In an extraordinary career spanning seven decades, director and "godfather of black cinema" Melvin Van Peebles (1932-2021) only made one studio film. 1970's Watermelon Man shattered conventions with its bitingly satirical story about a white couple, intolerant and obnoxious insurance salesman Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge) and his seemingly liberal wife Althea (Estelle Parsons). One morning, Jeff awakens to discover that his skin color has changed from white to black-and it's not a result of his daily tanning routine. Unable to successfully change back, he learns what it's like to live in America as a black man, and his eyes are opened.
The uncompromising Watermelon Man shocked audiences in 1970 and remains all too relevant today. Accompanying the scathing comedy was an original soundtrack composed by Van Peebles himself, then recording as a solo artist for A&M Records and about to take on Broadway with a pair of Tony Award-nominated musicals, Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don't Play Us Cheap. The soundtrack to Watermelon Man was released on the small Beverly Hills label, preserving Van Peebles' enjoyably eclectic score. On July 1, that now-rare album gets a new lease on life when it returns to vinyl for the first time in over 50 years from Real Gone Music and Second Disc Records.
Van Peebles' soundtrack to Watermelon Man blended jazz, funk, rock, rhythm and blues, proto-rap, and even bluegrass - all perfectly complementing the freewheeling onscreen action. The multi-hyphenate talent took the mic himself for the songs "Love, That's America" and "Soul'd on You," while the film's co-star Estelle Parsons made a special appearance on "Where Are the Children." All that and Ry Cooder, too: the slide guitar virtuoso, while uncredited, is said to have played the indelible slide parts throughout the album!
Watermelon Man ultimately came to be overshadowed by Van Peebles' seminal follow-up Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and the album disappeared, too. But the time has never been more right to rediscover Van Peebles' prescient film and its killer soundtrack. Real Gone Music and Second Disc Records' first-ever vinyl reissue of Watermelon Man features remastered audio from Mike Milchner at SonicVision as well as an insert with on-set photos and liner notes by TSD's Joe Marchese placing the film and its music within the context of Van Peebles' remarkable, one-of-a-kind career.
The pointed "Love, That's America" was adopted decades after its original release as an anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now, it's your turn to discover this singular soundtrack from visionary filmmaker, writer, actor, songwriter, and musician Melvin Van Peebles. Look for Watermelon Man on July 1 in green-and-yellow "watermelon skin" vinyl. Real Gone Music is also offering an exclusive "America Swirl" vinyl version that's strictly limited to 100 units while Barnes and Noble will carry an exclusive color variant, as well. You'll find the pre-order links and track listing below.
Melvin Van Peebles, Watermelon Man: Music from the Original Soundtrack (Beverly Hills BHS-026, 1970 - reissued Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records RGM-1418, 2022)
- Love, That's America
- Great Guy
- Eviction Theme
- Soul'd on You
- Where Are the Children
- Erica's Theme
- Fugue #1
- Fugue #2
- Fugue #3