unauthorized releases and bootlegs, hardly anything could be considered a debut!) Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I know firsthand that the rights have been mired in various issues that, happily, the determined team at Varese were able to solve. Hope this clarifies, at least a bit!
Steve Maietta says
I had no idea that the Popeye cd was "unofficial!" Back when it first came out, I ordered it from traditional Japanese websites, and the packaging was top notch. It even had a full obi strip and a barcode!
Thanks for the clarification, Joe.
Joe Marchese says
It's not you, Steve - sometimes it's downright impossible to tell. An otherwise-reputable overseas label has recently reissued BUCKINGHAM NICKS on CD in a similarly top-notch package (among many other titles) despite the fact that it's completely unauthorized. It can be incredibly frustrating to collectors, not to mention to the rights holders, as often these kinds of releases will lead to a legitimate issue never happening, or being delayed. I'm just glad that finally we've got a deluxe and official POPEYE package. (And as for BUCKINGHAM NICKS...one of these days? 😉 )
Perhaps another problem with these "unofficial" releases is that legitimate websites sell them as if they were genuine. Almost 50% of discs sold on a certain well known site (think river) seem to be of a dubious nature but they have no qualms about selling them. At one time "bootlegging" was frowned upon plus if you're not paying any royalties you can spend a bit more on packaging.
This is wonderful news. The Harry demos are worth the price of admission alone, and the soundtrack itself is very enjoyable in its own right. Harry was a musical giant. Pity his whole career was overshadowed by just two songs. Somebody also needs to get to grips with releasing the tracks he was working on at the end of his life. Over twenty years after his premature death he is still sorely missed.
I have often wondered why Popeye has not been adapted for the Broadway stage. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Sean Anglum says
Good point, Zubb. I've said that many times. Many. Or a musical based on Harry's full songbook? Come on, Broadway! And to digress....why can't Tom Hanks bring That Thing You Do! to the Great White Way?! Another natural! But to get back on point (no pun intended).......Popeye to NYC? Producers??
This great news, even if everything has already been available for ages, the OST on LP and Japanese CD (by the way, a beautiful edition), and the demos... well anywhere on the web. But it's great to see everything getting an official release in one package. I hope the artwork will be great, and that the quality of the demos improves on the ones currently circulating, which are quite uneven in sound. But yes, they're demos, so I don't expect much in terms of sound.
Great news anyways, for everyone who loves the genius of this american Beatle if there ever was one, not yet always getting the recognition he deserves...
andemoine winrow says
HELLO. NOW THAT THE "POPEYE'' SOUNDTRACK HAS FINALLY BEEN MADE IN IT"S ENTIRETY, DO U KNOW WHEN THE MOVIE WILL GET A SPECIAL EDITION RELEASE? I HEARD THAT THE ACTOR WHO SUNG THE SONG 'DIN WE' SUNG IT IN BOTH THE MOVIE AND SOUNDTRACK. SO ESSENTIALLY, THE SCENE THAT HAS HIM SINGING WAS CUT OUT. THIS SCENE NEEDS TO BE RESTORED BACK INTO THE MOVIE AS WELL AS WHATEVER ELSE THAT WAS CUT OUT. THE BONUS FEATURES SHOULD HAVE 'AUDIO COMMENTARY', 'THEATRICAL TRAILERS', 'POSTER GALLERY', 'THE MAKING OF ''POPEYE", 'COSTUME DESIGN' . DO U KNOW THE PEOPLE FROM 'PARAMOUNT' ? IF SO, COULD U CALL OR WRITE TO THEM SAYING THIS FILM NEEDS A RE_RELEASE? OR DO U KNOW THEIR PHONE NUMBER? I'LL CALL THEM AND LET THEM KNOW. THANK YOU.