Rock N' Flicks

Tony Sarabia and Jim DeRogatis celebrate the best in rock movies

June 20, 2012

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Tony Sarabia:

I must have seen this movie about a dozen times in the months it came to the old Lamar Theater in Oak Park back in 1974; my sisters and I would even act out parts of the movie in our living room. The movie is the stage adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice rock opera of the same name. This was the height of the Jesus Movement, which began in the later 1960s by disenchanted hippies.

There certainly are lots of hippie looking folks in this wonderful film; from the wild frizzy haired King Herod to of course, Christ himself. Yes, it could be argued the movie Weber/Rice story takes liberties with the Passion of Christ, but putting it to music –and rock inspired music was genius.

JCS originally  hit the theatres in 1973 — about the same time as ‘the other’ Christ inspired film Godspell  but that one doesn’t have the hard-edged feel and sound; it could be because originally JCS started off as a rock opera concept recording.

"What’s the Buzz" is the second song in the movie after the Overture. The tune begins with a heavy bass line and organ run before the chorus breaks in and rocks all the way through with organ punctuations. Take note of Yvonne Elliman’s May Magdalene break in the middle of the tune: soulful! I know every lyric to the entire album. Perhaps that’s something I should keep to myself?

This song is from the legendary songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and was written for the 1957 film of the same name, the third of Elvis’ roughly 30 films. Jailhouse Rock was based on an original story by a then blacklisted writer named Ned Young and it tells the story of Vince (Presley), who gets prison time for manslaughter and while behind bars, he’s mentored by his prison cellmate Hunk Hougton. After his release he meets music promoter Peggy Van Alden played by Judy Tyler.

Like many, if not all Presley flicks, it’s a weak plot but showcases a still rockin’ Presley, especially the dance sequence to the title track of the film, which is considered one of Presley’s greatest moments on screen.

The scene during the song "Jailhouse Rock" has been considered homoerotic by some and indeed one lyric in particular might support that argument:

Number forty-seven said to number three
You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see.
I sure would be delighted with your company,
Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me.

I love how that one got passed the Hayes Code.

I had a cassette of the soundtrack to The Last Waltz many many years ago and I didn’t see the movie until I rented it on VHS in the early '90s; I don’t know why it took so long to witness on screen what I’d been hearing. The 1975 Martin Scorsese film documents the Band performing their final gig with an array of artists from Bob Dylan to Ronnie Hawkins and Muddy Waters.  But of course the true stars are the five musicians that made up the Canadian band (only Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson remain alive).

Bassist Rick Danko is the featured vocal on "It Makes No Difference", a gorgeous dirge about love lost. His sorrowful delivery brings out a lyric like “and the dawn doesn’t rescue me no more." The song works on so many levels: from the gospel tinged chorus lines to Robertson’s guitar solos and Garth Hudson coming out of nowhere with those beautiful saxophone lines. 

Jim DeRogatis: