Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Comedy #8: “Smokey & the Bandit” (1977)
I guess you could say I have something for cars, or at least movies about cars. Certainly movies about road trips, and absolutely movies about cross country races. The ’70s were the heyday of the chase film, when stuntmen did their own stunts, and they actually wrecked all those cars for your entertainment. Most were low-budget B-pictures designed to fill out the double feature at the drive-in, featuring good ol’ boys, bootleggers and auto thieves being pursued by hapless law enforcement officials driving thru billboards and crashing into cricks.
While the epic satire “Death Race 2000” best captured the gonzo nature of America and the open road — complete with drivers getting points for running over pedestrians — the genre reached its zenith with “Smokey & the Bandit,” the big-screen hit that (finally) successfully combined comedy, crashes and citizens band in equal measure. While the chemistry of it’s big stars helped (and by that I mean the Trans Am and Sally Fields, not Burt Reynolds), the movie absolutely benefited from the Jerry Reed song “East Bound and Down,” an infectious country ditty that knits the whole road trip together. If you ever need to get something done … beer run, mowing the lawn, housecleaning … just put this song on and it will keep you moving.
I loved the idea of a cross country race against the clock so much, I used it in my first book, the infamous “Truckin’ Turtles.” Released in 1989, the first (and, it turned out, only) royalty check I received for the Teenage Mutant Turtles tie-in arrived in time for me to blow it all on wining and dining my future wife. It was money well spent.
Friday, January 11th, 2013
Song #50: “Convoy” — C.W. McCall (1975)
OK, let’s get this out of way up front: I love novelty songs, especially when I was a kid. Of course, children have no natural defense against the novelty song but after growing up listening to Spike Jones, Alan Sherman and Monty Python, there really was no hope for me. I think “Fish Heads” is hilarious. I listened to the Dr. Demento Show for years, and still wonder what Weird Al will come up with next. That said, with one exception, none of those songs will appear on this list.
I didn’t just pick “Convoy” out of nostalgia or to stand in for all those “Disco Duck”s and “Amish Paradise”s that didn’t make the cut — it really is one of my favorite songs of all time. C.W. McCall’s paen to truckers and CB radio is as tight an epic as you will ever find, a complete cross-country story in one little pop song. (As good a director as Sam Peckinpah was, his mistake was even trying to expand that into a two-hour movie, as he did three years later.)
“Convoy” hit #1 when I was in 6th grade — so of course I was helpless to resist its charms — and was one of the last novelty songs to reach the top of the Billboard 100. Still, it was pretty sophisticated for a novelty song: from the crisp staccato drum that opens the record to the orchestral crescendo of strings as they “crashed the gate doin’ 98,” the music builds to a satisfying stick-it-to-the-man climax, as dueling voice overs lay down the tale of convoy that stretches halfway across the country. Hell, it was even educational — I learned the word “chartreuse” thanks to “Convoy.”
Come to think of it, Robert Altman probably would have been a better director for the movie version. Let them truckers roll 10-4.