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The Lost Boys soundtrack walked awkwardly between worlds

Illustration: Nick Wanserski
Illustration: Nick Wanserski

When The Lost Boys arrived in 1987, popular music was in a state of change, transitioning from the brooding, poufy-haired synth-pop that dominated the early ’80s into the boisterous, poufy-haired metal that straddled its latter half. Like the movie’s shapeshifting vampires—or like Kiefer Sutherland’s Billy Idol-in-the-front, Vince-Neil-in-the-back bleached mulletThe Lost Boys’ soundtrack reflects that by leading its own double afterlife. Sometimes it’s a pale creature of the night, holed up in the cavernous gloom of new wave. Sometimes it’s a motorcycle-riding monster of rock, trundling bare-chested down the California coastline. If you listen closely, from out of the crepuscular mist, sometimes you can even hear the lonely howl of that dude from Foreigner. And always, from deep inside it thrums an insatiable hunger for saxophone.

That, plus the touch of director Joel Schumacher, who was just coming off of St. Elmo’s Fire when he agreed to take over The Lost Boys from executive producer Richard Donner. The poster of a surprisingly sensual Rob Lowe on Corey Haim’s wall was just the beginning of Schumacher putting his mark on the film, as he took on the studio’s G-rated Peter Pan homage and turned into a tale of hot, tormented teen vampires (one that still has deep cultural ramifications to this day). He’d come away from his Brat Pack wellspring with the lesson that the right music could be just as important as the right faces when it came to getting inside those teenage bedrooms. After all, St. Elmo’s Fire has somehow become part of the enduring ’80s zeitgeist—despite being awful—thanks partly to John Parr’s “Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion).” It proved that any ’80s movie could become a pop phenomenon if it had sex appeal and a song in rotation at MTV. And if you can have a guy bust out a sax solo, all the better.

Unfortunately for Schumacher, budgetary constraints meant he probably couldn’t have afforded to use someone like Lowe again—with or without his sax. As with St. Elmo’s Fire, limitations worked to his benefit when it came to casting: Schumacher was again allowed to wrangle a group of rising stars like Sutherland, Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, and the Coreys Haim and Feldman, creating an ensemble that, while it wasn’t quite the Undead Brat Pack, still spawned plenty of its own pin-ups. But when it came to the music, Schumacher largely had to make do with what he could wrest out of Atlantic Records’ roster. He was even forced to cut a few deals there, agreeing to direct videos for INXS and Lou Gramm, aforementioned dude from Foreigner, in exchange for their services.

Those two artists—one a hot, trending pop act, the other an ebbing classic rock veteran—pretty well sum up the yin-and-yang of The Lost Boys soundtrack, an album that, until revisiting it for this feature, had been fogged over in my memory as something slightly weirder and hipper than it actually is. In my head, the movie was wall-to-wall gloomy new wave, of the type you’d expect from a movie about trenchcoat-rocking tortured souls. But I now realize that most of that misconception can be attributed to the album’s most enduring track—and the film’s official theme song—Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister.”

According to a 2013 interview, Gerard McMann (the enigmatic stage name of Gerard McMahon) threw “Cry Little Sister” together almost immediately after reading the screenplay and without ever having seen a frame of footage, getting the lyrics down in “an hour or two” and the demo out to Schumacher almost as quickly. With lines like “Black house will rock, blind boys don’t lie” and “Love is with your brother,” it kind of shows: “Cry Little Sister” is mostly nonsense. Nevertheless, it’s haunting nonsense. Backed by a ghostly children’s choir, a Phantom Of The Opera organ riff, and pulsating industrial beat, “Cry Little Sister” was primed to be a goth classic, even on a soundtrack that seems like it’s never heard of the genre. And McMann’s vague yowls of familial yearning—and those damned kids’ spookily intoning, “Thou shalt not kill”—do sort-of evoke the way Patric’s Michael is torn between his vampire and human clans. As it plays across the dark waters of the opening credits, fading into the first glimpse of Sutherland’s gang of bloodsucker underwear models stalking the Santa Carla carousel, “Cry Little Sister” creates the film’s most indelible musical moment.

Except for one.

Ask anyone what they remember about the Lost Boys’ music, and they’ll almost assuredly answer, “The Sexy Sax Man.” That living embodiment of the saxophone’s inherent eroticism is Tim Cappello, a multi-instrumentalist who trained at the New England Conservatory Of Music, and who performed with artists like Peter Gabriel and Eric Carmen before a recovery from heroin addiction led him to take up bodybuilding. From then on, Cappello discovered a lucrative career of combining jazz improvisation with being fucking jacked, swaggering in like a swollen Kenny G on Tina Turner’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome single and video, “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” and turning up, oiled and intimidating, in shows like Miami Vice. Cappello’s Lost Boys performance of “I Still Believe”—sax wailing, torso glistening, ponytail whipping, crotch furiously gyrating—actually ranks as one of the more dignified of his career, given that he usually played shows in a G-string, and Carly Simon apparently used to drag him around stage on a dog leash.

Cappello’s big moment also came about only because the group who actually wrote “I Still Believe”—The Call, a cult alt-rock band who hailed from the same Santa Cruz area where the movie was filmed—declined Schumacher’s invitation for a cameo. It was a regrettable decision for The Call, and a life-changing one for Cappello. His two minutes in The Lost Boys made him immortal, granting him a lifetime of convention appearances and turning “The Sexy Sax Man” into lasting comedy fodder for Jon Hamm and random college kids alike.

Capello thrusting “I Still Believe” deep into the night is one of The Lost Boys’ only scenes where the music fully takes over, the other being Corey Haim’s similarly shirtless, notably less rippling take on Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home (which didn’t make it to the soundtrack). For the most part, the film is quietly supplemented with Thomas Newman’s eerie synth-and-organ score, while snatches of rock and pop songs blare diegetically out of stereos and boomboxes here and there—like the one blasting Run DMC’s version of “Walk This Way” as the vamp gang feeds on a group of surf Nazis. (It didn’t make it to the soundtrack either.) But there’s another rock ’n’ roller who haunts the entire film, despite never being seen. Or indeed, even heard.

The Doors’ Jim Morrison was experiencing something of a renaissance in the 1980s, though his output had slowed considerably ever since dying in a Parisian bathroom years earlier. “He’s hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead,” Rolling Stone’s 1981 cover proclaimed, reporting on the trend of kids lionizing the Lizard King’s decade-cold corpse, where he’d finally become the “stoned immaculate” dark angel he’d always dreamed of being. Bored with featherweight Scott Baios and Leif Garretts, and tantalized by the druggy debaucheries documented in 1980’s No One Here Gets Out Alive, a whole new generation of teens found themselves drawn to Morrison’s pagan eroticism, an everlasting mystique that was only intensified by the fact that he would never age beyond 27. Death had made Morrison a de facto vampire.

As Schumacher told Total Film in 2015, he was a “big Jim Morrison fan,” and you can see it in The Lost Boys—everything from the way he drapes the leonine Billy Wirth and Brooke McCarter in black leather and concho jewelry, to the fact that Sutherland’s vampire gang has what resembles a Morrison altar in their lair. You’re definitely left with the impression that the vamps worship him as one of their own. (Or that they were all out of M.C. Escher prints down at the vampire co-op.)

Schumacher’s obsession even extended to casting, as it’s probably no coincidence that ’87 Jason Patric was the spitting image of Morrison—a resemblance Schumacher makes explicit with a scene where Patric’s face is briefly overlaid with Morrison’s. (Sadly, Patric never actually got to play the singer; at least Schumacher got to work with the guy who did, Val Kilmer, on Batman Forever.) And yet, despite his constant, looming presence, The Doors never actually appear on the soundtrack, likely due to the prohibitive cost.

Instead, as Schumacher explained to Total Film, he got the next best thing by asking Ray Manzarek for permission to re-record “People Are Strange” with the Doors-influenced, equally ruminative Echo & The Bunnymen. Never one to miss out on a chance to squeeze a bit more from the band, Manzarek not only consented to the remake, he actually went into the studio and laid down the keyboards himself. While he was there, he even pitched in on the group’s “Bedbugs And Ballyhoo” (and presumably told them at least one story that name-dropped Dionysus).

Schumacher was so pleased with the result, “People Are Strange” appears twice in the finished film—once during the opening montage, as Dianne Wiest and family take in the mohawked, eyeliner-caked, cigarette-smoking, stroller-pushing freaks of their new home, then again over the end credits. Morrison’s eternal allure of alienation, channeled through Ian McCulloch’s husky baritone and Jason Patric’s face, thus hangs over The Lost Boys just like his poster on that rotting hotel wall.

You could even draw a connection between Morrison and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence; rock critics (and quack psychics) certainly did. By the time of The Lost Boys’ release, Hutchence’s own luscious locks and slithering stage presence had helped to elevate the Australian band to arena status in its homeland and in Europe, though it was still a few months out from Kick’s total domination of America. Nevertheless, with “What You Need” already charting in the U.S.—and, one assumes, Hutchence’s whole Morrison vibe—Schumacher was intent on getting the group’s music into the movie.

His interest was such that he took not one but two INXS songs, neither of them actually meant for the film. Both “Good Times,” a cover of The Easybeats’ 1968 single, and the original “Laying Down The Law” were written and recorded as part of a duet with Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes, which they’d done to promote a series of Australian concerts. As such, neither song especially captures the film on its own. The funky soul of “Laying Down The Law” comes sort of close with its couplet about “Searching for a light / To kill my sense of fear”—but then that’s only as part of some vaguely political message. At least it has the obligatory sax solo.

Meanwhile, the “Gonna have a good time tonight / Rock ’n’ roll music gonna play all night” rambunctiousness of “Good Times,” with its rollicking rhythms and reckless rhyme schemes, lends some appropriate party vibes to the Santa Carla boardwalk scenes, and it provides the necessary electricity for vampire Dwayne’s “death by stereo.” Still, it’s funny that neither song befits The Lost Boys as much as “Devil Inside,” the Kick single Schumacher ended up filming their bargaining video for—on the Balboa boardwalk this time.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that the deal didn’t pay off for both of them. “Good Times” was the only song from the soundtrack to chart, and as it kept INXS on the radio right up to Kick’s release later that year, it certainly didn’t hurt the film or the band to have that connection. Of course, anyone buying the Lost Boys soundtrack for “Good Times” likely didn’t find much else that moved them, just like anyone who picked it up expecting 10 variations on “Cry Little Sister.”

The closest it comes to replicating those twilight moods is “Beauty Has Her Way” by Mummy Calls, the mostly forgotten British mope-poppers fronted by David Banks (who resembled a cross between Robert Smith and Rik Mayall circa Drop Dead Fred). Mummy Calls’ sultry, Psychedelic Furs-like sounds reportedly sparked a frenzied label bidding war in the early ’80s, only to see the group break up after its Geffen-released 1986 debut tanked. But the band lives on thanks primarily to “Beauty,” which plays during the dramatic moment where Jami Gertz’s Star briefly chooses to go with Sutherland’s David instead of Patric’s Michael. (The on-the-nose lyric, “I know what you need / Better than you do” surely went a long way toward arguing for its inclusion.) On the album, “Beauty” is a quiet stunner, a darkly romantic suggestion of the goth Golconda the soundtrack could have been. And you’re goddamn right it has a sax solo.

The rest of The Lost Boys soundtrack is largely banal, bombastic butt-rock. As I alluded to, my recollection was almost entirely defined by “Cry Little Sister,” “I Still Believe,” and ”People Are Strange.” (And to be honest, even though Kick made INXS the favorite band of 11-year-old me, I didn’t even remember they were on this thing.) Over the years, my mind just sort of filled in the rest under the assumption that most of the tracks were taken up by lesser-known goth and goth-adjacent groups. I would have bet money there was a Gene Loves Jezebel song.

In fact, despite having seen The Lost Boys dozens of times, I somehow had no recall of Lou Gramm’s contribution—and the movie’s other ostensible theme song—“Lost In The Shadows (The Lost Boys),” which chugs along behind the vampires’ motorcycle race with its power-anthem guitars, layers of tinny synth, and Gramm wailing, “Say hello to the night!” Admittedly, it’s pretty catchy, but it’s in that unobtrusive, ultimately forgettable way of so many rock songs that wallpapered movies of that decade. Were it not for Gramm hoarsely whispering, “Lost booooys,” it’s easy to believe that “Lost In The Shadows” hails from the end credits of any late-’80s actioner. I’m sure Jean-Claude Van Damme could have kickboxed to this.

I also definitely didn’t remember it having “Power Play” by Eddie & The Tide. Does anyone? Does Eddie? Another Santa Cruz-based band like The Call (and another Atlantic Records artist), Eddie & The Tide made the sort of soulful bar-band music plied back then by countless raspy-voiced dudes from Bob Seger to Eddie Money. (In fact, Money produced The Tide’s 1985 album, Go Out And Get It.) “Power Play” doesn’t seem markedly different from the rest of the group’s output, but on its website—which even faithfully scans in the band’s Xeroxed, 1984 “fact sheet” and some old fan club articles—the song doesn’t merit so much as a footnote.

It’s possible that it’s because “Power Play” isn’t wholly theirs. It’s credited to ’80s hit-meister songwriter Phil Pickett (Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon”) and Eddie & The Tide producer B.A. Robertson (co-writer of Mike & The Mechanics’ “The Living Years”). So perhaps Eddie Rice and the rest of The Tide simply feel no lasting connection to what is arguably their most widely distributed tune. Or maybe they’re just sort of embarrassed by the lyrics, which start out loosely related to the film with lines like “Good and evil / They’re neck and neck” and “They need to feed,” but quickly devolve into baseball metaphors. Either way, “Power Play” feels a lot like a song inspired and engineered mostly by Atlantic executives. It’s barely discernible in the film itself, buried somewhere in the background of the video store owned by Edward Herrmann’s Max, so it seems Schumacher also had little use for it.

He got a little more mileage out of another label hook-up, Roger Daltrey’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”—wink wink—which Schumacher placed at the theater-clearing end of the credits. Daltrey doing a cover job on his old Tommy pinball foe Elton John came amid a slew of Atlantic-released solo albums and some other songs The Who frontman was churning out for movies like Quicksilver and The Secret Of My Success. In keeping with the booming, fussed-over rock sound of the day it was produced by Beau Hill, whose work with bands like Ratt, Warrant, and Winger all but defined the radio-friendly, plasticine sleaze of ’80s pop metal—Sunset Strip wildness with a million overdubs and all the danger compressed out of it.

Hill surrounded Daltrey with Whitesnake/Winger guitarist Reb Beach and solo rock singer Fiona (probably still best known for costarring in Hearts Of Fire, the movie that proved not even Bob Dylan was immune to the ’80s virus of a single dangly earring). According to some interviews she’s given, Fiona was romantically linked to Beach and Hill both around the same time, which must have made for some interesting tension during its recording. Not that any of that translates to the song, of course. Daltrey’s “Don’t Let The Sun” rocks in a strictly professional way, and besides everyone giving it their technically proficient all, it doesn’t add anything to the song that hasn’t been explored through decades of renditions and 15 seasons of American Idol. It’s not better; there’s just more of it. And now it’s a vampire joke!

Daltrey’s appearance, like that of Lou Gramm and Eddie & The Tide, encapsulates what a mixed bag these ’80s compilations could be. When no one could make their own without a blank Maxell, a dozen individual records, and a whole lot of patience, the movie soundtrack was still moving considerable units. Naturally, the impulse was to cram as many potential radio hits on there as you could, regardless of whether, say, Marty McFly would actually listen to Huey Lewis. As long as they had a decent backbeat and didn’t get in the way, you could load up your film with songs by any artist who needed a little extra push. And if that meant your soundtrack ended up being 50-percent filler, well, fans still had to buy the album to get those three songs they really loved. Besides, where else are they going to get Thomas Newman’s 90 seconds of creepy carnival music?

That grab-bag aspect certainly colors The Lost Boys, where the only thing really uniting it is that it hails from that part of the ’80s right when pop, classic rock, metal, and new wave had begun to blur into a uniformly loud and shiny mush. One wonders, if the movie had been filmed a year later at the peak of that scuzzier wave of glam metal, whether it wouldn’t have taken a sharper focus—and had fewer AOR ghosts hanging around—by reflecting the predominance of bands like Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row, Mötley Crüe, et al. in more than just its haircuts. (After all, who better embodied the film’s “Sleep All Day. Party All Night” tagline? Not a 43-year-old Roger Daltrey.) As is, The Lost Boys album sleeps now in the dusty crypt of the cutout bin, a horror curio with no real bite. Intermittently cool, ultimately kind of scattered, and more than a little cheesy, it’s the saxophone solo of soundtracks.