In 1980, Robert Stigwood was facing a changing musical landscape. Just three years earlier, a little film based upon a fictional magazine article describing the nightlife of some Italian-Americans in New York City at the local discos became a huge hit. That movie made a movie star out of a former “Sweat Hog” from TV’s classic sitcom Welcome Back Kotter by the name of John Travolta. Stigwood made a brilliant move casting Travolta in the iconic role of the lonely dancer from the working class world to become a dancing star. The movie nabbed Travolta an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The movie was Saturday Night Fever.
But, there was another brilliant move Stigwood made, and it was to release a soundtrack album on his own label, RSO, and featured some great disco songs along with some new disco songs by his own artists, the Bee Gees, who were in the process of making a change in their musical style by incorporating disco sounds. So, throughout the cold winter of 1977-1978, Stigwood had the top movie with Saturday Night Fever AND the best-selling album, the double-album soundtrack from that movie which featured his hot artists’ work, the Bee Gees.
Well, when someone is hot like Stigwood was at the time, people will begin throwing all kinds of cash at him to produce more movies with hit soundtracks. These soundtracks became the music of my high school years. Robert Stigwood produced a little musical called Grease, once again starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The soundtrack was a monster as well. To top off that soundtrack, Stigwood got the creative mind behind the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb, to write the theme song for the movie. Their genius was to have former teen star Frankie Valli to sing that theme song, “Grease”, and the rest was history. So now, Stigwood and the Bee Gees were the hottest working combo in the world. That’s when their egos bit off more than they could handle.
Stigwood always wanted to set the Beatles’ music to a screenplay and call it Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And, now he was allowed to fulfill his dream. The problem was that he cast the extremely hot and good-looking Peter Frampton in the lead role of Billy Shears, and the Bee Gees as the rest of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The problem was three-fold. First, no screenwriters could have possibly written a screenplay for a group of songs that had nothing in common except they had been performed by the Beatles. Next, the four rockers could NOT act to save their lives. And, third, and perhaps most importantly, no one wanted to hear the Beatles’ songs covered by Frampton and the Bee Gees. Or, almost anyone else they threw on the soundtrack, such as Steve Martin or Billy Preston. Earth, Wind & Fire did record an funky version of “Got to Get You Into My Life”, and a coked-out Aerosmith did a decent version of “Come Together”, but the rest of the soundtrack was a mess.
So Stigwood was saddled with this multi-million dollar loss, putting a dent in his armor. Since Stigwood was backed against the wall, he decided to dip back into the New York night life for a story that would be set in the burgeoning punk/new wave scene in New York City as the backdrop for his next movie, Times Square, peoples’ ears perked up. First, Stigwood limited the Bee Gees participation in the project to one song, since the band was beginning to wane in popularity. Then he chose Bill Oakes as the Executive Producer of the soundtrack, who began choosing the other songs for the soundtrack. This soundtrack is stuffed with great music by great punk and new wave artists, such as Pretenders, Ramones, XTC, The Cure, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Patti Smith Group, Roxy Music and Joe Jackson, to name a few. But, this was the problem with the movie because the songs were driving the movie and not the other way around, like Fever and Grease did.
Once again, the movie script sucked, and the acting sucked. Then, to add salt to the wound, the one song in the movie that was something of a hit, was kept off the soundtrack album. That song was “Dangerous Type” by The Cars. That was a monumental act of stupidity. The movie soundtrack lacked a hit song, so despite the stellar cast of artists, who donated some outstanding tracks for the project, the soundtrack quickly sank.
Now, that very same double-album soundtrack has become something of cult classic with collectors. Times Square continues to be an album that I will listen to when I want a diverse selection of punk and new wave hits. But, good luck finding it. The album is difficult to find, and the cassette is even more rare. This album is a grossly overlooked soundtrack album. Any time an album has Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime”, “I Wanna Be Sedated” by Ramones, Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side” AND “Talk of the Town” by Pretenders, you know this is a classic album.
To me, this was RSO’s finest soundtrack of the four released during my high school years. I like Saturday Night Fever and Grease, but I love Times Square. And, my advice to you is to stay far away from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Soundtrack because it is horrible!