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The Nostalgic Attic: Soundtrack Spotlight: To Live and Die in LA - Wang Chung

24 September 2014

Soundtrack Spotlight: To Live and Die in LA - Wang Chung

"What they recorded has not only enhanced the film - it has given it a deeper, more powerful dimension." - William Friedkin

By the time I had gotten around to watching Friedkin's 'To Live and Die in LA', it was probably some time around the late 90's or early 2000's, at a time when The Exorcist was having a serious dose of re-assessment due to it finally getting a release in the UK on home video. My initial feeling  was one of being less than impressed - it just all seemed a bit 'pedestrian' for Friedkin, the man had, after all, directed one of the best 'rogue cop' movies ever, in the shape of The French Connection - and the film faded from my memory. 

But for some reason, a few years later, I had the sudden urge to see it again, and swiftly picked up the DVD release. What I had initially dismissed as a half-hearted cash in on the already stale 'Dirty Harry' sub genre seemed so much wilder, fresher and exhilarating on that second viewing. So much worked about the film - the acting, the glorious LA cinematography, the wild violence and action - but what really helped glue the film together and give it plenty of personality was the excellent soundtrack by Wang Chung.

Wang Chung were an English new-wave group consisting of Jack Hues and Nick Feldman. They had a string of hits throughout the 80's, and had songs appear on several high profile films, including The Breakfast Club and Innerspace. The soundtrack itself is split in two, with side one taking up the vocal tracks, and the instrumental pieces going to the second side. The vocal tracks are excellent, with highlights including the surprisingly subdued title track - 'To Live and Die in LA', the darker, dance floor-ish 'Wake up, Stop Dreaming', and the excellent, moody pop of 'Wait'. Flipping over to side two gives us the energetic 'City of Angels' (remember that title sequence involving unusual art, money, street dealers and moody looking New Wave chicks?) that really sets the tone for the whole film. The remaining tracks are excellent synth-based scoring pieces that suited the film perfectly. 

The soundtrack was eventually released as the official third album for Wang Chung, and met with moderate success. Overall, the film is quite underrated in the excellent body of Friedkin's work. If you have yet to re-discover this one for yourself, get stuck in as quickly as you can. As the man himself said of the score in the album notes;

"While mixing the soundtrack I was struck by the inseparable flow of one musical piece into another. Listening to the album, just now I discovered, to my surprise, that each track also stands out on its own - and delivers its own statement. For me this is not just an exciting film score, but a fine album of modern music." 

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At 24 September 2014 at 10:38 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I have not seen this movie - although I know I have it queued up somewhere. This post really makes me want to see it! I'm not sure if I'll try to get it in the next week before I switch to all horror for the entire month of October, or use it as a palette cleanser in early November - but I'm definitely seeing it before Thanksgiving!

At 24 September 2014 at 10:45 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Surprised you have missed this one - it really is a great film. I won't spoil anything for you so don't worry, but you are in for a treat! It will make a good palette cleanser for sure!

Looking forward to your October selections, I'll be doing the same this year!

At 25 September 2014 at 06:46 , Blogger Dick Vincent said...

This is a seriously good movie. Both Dafoe and Peterson are amazing here and it's got a great cast of secondary characters. As you mentioned the cinematography is excellent with the soundtrack adding to the smog & sunshine drenched atmosphere. Great post !

At 26 September 2014 at 14:20 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks Dick, glad to hear you are a fan. Dafoe really is great here, it rarely gets mentioned among those eccentric 80's performances that usually get listed.

At 29 September 2014 at 10:37 , Blogger Wes M said...

John, sometimes it takes a post like this to make you realize what’s right under your nose… To Live And Die In LA is a big favourite of mine, I've had this film in my collection from the early days, courtesy of the big box Vestron tape, and the film regularly jostles with French Connection, The Exorcist, and Sorcerer, as my favourite Friedkin film. But in all this time I never really listened to the soundtrack. Thanks to this post I'm now on the second pass of the soundtrack and it is fantastic ! I'm listening to this on mp3 which spoils the experience somewhat of the vinyl 's corralling the songs on Side One and the instrumentals on Side Two - you miss that kind of thing even with CDs. I think the two outstanding tracks here are Wait and City of Angels, the latter is particularly great, that terrific beat makes me wanna boost a car and tear down a one-way street. Interestingly, if you take the beats out of the instrumentals, especially City of Angels I can almost hear early 80's Tangerine Dream, the Poland album in particular... I've always thought the film to be a harder edge take on Miami Vice and I'm wondering now if the soundtrack had something to do with that... That’s really interesting that the album became a bona fida Chung release because thinking back to it now, I used to see this album in used record bins right throughout the 90’s when I was buying vinyl, so that might explain that... Post Script: I just ordered the CD soundtrack from Amazon !

At 1 October 2014 at 02:13 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Excellent Wes, glad you could get into this one! Agreed with you on finding it hard to settle on a favorite Friedkin film, and I sometimes veer closer to one that a lot of people don't like, Cruising. I think it's an underrated dark masterpiece... but yup, Wait is fantastic, and if you haven't seen the film in a while, do yourself a favour and go re-watch the title sequence with 'City of Angels' pounding over it, it brings to mind opening sequences like that in The Hunger, in which the images and music really do combine to create something special. It sums the film up perfectly!

I guess it was Friedkin's harder take on the Miami Vice genre, but considering he played a huge part in creating the 'cop with no rules' genre, I like to think he was reclaiming it after it became so 'TV friendly' by the early 80's.

Yeah, I picked up my copy in a '3 for 10 euros' bargain bin kinda deal, just goes to show how something like this can manage to produce an awful lot of copies! Excellent work on the CD, hope you enjoy the hell out of it!

At 1 October 2014 at 02:20 , Blogger Wes M said...

Jesus wept ! I forgot all about Cruising... I love that film ! That has a great soundtrack as well, all those punky hi-nrg disco tunes. Fantastic stuff...

At 1 October 2014 at 02:38 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Yeah, I've been pushing 'Cruising' on anyone who'll listen for the last ten years... it can be a hard sell! But it's an incredibly shot, haunting film, about as chilling as most horror films, I'd say. And yup, the soundtrack is excellent! Great tune you linked there!


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