An Underrated Movie With A (Once) Much Sought After Soundtrack

June 17, 2009

Recently, I referenced an iconic scene from the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. And while that movie was a staple for me and my friends, the lesser-known film Valley Girl was on equal footing for us during that period.

I’m not sure how my friends and I were turned on to the movie. It certainly didn’t play in our hometown theater.

I do know that it was a movie that, once discovered, was one which we constantly rented on videocassette. Surprisingly enough for a town our size (three thousand people or so when everyone was home), we had a video rental joint even before most of our families had a VCR.

When we all saw Fast Times in the theater during the summer of ’82, it resonated with us, but it wasn’t a world in which we lived – not as we were two-thousand miles from its Hollywood setting in a town with one red light.

Valley Girl arrived a year later. It, too, was set in Hollywood, but its characters and vibe struck closer to our hearts. Most likely it was because a year in high school is a lifetime.

During the time between the two movies, we had completed our sophomore year of high school. We had gone from pedestrians and passengers to drivers and, therefore, masters of our own destinies.

And we personally knew some of these characters.

(not that we hadn’t wished we had known Fast Times‘ Spicoli)

I doubt if we really considered that Valley Girl was simply a modern-day telling of Romeo And Juliet with new wave music and Nicholas Cage in his first starring role.

(and now that I think about it, in a year Cage had gone from a bit role in Fast Times to the lead in Valley Girl)

That said, I would have a hard time choosing between the two movies, but there’s no hesitation choosing between their respective soundtracks.

Though The Cars, Tom Petty, and The Go-Gos have songs in the movie, and Cheap Trick, Blondie, and Van Halen are referenced (and were all favorites of ours), Fast Times’ soundtrack was loaded – after some purported label pressure – with the likes of solo Eagles (four of them) and Jimmy Buffett.

Valley Girl used music by The Plimsouls, Sparks, Men At Work, and Modern English – some of the artists we did know, but there were a lot who were unfamiliar and exotic.

(as opposed to, say, Poco, who appeared on Fast Times’ soundtrack)

Alas, Valley Girl‘s soundtrack was in print for about as long as the movie was in theaters. And during my years working in record stores, there was no title for which more listeners clamored for a CD re-issue.

Fortunately, the good people at Rhino Records rectified that oversight, releasing two volumes of music from the film in the mid-’90s.

And all was right with the world…

Sparks – Eaten By The Monster Of Love
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Sparks was an act for whom I needed no introduction. Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen them duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ’82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Chris owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Psychedelic Furs – Love My Way
from Valley Girl soundtrack

It seems to me that my friends and I discovered Valley Girl on cable during the summer of ’84. My friend Brad had discovered Psychedelic Furs on Night Flight, the USA Network show which aired music videos over night on weekends. As MTV had just become available in our town, Night Flight was the only chance to see the new medium for music.

During the summer of ’84, we wore out Psychedelic Furs’ new album, Mirror Moves, but it was the dreamy Love My Way (which kind of reminded me of Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now) that was my first exposure to the Furs.

The Plimsouls – Oldest Story In The World
from Valley Girl soundtrack

The Plimsouls actually appeared in Valley Girl as a band in the club where Cage hangs out. One of the songs, A Million Miles Away, was a minor hit and is a staple on a lot of ’80s compilations.

Here’s the lesser known Oldest Story In The World. It’s far more downbeat than most of The Plimsouls’ stuff I’ve owned which is driving, guitar-driven rock. Like Valley Girl, The Plimsouls were under appreciated.

Modern English – I Melt With You
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Of course, I Melt With You is better known now than it was in the early ’80s. My mother would probably recognize the song from its use in several commercials.

Modern English’s album After The Snow, on which I Melt With You appeared, inspired the term Modern English Syndrome for me and a college roommate. It was our shorthand for an album which, while quite good, had one song which so dwarfed everything else that it made the rest of tracks seem almost mediocre.

The music of the ’80s has been much maligned (and, at times, I would argue unfairly). I Melt With You is as perfect a pop song as any that came before or after it.