A Tribute Told in Vignettes…
Well, I don’t like to reduce us to just being part of the “Seattle Sound.” I’d like to think of us as expanding more. Like, we’re huge in Europe right now. I mean, we’ve got records… uh, a big record just broke in Belgium.
-Cliff Poncier, Singles
A Cameron Crowe film tends to have a “killer” soundtrack. Listening to a Crowe soundtrack is an intriguing adventure filled with carefully curated juxtapositions. In fact, the experience is a lot like the line from Crowe’s motion picture Singles, in which the character of Doug Hughley (played by Jeremy Piven) comments, “You’re the only man I know who could mix Elvis Costello and Public Enemy!” That line might as well be directed at Crowe himself; that is Crowe’s mixtape prowess. Back in 1992, Crowe not only assembled one of the most critically lauded soundtracks of all time for his Seattle-centered romcom, Singles, he helped forge one of the last significant cultural movements of Rock ‘N Roll. Crowe’s affinity for music is deep and can be traced to his childhood when he began serving as a rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine (as seen in Crowe’s 2000 semi-autobiographical film, Almost Famous); when it comes to trends in music though, Crowe’s instincts are especially impeccable on this nearly 25-year old to date collection. With Singles, Crowe helped make a local music scene global. Nirvana may have kicked open the door on The Emerald City’s music on September 24, 1991 with the release of the album, Nevermind, still it was a only a matter of months until Crowe’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for Singles, consisting primarily of Seattle’s then-local music (sans Nirvana), gave voice to pioneers of what would eventually be dubbed Grunge Music.
Where are the anthems for our youth? What happened to music that meant something? The Who at the Kingdome, or Kiss at the Coliseum… Where is the “Misty Mountain Hop,” where is the, is the “Smoke on the Water”… Where is the “Iron Man” of today?
-Cliff Poncier, Singles
On May 18, 2017, one of Seattle’s sons of music, singer-songwriter Chris Cornell tragically passed. Since the breaking of this news, retrospectives of Cornell’s career and, likewise, the Seattle scene have been trending. After all, the world of music lost Cornell, one of the sons of Seattle music who was oftentimes regarded by fans and critics alike as one of the greatest voices in rock history. Crowe happened to be one of those fans, and recognized Cornell’s talent early on. In fact, Crowe admits to being partial to Soundgarden; he even invited Cornell to star in Singles as soul-searching rocker Cliff Poncier (eventually played by Matt Dillon). Cornell may not have taken Crowe up on the acting offer, but Cornell certainly ended up as an omnipotent presence of sorts in Singles. After all, the film score, vignette title cards’ music, and even a fiery onscreen concert appearance of Soundgarden’s “Birth Ritual” were contributed by Cornell. Moreover, when it came to imagining what a solo Cliff Poncier recording would sound like, Cornell surprised Crowe with a fully recorded EP sung in the vein of Poncier (one song of which became the fully realized Cornell song “Seasons” on the film’s soundtrack). Chris Cornell was certainly at the forefront of this Grunge Movement, a movement that seemingly moved at the speed of sound. After Nirvana changed the tide in music, a number of bands then flooded in. It was Chris Cornell, however, who shined like a beacon with his piercing voice and metaphysical, mercurial songwriting. On May 18, 2017, Rock ‘N Roll once again lost another of its Iron Men in Chris Cornell. The very next day, the Epic and Legacy labels reissued the already double-platinum Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack in time for its 25th anniversary, with a bonus disc which could nearly be seen as a Cornell solo album in itself.
Look at this, most of these bands are like well-designed bottles of bleach. It’s beer and lifestyle music! I mean it’s like the next world war will be sponsored by I don’t know, what!
– Cliff Poncier, Singles
The musical landscape of the hair metal ’80s was one attuned to air guitar solos, plenty…yes, plenty of leather/pleather and blown-out coifs/stylized mullets. The look of the era was BIG and glossy and clothes were tight. Bands like Sonic Youth and The Replacements (Crowe prominently features lead singer of this Minnesotan band, Paul Westerberg, and his song “Dyslexic Heart” in the official film trailer as well as on the soundtrack; he has regarded him as a “close cousin” to the Seattle scene) were two of the ’80s’ underground exceptions whom helped pave the way for Grunge, a style of music that fused heavy metal and punk rock. On the Replacements’ final two LPs Don’t Tell a Soul (1989) and All Shook Down (1990) and even later on Westerberg’s superb first solo effort, 14 Songs (1993), Westerberg and company were becoming increasingly more interested in a melodic, melancholic, and ballad-focused sound. This may seem antithetical to the nascent Grunge movement happening at the same time in Seattle, but it is evident on the Singles soundtrack.
Filled primarily with visceral offerings of Seattle Grunge, Westerberg provided the film’s heart with his stripped-down charm and melodic offerings “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody.” Additionally, Crowe happened to find ways on Singles to branch out the Seattleite Family Tree in including the slow burning “May This Be Love” by legendary Seattleite Jimi Hendrix, and by cleverly associating Led Zeppelin’s “mud shark” incident with Seattle sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart’s smoldering take on “The Battle of Evermore.” Finally, Crowe recently shared with Rolling Stone that there was “no place” on the Singles soundtrack where the song “Drown” by the Chicago-based Smashing Pumpkins, “…wasn’t where it should be.” On Singles, Crowe not only celebrated the Seattle sound of the early ’90s, he broadened it with respectful and associative touches; he made music work wherever and however he included it.
“It’s all happening.”
-Penny Lane, Almost Famous
There is something special about Cameron Crowe’s soundtrack to this Seattle love-letter. After all, this is the soundtrack that brought Eddie up to Seattle from San Diego to form THE lineup of Pearl Jam. This is the soundtrack that marked the beginning of Paul Westerberg’s solo career. This is one of the relatively few soundtracks to actually contain a Jimi Hendrix recording. This is the soundtrack that put the glamourous life of the BIG 80s behind. This is the soundtrack of Seattle’s working class musicians made good: barista by day, rocker by night. This soundtrack is the early 90s! This soundtrack is lightning in a bottle. This soundtrack is a zeitgeist moment. This soundtrack is its time. This is the soundtrack of musicians who made the common person’s fashion fashionable. This is the soundtrack of musicians whom wore sweaters, Doc Martens, baggy jeans and unkempt hair. This is the soundtrack that successfully predated its film’s release by three months. This is the soundtrack of angst-riddled poetics. This is Singles.
Legacy’s new reissue, produced by Cameron Crowe himself and remastered by Mike Piacentini at Sony’s Battery Studios, undoubtedly fulfills Cliff Poncier’s quest to find soul in music. This reissue is music stripped down to its acoustic core; just check out Paul Westerberg’s tender and bare bones take on “Dyslexic Heart,” one of eighteen tracks (including seven previously unreleased and six new-to-CD) on the bonus disc. The additional material is all organically added, with live performances (see Soundgarden’s “Birth Ritual”) among the standouts. This reissue is still visceral, but also playful and tender. This reissue includes both vocal and instrumental tracks, as well as the first CD appearance of Citizen Dick’s “Belgium hit”, “Touch Me I’m Dick.” A 20-page booklet with liner notes and track-by-track annotations by Crowe puts it all in perspective. And yes, “I Will Dare” say it… This year’s reissue confirms why Singles is simply one of the best original motion picture soundtracks of all time! Highest of recommendations!