Takin' A Ride: The Heavy Metal Soundtrack Turns 36!

Some 36 years after its release, I, as a simple music fan, continue to be amazed and endlessly perplexed by an album I consider to be the most cohesive and well-executed film soundtrack ever made, the Heavy Metal soundtrack.

While I can hear more than a few friends yell "Pulp Fiction", while I wouldn't argue its merits, the difference between the two projects is that Heavy Metal was comprised of mostly new material specific to the film and soundtrack.

The film itself arrived in the summer of 1981 and was based on the legendary sci-fi magazine of the same name that, amazingly enough, wasn't about music. Instead, it was full of fantastical renderings of space aliens, flying dragons and, well, boobs, lots and lots of boobs. I wasn't necessarily part of their key demographic, but, as a general rule, always made sure to keep abreast of any developments.

While I had heard chatter of a Heavy Metal animated film being in the works, it wasn't until it was announced that Cheap Trick would be contributing two new songs to the soundtrack that I took special interest in the project.

Like any other hardcore Trick fan still left after the commercial fizzle of All Shook Up and the departure of Tom Petersson, those fortunate enough to catch the band's regionally-televised performance at Chicagofest '81 had taken notice of Comita's enthusiastic playing, which had seemingly reinvigorated the band.

That same enthusiasm permeates the entire album, where even long-in-the-tooth acts like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and Grand Funk make maddeningly listenable appearances, not that the '80s kids could be bothered to listen.

Admittedly, once we procured a copy of the soundtrack, much time was spent cranking the two new Trick tunes ("I Must Be Dreamin'" and "Reach Out", the latter of which was written by new bassist Pete Comita), but we eventually got around to spinning the rest of this ambitious two-album set.

The album's biggest surprise came from Riggs, a new band signed to the same label releasing the soundtrack, Full Moon Records. The label's head honcho, Irving Azoff, had signed the band and immediately put them in the studio with Roy Thomas Baker. Their two songs, "Heartbeat" and "Radar Rider" remain standout tracks on a stylistically varied, yet strangely cohesive listening experience.

Incredulously, their debut album, released weeks later, did not include these songs.

Elsewhere, one could find Donald Fagen mining that oh-so-fertile late '70's Steely Dan vibe on "True Companion", a song that floats by on its own jazzy cloud of effortless coolness. This was our first taste of the impeccable style that would come a year later on Fagen's The Nightfly.

Blue Oyster Cult, who seem to have taken the opportunity to appear on a major film soundtrack quite seriously, recorded a number of songs specifically for the project. Only "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars" was used but it, along with two songs that were written for the film but not used ("Vengeance" and "Heavy Metal: The Black And Silver") also appears on the Fire of Unknown Origin album.

Why, even Grand Funk Railroad and Nazareth stopped sucking specifically for this soundtrack as "Queen Bee" and "Crazy" are both riff-laden rockers that rank as some of this writer's personal favorites, showing that these old dogs still had a few tracks left up their sleeves. Well, except for Mark Farner, who, it would seem, hasn't worn sleeves since the soundtrack came out.

Even the French metal band TRust turns ina wickedly sinister gem by the name of "Prefabricated" that just might have you digging further into their discography. This is a band, after all, that has spawned not one, but two Iron Maiden drummers.

The soundtrack's only real missteps are the two songs tacked on to the soundtrack in an obvious attempt to bolster sales: Journey's "Open Arms"and Devo's "Workin' In A Coalmine". Being a die-hard Devo fan who gobbled up every morsel on the band, I recall reading in the press at the time that the song had been recorded during the Freedom Of Choice sessions.

Fittingly, it was the highest charting single from the soundtrack.

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