Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Chart Song Cinema: The Strawberry Statement (1970)

The Strawberry Statement, starring Bruce Davison, Kim Darby, and Bud Cort, reimagined (and relocated) the 1968 Columbia University student riots, telling the story of a freshman named Simon who stumbles into campus protest culture and eventually gets his clock cleaned by riot police. It's another of the era's bummer movies with familiar period themes: political struggle and befuddlement, idealism shattered, and a sadistic focus on the short lifespan of youth and innocence. The numerous pre-existing rock soundtrack songs, as is usually the case, add value to the viewing experience while getting cheapened in return by attaching themselves to specific visual images. Two songs bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to their appearance in the film:

"The Circle Game" (1967)
Buffy Sainte-Marie

Written by Joni Mitchell * Produced by Maynard Solomon * 45: "The Circle Game" / "Better to Find Out for Yourself" * LPs: Fire and Fleet and Candlelight (Vanguard, 1967), The Strawberry Statement (MGM, 1970) * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#109) * Entered: 1970-08-15

Although Joni Mitchell released her own version (gentle) of "The Circle Game" on her 1970 Ladies of the Canyon LP, two fellow Canadians had released prior versions: Buffy Sainte-Marie (strident) on her 1967 Fire and Fleet and Candlelight LP and Tom Rush (reflective) on his 1968 Circle Game LP. If Sainte-Marie's treatment of it sounded jarring in comparison to the other ones, it seemed especially so during the opening and closing credits of The Strawberry Statement, as if to underscore the film's already heavy-handed message. "Better to Find Out for Yourself," from her 1969 Illuminations album, is enticing, though, a saucy B-side that brings out the Cree side of Sainte-Marie and takes it to the moon.

Side A: "The Circle Game"

Side A: "Better to Find Out for Yourself"

"Something in the Air" (1969)
Thunderclap Newman

Written by Speedy Keen * Produced by Pete Townshend * 45: "Something in the Air" / "Wilhelmina" (Track 1969) * LPs: The Magic Christian (Pye 1970); Hollywood Dream (Track 1970); The Strawberry Statement (MGM 1970) * Billboard charts (as re-entry): Bubbling Under (#120) * Re-entered: 1970-10-24

British trio Thunderclap Newman's now frequently-licensed "Something in the Air" had been a 1969 summertime #1 single in the UK. Its appearance in the Magic Christian film (starring Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers) helped the record reach #37 in the US that year, while its placement on the Strawberry Statement soundtrack, accompanying scenes of protagonist Simon overlooking the city, lifted it up again for a chart encore at #120. (Billboard listed the original Track single since no reissue of the song as a 45 ever occurred.)

Most of the TV and movie placements for "Something in the Air" don't make room for the distinctive piano solo played by the band's namesake, the pipe-smoking Andy "Thunderclap" Newman. Lead singer Speedy Keen, a vocal dead ringer for producer Pete Townshend, wrote the A side, while the B side, written by Newman, is a British music hall castaway reminiscent of "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine." The group's guitarist, Jimmy McCulloch, played with Paul McCartney and Wings from 1974 to 1976.

Side A: "Something in the Air"

Side A: "Wilhelmina"

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