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Guilty Pleasure: Vision Quest: Original Soundtrack

on August 14, 2010, 8:00am

When I was reaching back to find a truly guilty pleasure, I racked my brain trying to find that perfect combination of cool, camp, and cliche. I knew that I listened to potentially embarrassing music at various stages in my life, but nothing immediately came to mind. Then while driving I heard Madonna’s “Crazy for You”. Unaware I was actually tuned in to Delilah, I continued to listen until the song ended. Of course this song is nowhere near cheese, and it is practically a classic in the rock ballad canon. However, Madonna’s second number one single in the US was also the first single from the Vision Quest soundtrack. It’s here our story begins.

Vision Quest is a 1985 coming of age story starring Matthew Modine as high school wrestler Louden Swain on his mission to beat the guy who’s never been beaten. Along the way he also happens to fall in love with the sexy, mature, 21-year-old renting a room in his house. This film was very predictable and typical of the schlock films following in the shadows of John Hughes’ teen angst success. Similar to Hughes’ films, director Harold Becker uses the soundtrack to play a role within the context of the film rather than just a commercial tie-in for marketing purposes. However, unlike Hughes’ preferred use of underground and truly alternative musicians (see Some Kind of Wonderful), the Vision Quest soundtrack is filled with big name arena rock bands and the hottest stars of the moment.

Like so many others at the time, I owned this soundtrack on cassette. Currently, it sits in the closet along with other potential guilty pleasures. This, along with the Say Anything soundtrack, accompanied me on many occasions as I drove around in my deep maroon 1978 Pontiac Grand Le Mans (complete with plush velvet-like interior). The album opens with a burner by Journey, only to crash into John Waite’s “Change”, a far slower track. But because it was on cassette, you just let it roll. There was no sense in fast forwarding to the next track because it wasn’t always convenient, and in the days before automatic advance, fast forwarding could be a crap shoot. Years before Nick Hornby wrote down the rules to making mix tapes in his novel High Fidelity, this album follows those rules with the next two tracks, coming out of Waite’s slower piece directly into the Style Council’s “Shout to the Top”, and Madonna’s “Gambler”.  It is through these tracks that the energy is elevated near that of the album’s intro. From then on the album has a pretty consistent groove…at least until the Red Rider track.

Prior to this album I had never heard of Canadian rockers Red Rider or their song “Lunatic Fringe”. Even today I don’t think of the band as much as I do the song and Tom Cochrane’s repetitive “Lunatic Fringe….I know you’re out there.” However, just thinking about the band now sparks the memory of the ridiculously over-dramatic training sequence Modine’s character performs including jumping rope in a dark gymnasium with only a single light perched above. This single pretty much marks the extent of Red Rider’s penetration into the US market. Years later, Cochrane would hit it big with his hit “Life Is a Highway”, another annoyingly infectious song.

Velveeta looms large on Don Henley’s “She’s On the Zoom”. This track is somewhat removed from, and certainly pales in comparison to, his future classic album The End of the Innocence. On the upside, it does have two GoGo’s singing backup, and could be thought of as a bridge between his single “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” from the previous year’s Building the Perfect Beast and his future efforts. Regardless, this song is probably on the list of Don Henley songs not played at concerts. Also on the list, I’m sure, is Dio’s “Hungry for Heaven”, which proved that even a dark lord in the mystic realms of metal’s dark magic was not immune to the synth-infection that plagued so many artists in the ‘80s.

Four songs were recorded for the soundtrack: Journey’s opening track along with Henley’s “She’s On the Zoom” and two Madonna singles, “Gambler” and the aforementioned “Crazy for You”. In a twist of irony, Madonna’s “Gambler” failed to make any significant mark, despite it sounding very similar to her hit “Burning Up”. The remaining songs, all previously released tracks and hits in their own right prior to their inclusion in the film, cover a wide array of styles and genres, from the dance soul pop of Paul Weller’s post-Jam The Style Council, to the synth-drenched metal of Dio, to pre-Van Hagar Sammy. Arena rock champions Foreigner provide the oldest song in the lineup with 1978’s “Hot Blooded”. Three other songs, Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart”, REO Speedwagon’s “Time For Me to Fly”, and Berlin’s “No More Words” appear in the film yet fail to make the cut for the album.

The success of Madonna’s soulful “Crazy for You” and Journey’s anthemic “Only the Young” provided the momentum behind the soundtrack’s moderate success. Madonna’s song was so successful that many Asian markets actually re-titled the film and soundtrack to Crazy for You. I even owned the 7” single (backed with Berlin’s “No More Words”). For me, this soundtrack ranks up there with some of the best of the era. Unfortunately, the album will barely register as a rung in the ladder of Madonna’s success, and for the other artists it was probably nothing more than a paycheck.

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