Thursday, June 9, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1564: Soundtrack

This next album extends my streak to five straight that are at least thirty years old. Given that I choose each review randomly, I can assure you this is not by design.

Disc 1564 is…. Harold & Maude Soundtrack

Artist: Various Artists, but mostly Cat Stevens

Year of Release: 1971

What’s up with the Cover? My initial thought was that this was the movie poster, but a quick search reminded me the various movie posters look nothing like this. Instead we get an artist’s rendition of our titular characters cavorting in a field of daisies.

How I Came To Know It: Sheila introduced me to the movie, “Harold & Maude,” when we were first dating. Years later it remains one of my favourite films. Cat Stevens features heavily in the soundtrack, and I recall liking one of the tunes (“If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”) quite a bit. When I saw this was “newly released” I decided on a whim to buy it.

How It Stacks Up: I have 37 soundtracks, and “Harold & Maude” does not hold up well. I’ll rank it 33rd and that’s being charitable.

Ratings: 2 stars

I still like “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” but after a few listens to the Harold & Maude soundtrack my appreciation for that song has been sorely tested. This is because while Harold & Maude has 19 tracks, there is a LOT of filler, and a fair bit of it is versions of that particular song. I’d like to say that the other gems on the record make up for all this bloat but, alas, they do not.

If You Want To Sing Out” is a pleasant little hippy ditty about feeling free to express yourself, and while the lyrics are hokey as hell:

“If you want to be free, be free
‘cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are.”

It’ll still warm your cockles if you let it. However, the song is only vaguely musically interesting. Mostly it is Cat Stevens roughly strumming his guitar while delivering his brand of Disney wisdom. And it is on here three times. One of those times is sung by the movie’s stars, Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort and let me assure you, their rendition does the song no favours.

Other filler on the record includes two snippets of classical music, Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto No. 1 in B” and Strauss’ “Blue Danube”. Great songs but they stick out like sore thumbs in their isolation against the folksy Cat Stevens tunes.

There are also six snippets of dialogue from the film that like most soundtracks are fun the first time and provide diminishing returns on repeat listens. Sure there is this exchange on the subject of Harold’s 15 faked suicides:

Psychiatrist: “And were they all done for your mother’s benefit?
Harold: “No, I would not say benefit

It’s pretty funny, but outside of the movie’s broader charm, it fades as fast as the sunflower Maude dreams of being in Dialogue #4.

There are a couple of beautiful Cat Stevens tunes here, notably the inspiring “Don’t Be Shy” and the mournful “Trouble”. Stevens’ vocals are gorgeous on both as he draws you into the core emotional truth with simple vocals and acoustic guitar. Even better, these songs appear on the album once which is the correct number of times for a song to appear on a record.

I was also reminded that my only other Cat Stevens record is a Greatest Hits package. I love Cat Stevens, but repeated efforts at his studio albums just remind me I generally only want the hits. The Harold & Maude soundtrack has a couple of songs that should be on that Greatest Hits package, but the rest of them reminded me of any one of his studio albums I’ve passed over, except further bloated by movie clips, and other clutter that ultimately add nothing to the experience.

Harold & Maude is one of my favourite movies, and I heartily recommend it. It is an offbeat love story, an art film, and a thoughtful exploration of how to confront our mortality. While you’re watching, enjoy the lovely backdrop of songs throughout, but by no means assume this means you need to buy the soundtrack.

Best tracks: Don’t Be Shy, If You Want To Sing Out Sing Out, Trouble

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