In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re featuring our favorite songs that only appeared on soundtracks.
The Josie And The Pussycats movie is bananas. It’s a subversive jab at consumerism disguised as a subversive jab at consumerism. The plot fuses the cartoon’s barebones outline of three brassy girls becoming rock stars to an unhinged plot involving an evil music mogul (Parker Posey) inserting subliminal messages into popular music. It’s beyond frothy, with a hyperactive pacing and script full of lines so clunky it would be easy to mistake for a hack-job mess.
But something unusual happens: The film is so overtly laden with product placement, and so intentionally on-the-nose with every line and scene (all while possessing a supposedly idealistic message about being true to yourself) that it goes through a looking glass of ham-fistedness and becomes a gloriously silly and smart critique of the very “shallow teen movie” whose tropes it apes with such comical bluntness. It both relishes the meaningless pop universe it exists in while cynically demolishing any value to be found there.
And boy, those infectious pop songs are something. The movie ended up flopping, but the soundtrack sold more than half a million copies, and is certified gold—both in terms of sales and quality control behind the scenes. Overseen by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the film’s producers recruited a who’s who of turn-of-the-millennium pop music masterminds to craft songs for the fictional band. Fountains Of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz, Matthew Sweet, Gigolo Aunts’ Dave Gibbs, The Go-Gos’ Jane Wiedlin, Anna Waronker from That Dog, and Edmonds himself all composed songs for the title group. Kay Hanley, singer from Letters To Cleo, was brought in as the voice behind Josie. Together, they composed a record full of hook-filled, vivacious pop rock nuggets that are fit for any band, let alone one spawned from a comic and subsequent cartoon from the ’70s.
Along with a few covers (“Money,” “Real Wild Child,” the cartoon theme song), the soundtrack offers something for everyone. There’s the Blink-182-style pop-punk number “3 Small Words,” the mid-tempo stomper “Pretend To Be Nice,” the classic-rock riff of “Come On”—each one a catchy and agreeable winner. Despite pushing “3 Small Words” as the single, the album’s true champion is the song that closes out the final scene of the movie. “Spin Around” was written by Duritz and Gibbs, and is arguably the best embodiment of the go-for-broke rock ’n’ roll style for which the film strives, while still retaining some genuine heart. It’s a tune about embracing the chaos of life and accepting the frantic happenstance that often overtakes our carefully laid plans. It’s surprisingly potent, and the “na-na-naa” coda is pure pop bliss. The movie may be a deranged stew of the push-pull appeal of popular culture (and a deeply enjoyable one at that), but the soundtrack does exactly what it sets out to do: It rocks.