Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Beverly Hills (Cop) 9021-Oh Yeah!!!

When I was six years old, I think I had a fairly different definition of "great movie" than I do now, because I totally thought that Beverly Hills Cop was a great movie. It was great because 1) there was that scene where Eddie Murphy put a banana in a car's exhaust pipe, which was the funniest thing ever, 2) the guy who played Balki from Perfect Strangers was in it, and 3) it had that awesome, awesome soundtrack.

My family had the soundtrack on cassette, and we played it in the car nonstop. I would stare at the list of artists in wonder, forming opinions based on incomplete information. I was not aware, for instance, that Glenn Frey had been in the Eagles, or that Danny Elfman had been in Oingo Boingo, or that Patti LaBelle had been in ... LaBelle. As far as I was concerned, these artists' musical histories began and ended with the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.

A couple of years ago, deep in the thick of my newfound '80s nostalgia, I caught the opening of Beverly Hills Cop on TV. "God, I haven't seen this since I was a kid," I said to myself in a tone of misplaced curiosity. So, I decided to record it and watch the rest over a week or so. Well, maybe I'm a party pooper, but the first thing I realized was this: Beverly Hills Cop is completely implausible! Perhaps I am ignorant in the ways of 1980s law enforcement, but I feel like if any police officer tried to behave the way Axel Foley behaves in Beverly Hills Cop, he would have his badge immediately revoked and would be knee-deep in lawsuits, criminal charges, and overwhelmingly negative 24-hour news coverage. Hey, I don't know, maybe police officers acted like that all the time, and still act like that, and I'm just naive. But Axel Foley spends the whole movie bluffing his way into restaurants and mansions and countless potentially fatal situations without any sort of clear objective, legal preparation, or even a back-up plan. Not that realism is Beverly Hills Copsaim, mind you. I just thought I would point this out.

So, now that I know a bit more about cinema than I did when I was six years old, I've realized that Beverly Hills Cop is, essentially, a mildly amusing, highly cartoonish early Jerry Bruckheimer production with a message that boils down to something like, "Look at how scared all these rich white people are of a black guy!" Some other observations: 1) as a kid, it seemed like Beverly Hills Cop was such an intense action movie!! Watching it now, the action seems impressively tame, with only a couple of cars blowing up at a time, and editing that almost gives the viewer a sense of where people "are" and what they're "doing," which we simply cannot have; 2) Once upon a time, back in 1984, merely making fun of gay people counted as comedy. You didn't have to make fun of gay people in a certain way, or include some sort of cultural commentary in your gay impersonation. You simply had to impersonate a gay person, for no particular reason, and people would laugh at this.

So, tastes change, but my younger self was entirely correct about at least one aspect of Beverly Hills Cop: the soundtrack is still awesome. Maybe I'm a pushover these days, but asking me to remove even one single track from this album would be like Sophie's Choice. For the most part, the soundtrack delves into a genre I've hardly explored on this blog, a genre that's probably best described as "electro-funk." Most of these guys were trying to be Prince or Rick James, or both. For example, Rockie Robbins does his best "1999" rip-off with "Emergency":



Junior and Shalamar actually seem to be doing more of a Michael Jackson thing with "Do You Really (Want My Love)" and "Don't Get Stopped In Beverly Hills," respectively, the former perhaps a highly perverse re-make of The Move/ELO's "Do Ya," and the latter featuring the requisite imitation Eddie Van Halen "Beat It" solo (although by the fade-out, it ends up sounding more like Stevie Wonder's "Maybe Your Baby"):





Kind of makes you want to get stopped in Beverly Hills, doesn't it? Although sadly not featured on the soundtrack album, the Purple One himself did, in a roundabout fashion, make a musical appearance in the film (during the - if I may say so - fairly ludicrous strip club scene), via notorious female pet project Vanity 6 and the infamous "Nasty Girl."



What I'm trying to say is, the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack is so loaded, it's got great songs on it that aren't even on it. From Wikipedia:
In 1981, Prince, himself a rising musical star, suggested that his three female friends—his girlfriend Susan Moonsie, Boston native Brenda Bennet, and his personal assistant, Jamie Shoop form a girl group that would be called "The Hookers". Prince's vision was that the three women would perform in lingerie and sing sensual songs with lyrics about sex and fantasy.
Such a noble, noble vision.
Prince had been wanting to mentor a girl singer or group since the late 70s when he saw the film A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kirstofferson. The original trio recorded a few demos before Prince met Denise Matthews, a nude model and Canadian B movie actress, in January 1982. Prince was so taken by Matthews' charisma that he decided she would be the perfect frontwoman for his "Hookers" project. Around this time, Prince and Matthews began a romantic relationship. With Matthews' arrival, Shoop was dropped from the group. Matthews was eventually re-christened Vanity. Prince had originally suggested that Matthews use the stage name "Vagina" (to be pronounced /vaginÉ‘/); she declined and renamed herself "Vanity" instead. Other versions of the story suggest that it was Prince himself who coined the name "Vanity", as he said that looking at Matthews was like looking in a mirror at the female version of himself. With the new trio finalized, Prince renamed the group Vanity 6 (the number representing the group's breast count).
If only all musical groups formed with such lofty aspirations. To the surprise of very few, the project quickly fell apart (morphing into the equally short-lived Appolonia 6) and Vanity later became a born-again Christian preacher. Hey I'd study the Bible with her, if you know what I mean.



At any rate, for other soundtracks, R&B goodies such as these would have been plenty of material to package a bunch of leftover pre-recorded crap around. But the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack had other ideas.

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