28 November 2010

The Dictionary of (Celtic) Soul: A Listener's Guide To The Soundtrack of "The Commitments"

--We'll ask Jimmy, said Outspan. --Jimmy'll know.
Jimmy Rabbitte knew his music. He knew his stuff alright. You'd never see Jimmy coming home from town without a new album or a 12-inch or at least a 7-inch single. Jimmy ate Melody Maker and the NME every week and Hot Press every two weeks. He listened to Dave Fanning and John Peel. He even read his sisters' Jackie when there was no one looking. So Jimmy knew his stuff.

So begins The Commitments, Irish novelist Roddy Doyle's first book of his "Barrytown Trilogy," a celebration of American soul music via the struggles of a group of Irish unemployed youth who form to become "Dublin's hardest working band."

Director Alan Parker's 1991 movie adaptation probably pulls a little more drama out of the story than Doyle intended, but the saga of Jimmy Rabbitte and his management of a band of vagabonds never takes its eye off the star of the show: the music that bled so successfully into the English and Irish music scene from the 1960s onward. In her review of the film for The New York Times, critic Janet Maslin said, "The Commitments finds Mr. Parker again doing what he does expertly: assembling a group of talented newcomers, editing snippets of their exploits into a hyperkinetic jumble, and filling the air with song. [It is an] exuberant valentine to American soul music and the impoverished Dublin teen-agers who think of it as magic."

TNOP proudly brings you a listening guide to the entire soundtrack of The Commitments in sequential order, along with the context in which they are played. Use it as a guide as you watch the movie or click the links where available to enjoy the originals as your own private playlist. [While the majority of the songs listed are performed by the film's cast, we have listed the artists who made the songs popular for your information.]

Cathy's Clown (The Everly Brothers) - Backdrop is a "boot sale" (or as it is known in the States, a "garage sale," in which Jimmy attempts to sell bootlegged tapes while sporting a Paul McCartney t-shirt.

24 Hours To Tulsa (Gene Pitney) & Needles & Pins (The Searchers) - Performed at a wedding reception by Jimmy's pals and their insufferable synth player.

I Can't Stand The Rain (Ann Peebles) - Amidst scenes of working class North Dublin and a series of often comic auditions, Jimmy declares: "We're gonna be playing Dublin soul!"

Can't Help Falling In Love (Elvis Presley) - The camera pans the wall of the Rabbitte household, showing photos of Pope John Paul II and Jimmy at his First Communion, then rises to reveal a large portrait of Elvis above both of them. Jimmy to his Dad: "Elvis is not soul!" The incredulous reply of his Father: "Elvis is God!"

Who's Sorry Now? (Connie Francis) - The Rabbitte's neighbor lady, clearly a product of a by-gone generation, sings a few bars of this song and looks hopefully at Jimmy and his mates, asking "Any chance for me lads?"

Only The Lonely (Roy Orbison) - The core of the new group is in the local pub when the attractive character Imelda Quirke (who will become a backup singer) is introduced to the story. As all the boys ogle her, Jimmy says with a manager's bravado "When this band is successful, the girls will be throwing their knickers at you." [Speaking of the Big O, later in the movie, looking to hock for amps and gear to play with, one of our protagonists will declare "everything's shite since Roy Orbison died."]

Watching vintage film of James Brown on The T.A.M.I. Show - "That's what you've got to measure up to: The Irish are the Blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the Blacks of Ireland. And North Dubliners are the Blacks of Dublin."

Slip Away (Clarence Carter) - In which we are introduced to the grizzled horn player Joey "The Lips" Fagan, who defensively indicates to the others that "I'm 16 years younger than B. B. King." Declaring "God sent me," Joey confidently states that "Our Irish brothers wouldn't be shooting the ass off each other if they just had soul."

Destination Anywhere (The Marvelettes) - This song introduces the three girls (Imelda, Bernie McGloughlin and Natalie Murphy) in the story, who will become singers with The Commitments. Jimmy uses the opportunity to preach that "Soul is the sound of sex and the factory: it grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite."

Nowhere To Run (Martha & The Vandellas) - The classic Motown track is a backdrop for a panorama of scenes starring the aspiring members of the band: Declan "Deco" Cuffe serenading first communicants on a local train; Imelda, Bernie and Natalie cautiously trying out their dance moves; guitarist Outspan Foster working his day job in a slaughterhouse; Jimmy seeking rehearsal space in the back of an ancient pool hall; and Steven Clifford and his mates loading an upright piano on the back of a VW pick-up truck.

Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett) - The fits and starts of initial rehearsal center around this classic gut-bucket soul tune.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man (Aretha Franklin) - The scene centers around Bernie's family's apartment in the North Dublin projects, where she is missing rehearsal in order to help her mother care for her younger siblings. A character remarks that Bernie - stuck in the traditional role of young women in Ireland - "needs the band more than any of us."

A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harem) - Steven is seen playing the prog rock classic on the church organ when the young parish priest walks in. He convinces the father to allow The Commitments to play their first gig at the church community center in support of the "anti-heroine" campaign.

Too Many Fish In The Sea (The Marvelettes) - The second appearance of the marvelous Marvelettes mark the girls' first stab at carrying the vocals on a number, much to Deco's chagrin.

(Tell Me Why) I Don't Like Mondays (The Boomtown Rats) - This nihilist punk anthem is chosen for microphone check by the group's self-appointed bouncer (and later replacement drummer) Mickah Wallace, blatantly marking not only his opposite musical tastes but also lack of hope of any economic mobility.

Mr. Pitiful (Otis Redding) - While Deco shows no fear at the band's first appearance at the community center by ripping into an Otis Redding roof-raiser, the limited space on stage proves an . . . um . . . impediment.

(Theme From) "Shaft" (Issac Hayes) - Joey "The Lips" drops this unforgettable blaxploitation movie theme on the turntable in his room (located in his mother's house) in his process of seducing and bedding Bernie. The scene is cleverly juxtaposed with Joey's mother downstairs playing a hymn while positioned in front of her shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Take Me To The River (Al Green) - An apt choice marking The Commitments' formal baptism in front of their first "real" crowd at a pub gig.

The Dark End of the Street (James Carr) - This obscure, mournful ballad fits perfectly in back-to-back scenes. In the first, Jimmy is pictured at the sound board while the band plays. He looks around in a subtle fashion and sees for the first time that his creation - his band - is making a real connection with the audience. Unfortunately, that feeling is doused by his realization that everyone around him - the promoters, the equipment people, the band - all want money, instead of the simple satisfaction he feels. The action then moves to the local parish, where outside a poster reads "The Commitments - Saviours of Soul" and the parish priest is shown walking away into the church. Next we hear Steven. "When I was studying, I used to sing hymns," the young man whispers in the confessional. "Now I'm always humming 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' by Marvin Gaye." The priest corrects him: "It was Percy Sledge." The power of popular music permeates even the most traditional, powerful institution of Ireland.

Destination Anywhere [REPRISE] - Some of the band members, reduced to schlepping around their gear in a old, broken down portable fish 'n chips van (former business of trade: "Mr. Chippy"). Unsuspecting boys approach the truck looking for food. "Got any salmon wraps?" they inquire. The logical retort: "We only got soul (sole)."

Hard To Handle (Otis Redding) - What little bit of success the band has had is starting to go to everyone's heads. Shy Dean Fay, tutored by Joey "The Lips" to play the sax, now fancies himself a jazz hipster and wants to improvise during stage performance. Meanwhile, Jimmy, flush with 200 quid in his pocket from a successful door take, has to use it to pay off loan sharks instead of the group members.

Chain of Fools (Aretha Franklin) - Tempers finally boil over and The Commitments are literally at each others' throats.

Mustang Sally [REPRISE] - Jimmy has lured the band back together with the anticipation of an appearance at the gig by The Wicked One himself: Wilson Pickett. The group is now really polished; Deco riffs like a real soul man, and there are unexpected flourishes by Steven on piano and Joey and Dean on brass.

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You) (Aretha Franklin) - Natalie takes the mic and sings this The Queen of Soul gem, a code of her unrequited love for Jimmy.

Try A Little Tenderness (Otis Redding) - As The Commitments wait in vain for Pickett to arrive, we see the bi-polar behavior of stage demeanor vs. backstage bickering, culminating with the victory of the dark side: the public humiliation of Jimmy by his own band.

In The Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett) - The clock figuratively strikes twelve, and even though a record executive has showed up in the audience, all hell finally breaks loose with the band. And Jimmy finally walks away, saying the hell with it all. He'll conduct the post-mortem in his final "interview".


"The Commitments." Directed by Alan Parker; screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and Roddy Doyle, from the novel by Mr. Doyle; director of photography, Gale Tattersall; edited by Gerry Hambling; production designer, Brian Morris; produced by Roger Randall-Cutler and Lynda Myers; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 120 minutes. This film is rated R. Starring: Robert Arkins (Jimmy Rabbitte); Michael Aherne (Steven Clifford); Angeline Ball (Imelda Quirke); Maria Doyle (Natalie Murphy); Dave Finnegan (Mickah Wallace); Bronagh Gallagher (Bernie McGloughlin).

No comments:

Post a Comment