This has to be one of the oddest and most haunting things I’ve heard this summer –and it’s not necessarily something you’d play outside at a barbecue.
Remember the 1984 chestnut “Footloose” –the movie and its soundtrack? Kevin Bacon moves to right-wing, uptight town where dancing and rock and roll music are outlawed by a morally-correct minister (John Lithgow), and then bags his doe-eyed daughter (Lori Singer), all of which culminates in a rousing dance number, indeed a metaphor back then for freedom and, uh, breaking the rules. 24 years ago indeed, and it made a star out of Bacon and was a so-so film. Need a refresher from the movie itself? Come on, you know you want it (video below).
Of course, this being the 80s, all those musical films had their own soundtrack. “Footloose” contained a lot of singles, among them the title track by Kenny Loggins (he who would make a career out of schlocky soundtrack tunes). Also, you can’t forget the bombastic wonder that was Bonnie Tyler and her “Holding Out For a Hero”, “Almost Paradise”, a duet with the girl from Heart and the lead singer from Loverboy, the enormous pop hit “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” by Deniece Williams (you remember the scene in the movie, come on!) or even the kinda silly “Dancing in the Sheets” by Shalamar. Who would want to revisit these songs and re-record them.
A guy named Gabriel Greenberg, an otherwise unassuming Ph.D. student in Philosophy at Rutgers was going through some old belongings of his late half-sister, and one of the items was the “Footloose” cassette soundtrack. He explains:
When I was very young, my half-sister Jenny died tragically. She was a teenager, and it was the 80’s. She left behind a wardrobe of brightly colored clothes, rainbow stickers, life-size paintings, doodles on lined paper, and hundreds of tapes. These constitute most of my memories of her. It’s sad for me to look at these things, and usually I don’t. But a couple of summers ago I found a tape of hers with a startling cover photograph - this was Footloose. I couldn’t stop listening: it was a portrait of 80’s love, desire, pain, freedom, and frenzy; of being a teenager in a time of change. By listening, I could step into Jenny’s shoes, see things from her vantage point. I could be emancipated by rock and roll and walkmen, just as she had been. We could listen together.
Greenberg then enlisted the help of a friend, Thomas Bartlett, a keyboard player with a group called Doveman. Bartlett had never heard of “Footloose” and of course did not know any of the songs –though the fact that he is now 26 may help explain this as well. All Greenberg had was a simple request for his musician friend:
I asked (him) to cover the album, which, sheltered as he is, he had never heard before. I was clear that I wanted to him to cover the whole album - the point wasn’t to rework any one song, but to re-imagine the picture they made together. With a new Footloose we could reply to the past, tell our own story about being young.
The results are rather interesting, to say the least. Bartlett’s arrangements and plaintive, haunting voice completely up-end every one of that pop album’s tracks. The arrangement borders on the minimalist, the effect in between sad and haunting, and the overall vibe conjures up something that Sigur Ros or the Postal Service might do —if in fact (and they don’t) they decided to cover a very popular 80s album.
Click here to listen to Doveman’s rendition of “Footloose”
Click here to listen to “Holding Out for a Hero”
Want the whole album? Click here.
Bartlett is not one to deliver a traditional spin on things. According to his bio, he “grew up in Vermont, and began playing ukelele at age three, after the wardens at his daycare found him strumming a block and decided he could probably put resonant strings to good use. He began playing piano at age five, and never stopped…”.
So positive has been the reaction to the “Footloose” cover that they have received mentions on many blogs and even this week’s Entertainment Weekly. For their part, Doveman decided to actually give their “Footloose” songs away, and it is about to launch a tour (starting in Seattle on Thursday).
Give away their songs for free, you say? Yes, indeed, the producers of the original “Footloose” soundtrack sent the band a cease-and-desist-letter, asking them to take the songs off their website. Other sites, however, have already released the tracks and another website, www.imeem.com, currently carries all the tracks (provided you sign up for a free account.) What’s the big deal? Why take out all the fun of listening to these songs once again, stripped of their saccharine, and tried out in original, non-conventional ways? Who would have even thought of this? What’s next? An Amy Winehouse revival of the “Grease” soundtrack? “Summer Lovin’”? “Hopelessly Devoted to You”? I am so there.