MEYER MONTH – ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ Soundtrack Top Ten

13 Mar

My personal favourite and one of Russ Meyer’s more well-known pictures, 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was his first film as part of a three picture deal with 20th Century Fox. Following the story of an all girl rock group trying to make it big in 60s Hollywood, the film has achieved a cult status for numerous reasons including it’s fantastic soundtrack which is arguably one of the best film soundtracks ever recorded. First named The Kelly Affair and then re-named The Carrie Nations, none of the actresses who play Kelly, Pet and Casey (Dolly Reed, Marcia McBroom and Cynthia Myers) actually sing nor play any of the instruments on the tracks.

These duties instead fell onto composer Stu Phillips (The Monkees, Battlestar Galactica, The Amazing Spider-Man, Knight Rider) who Meyer specifically brought into the project against Fox Studios wishes. Phillips had previously co-written and produced the title track to Meyer’s film Cherry, Harry & Raquel which was released the previous year. Also on board were Bill Loose, who would wind up doing later Meyer soundtracks in the 70s, and vocalist Lynn Carey who did the voice work for the character Kelly McNamara that Dolly Reed was to lip-sync to. Carey’s vocals are incredible and were sadly replaced on the film’s soundtrack album with those of another singer, Ami Rushes, due to a dispute over royalties. Simply put, Rushes just don’t compare and are notably inferior to Carey’s who Phillips apparently had to stand on the other side of the room from the mic during recordings as her voice was so strong.

Whilst Phillips did the soundtrack and the score, I’ve decided to instead focus on the film’s soundtrack with this being my personal top ten…

A rousing rock ballad by composer Stu Phillips, Once I Had Love is the perfect song for The Carrie Nations, an ode to all the friendships and relationships that they have lost. Interestingly not included in the film but on soundtracks that have been released over the years.

The number one hit from 1967 gets played by the band themselves at record producer Z-Man’s first party (he owns them). A perfect example of psychedelic rock/folk music that epitomizes the whole tone of the film, the lyrics fit perfectly for the moment the song is heard in the film. The party is the first time that band members Kelly, Pet and Casey get to taste the hedonistic lifestyle that being in a successful rock group can bring them and start to question who they are personally and where the band is going under their current manager Harris, Kelly’s boyfriend. The irony in the lyric ‘Little to win, but nothing to lose’ is brilliant, there really is little for these girls to win in Hollywood but there’s everything to lose.

Our first introduction to The Kelly Affair are the roaring vocals of lead singer Kelly McNamara (Dolly Reed) although it’s actually singer Lynn Carey doing the duties. This is the group before they take the trip to Hollywood, doing their own set-up, lighting effects and playing small town shows, hungry for a shot at fame; ‘I’ve got to find a direction to follow, Something that’s mine not something I borrowed’. What’s great about this scene are the subtle beginnings of the story of resentment between Harris and Kelly that Meyer hints at using some well-timed editing skills (listen to the lyrics, watch which face they fall on…). Phillips actually taught Reed, Myers and McBroom to lip-sync and play instruments to a degree that they could pass off playing them when acting (maybe not all of McBroom’s drum bashing…) which he’d never done before. Whenever the girls weren’t shooting, Meyer made sure they were practising in an empty studio with Phillips. This was a track that Phillips and Carey wrote together, in five minutes, with Phillips writing the music and melody and Carey providing the lyrics.

This track is used to soundtrack the growing relationship between lesbian lovers Roxanne and Casey every time that they are alone on-screen, the sweet and tender music making their sex scene seem loving and natural and adding to its intimacy. Also used at the end of the film for its resolution scenes, the song perfectly sums up the idea of giving love a second chance, which practically most of the main characters do. I do love happy endings!

Another moment in the film where Meyer’s editing, the composition of the shot and the lyrics of the song really come together and play the story out well. This is also one of composer Stu Phillips favourite songs from the whole soundtrack. The Carrie Nations are successfully on the rise, caught between hot-shot popular producer Z-Man and their previous manager Harris, who has become an envious mess of a man. The girls are blossoming whilst Harris is stagnating, and this scene sure as hell makes the audience aware of it. He is literally looking up from the bottom. Watch Dolly Reed’s eyes when she’s singing. Those are the eyes of a woman on a mission to ridicule a man (trust me, I know). The decline downhill suddenly just got steeper…

This is another track that the Strawberry Alarm Clock are playing at Z-Man’s first party, again fitting in well with The Kelly Affair’s first appearance on the Hollywood party scene. You can see the enthusiasm and excitement in the girls eyes as they are being introduced to people and the idea that they have found their ‘home’ in this crowd is a strong one. Little do they know…

Newly christened The Carrie Nations and still looking somewhat more wholesome than they do in later performances, this is the start of Z-Man’s takeover and the eventual pushing out of Harris from the friendship group. Look at the composition of the shot; the overly happy and excited Harris versus the scheming Z-Man. He knows what’s good for the girls and it doesn’t involve nostalgic relationships getting in the way. Z-Man is on a mission to become the one that the girls will lean on in the long-term, if only the plan will work… Also used to musically illustrate each new relationship a character develops with another, helping the extend the guessing game of whether these relationships will provide any amount of longevity or crash and burn.

One of Meyer’s many references to other cinema in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Phillips adapted Dukas’s legendary piece of music to add to the trippiness of the ‘private party’ that Z-Man holds towards the end of the film. It’s a sinister scene, with Z-Man gleefully enjoying getting drugs into Casey’s blood stream despite her obvious apprehension. The naughtier cousin to Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, it all goes rapidly downhill from here. Nothing will ever be the same again.

And so it begins… This is the journey that The Kelly Affair take to Hollywood and drag the audience along with them, using that much-loved 40/50s film cliché of having the map superimposed onto the screen (remember folks, as much as Meyer denied it, this is one of the best satires on the 1960s as a decade to hit the film medium). They are the ‘gentle people’ wanting to spread love and trying to persuade Harris that it’s all a good idea. His apprehension is well noted, if only they’d listen and take note of his sarcastic peace sign. They feel out-of-place in their hometown, Harris feels out-of-place in his disregard for the idea of taking the trip to the West Coast and little do they know that they’ll all find Hollywood a bit out-of-place too…

Without a doubt this is the best song from the whole film. They came to Hollywood to be heard and, boy, do you hear them in this scene. Tensions are already running high between Kelly and Harris, Casey is beginning to show signs of boredom with the whole scene, Z-Man has begun plotting his takeover of the group and the break-up between Kelly and Harris, everyone’s flirting with each other, the group become The Carrie Nations… With lyrics the singer really should be listening to herself, this is the one number I can’t help but belt out whenever I play the soundtrack at home and features some of Lynn Carey’s best vocals.

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