Appropriately enough, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the movie that refuses to stay dead. Written off by audiences and critics upon its opening in summer 1975, the little movie with the $1.4 million budget has since earned some $170 million and counting worldwide – the longest-running movie release in history. Even with COVID-19 shutting cinemas everywhere, Rocky Horror marches on in Zoom screenings and tributes timed to its 45th anniversary. As part of that celebration, Ode Records has reissued the soundtrack in a new vinyl picture disc edition due tomorrow, October 23.
With book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Show premiered in London at the intimate, 60-seat quarters of The Royal Court Theatre – Upstairs in 1973. O’Brien’s zany story of a newly engaged couple getting caught up with a “sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania” was directed by Jim Sharman and starred Tim Curry in the star-making role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Set to a catchy ’50s pastiche rock-and-roll score, O’Brien’s taboo-breaking show became the talk of London, transferring to larger theatres and running a total of 2,960 performances. Among the celebrities who caught the show in London was producer and Ode Records chief Lou Adler. The story goes that within 36 hours of seeing the London production Adler had secured the rights to bring The Rocky Horror Show – and Tim Curry – to the United States.
He set the show up in Los Angeles in March 1974 at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, converting the nightclub-concert venue (formerly a strip club) into a “legit” theatre for the occasion. (Adler still owns the Roxy today.) As it had in London, Rocky Horror took off. Now featuring the young Meat Loaf, then best known as a stage actor in musicals including Hair and The Public Theater’s More Than You Deserve, Rocky Horror caught the eye of a 20th Century Fox executive who committed to bring it to the screen. Filming took place in England between October and December 1974 with Tim Curry and Meat Loaf reprising their roles, and Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon taking the roles of newlyweds Brad and Janet, respectively. Bostwick only had three films under his belt but already was Tony-nominated for originating the role of Danny Zuko in Grease; Sarandon had just a few more film credits. Author O’Brien played the role of Riff Raff, as he had in London and on Broadway.
Before the movie would open, Curry and Meat Loaf headed to New York with other members of the Roxy cast for the musical’s Broadway premiere at “The Beautiful” Belasco Theatre, transformed into a nightclub with tables on the orchestra floor. Critics in New York didn’t know what to make of it. Clive Barnes in the New York Times compared the production unfavorably to the seedier one in London, calling it “flashy, expensive, and overstaged.” Martin Gottfried in the Post complained, too, about the expensive production values. James Spina for Women’s Wear Daily was less kind than either, not even finding praise for Curry whom he described as “only mildly irritating in his sweaty drive to blend the mannerisms of Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, and Fay Wray gone ghoul.” The musical folded on Broadway after a mere 45 performances.
For a while, it looked like the film version – retitled The Rocky Horror Picture Show and again directed by Jim Sharman and executive produced by Lou Adler – would meet the same fate. Roger Ebert even opined that it “would be more fun, I suspect, if it weren’t a picture show. It belongs on a stage, with the performers and audience joining in a collective send-up.” The prescient Ebert was onto something. While the film petered out in its initial screenings, something strange happened a year later. Fox began to push the idea of Rocky Horror for midnight screenings. The first one took place at New York’s Waverly Theatre on April 1, 1976, and the Greenwich Village crowd – including the area’s vibrant LGBTQ community – immersed themselves in the sci-fi satire’s sexually fluid world. Soon, audiences began flocking in costumes, doffing umbrellas, shouting back at the screen in response to the actors, and throwing hot dogs, rice, and toilet paper at the screen – in essence, transforming each theatre into a live and immersive stage environment.
Rocky Horror and its audience participation spread from New York City to Long Island and then to the rest of the country, no small feat in those pre-Internet days. The phenomenon has continued unabated for 45 years. The Ode Records soundtrack, which had been quickly deleted upon its initial release, returned to print and peaked within the top 50 of the Billboard 200 in 1978. Since that first LP pressing, the soundtrack has arrived in multiple editions including a 2000 expansion on Ode in association with Rhino and a 2011 expansion of the expansion (!) on Ode. It’s spawned box sets and spinoff discs as well as audience participation soundtracks and variant editions – not to mention sequels, revivals on Broadway and around the world, countless home video releases, and a television remake in 2016 which featured Curry as The Narrator/Criminologist.
The newest vinyl version from Ode restores the original 1975 track listing which dropped Rocky’s “The Sword of Damocles” and Frank-N-Furter and the ensemble’s “Planet Schmanet, Janet” a.k.a. “Wise Up, Janet Weiss.” (These songs were restored along with the outtake “Once in a While” in both 2000 and 2011, albeit in mono on the former and stereo on the latter. Additionally, an alternate vocal for “Damocles” is heard on the 2011 release.) The limited-edition picture disc is housed in a clear sleeve with Curry as Frank-N-Furter on Side One and a collage of marquees showing Rocky Horror on Side Two including New York’s Waverly, Beacon, and late, lamented Ziegfeld Theatre; Cambridge’s old Loews Harvard Square; and numerous others.
Richard O’Brien’s score, conducted and arranged by Richard Hartley and recorded at London’s Olympic Studios, is as enjoyable as ever on this release, including Bostwick and Sarandon’s goofy “Dammit, Janet” and mock-dramatic “Over a the Frankenstein Place,” O’Brien’s irresistible “The Time Warp,” Curry’s swaggering “Sweet Transvestite,” Meat Loaf’s raucous “Hot Patootie Bless My Soul,” and Sarandon and company’s wild “Toucha, Toucha, Touch Me.” The picture disc, while pressed on sturdy vinyl, may be most of interest for the eye-popping artwork on both sides. (It’s not recommended to overplay the picture disc as the format typically suffers from surface noise.) Ode does make special note that the album has been remastered for this suitable-for-framing release.
The 45th anniversary picture disc vinyl edition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the ultimate cult musical, is out tomorrow from Ode Records. It can be pre-ordered at the links below!
- Science Fiction Double Feature
- Dammit Janet
- Over at the Frankenstein Place
- The Time Warp
- Sweet Transvestite
- I Can Make You a Man
- Hot Patootie Bless My Soul
- I Can Make You a Man (Reprise)
- Science Fiction Double Feature
- Toucha, Toucha, Touch Me
- Rose Tint My World
- Don’t Dream It
- Wild and Untamed Thing
- I’m Going Home
- Super Heroes
- Science Fiction Double Feature (Reprise)