The Upshot: A pair of fascinating aural period snapshots, one from the hippie era and the other from the middle of the alt-rock explosion.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Youth culture changes over the decades, but someone will come along and exploit it no matter the era. Easy Rider (1969) and Kids (1995) come from such different sensibilities as to seem to be from two different planets, but the sex, drugs and rock & roll – mostly drugs – ethos provides a connecting thread. The films have become iconic for different generations (no matter how little either may actually hold up on viewing decades later), and MVDaudio makes the argument that the soundtracks have as well – hence these colored vinyl reissues.
Long considered the ultimate counter-culture film of the 1960s (at least by those who watched the counter culture from a distance), Easy Rider boasted a soundtrack that, like rock soundtracks today, mixed known quantities with up-and-comers, and popularized songs now considered classics. The Steppenwolf two-fer that opens the album made staples out of “Born to Be Wild” and, to a lesser extent, Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher.” The set also introduced the world to the Roger McGuinn/Bob Dylan co-write “Ballad of Easy Rider,” performed here in a solo acoustic version by McGuinn. (His band the Byrds would release a full-band take as a single the next year.) The rest is a mishmash of sixties folk and acid rock, from the sublime (the Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow”) to the dated (Fraternity of Man’s “Don’t Bogart Me,” AKA “Don’t Bogart That Joint”) to the ridiculous (the Holy Modal Rounders’ “If You Want to Be a Bird,” the Electric Prunes’ “Kyrie Eleison”). Jimi Hendrix’s “If Six Was Nine” and a cover of the Band’s “The Weight,” re-recorded by the band Smith when the original couldn’t be licensed, also appear. With its best (and worst) tracks easily available elsewhere, the Easy Rider soundtrack mainly serves as a curio for devotees of its era, though diehards who want this edition will be rewarded with beautiful clear vinyl. (Not to mention we refugees from the counterculture who were on hand to watch the film in theaters when it originally came out! –Freak Flag Ed.)
Written by Harmony Korine and directed by Larry Clark, both of them infamous for exploring cultural pockets with elusive moral centers, Kids arrived in the middle of the alt.rock nineties, just as grunge was fading, indie rock rising and the vapidity of “modern rock radio” hadn’t yet calcified. Supervised by Dinosaur Jr./Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow and mostly performed by the Folk Implosion, his side project with John Davis, the soundtrack reflects the transition. Though over half of the cuts come from the Davis/Barlow factory, the duo jumps all over the place stylistically just like a collection of various artists. Hence the trip-hop grooves of “Simean Groove,” “Wet Stuff” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop,” the plaintive folk of “Spoiled” (performed by Sebadoh), the catchy indie pop of the hit “Natural One” and the vein-bulging screamcore of “Daddy Never Understood.” Interestingly, instrumental underscores like “Crash” and “Jenny’s Theme” prove the most compelling material twenty-two years on. Barlow breaks up the monopoly with Lo-Down’s “Mad Fright Night” (the only one of the film’s many hip-hop songs to survive), pioneering indie rock act Slint’s epic “Good Morning Captain” and a pair of tracks from pop savant Daniel Johnston, both dedicated to cartoon character Caspar. Perhaps by virtue of it being both younger and less popular, Kids sound fresher than Easy Rider, though not even “Natural One” is as iconic as the best tracks from the sixties relic. Obsessives for the film will want this, especially with its brightly colored wax; the rest may just want to cherrypick on Spotify.
DOWNLOAD: “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” “Ballad of Easy Rider,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop”