Fictional Band, Great Music For Real

by Kevin Burton

   Take a look at your record collection, then do the math.

   For every act that got that major recording contract, got their tunes onto the radio and into your heart, thousands of others wanted to, to varying degrees tried to, but did not.

    I alas, am in that letter group. Maybe that’s why one of the records that influenced me represents a fictional band that made the grade, albeit as one-hit wonders.

   This is my 16th album challenge post.  Today I look at soundtrack from the 1996 movie, “That Thing You Do.”

   The movie is set in the summer of 1964, the aftermath of the British Invasion.  The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9 of that year sent thousands of teenagers to music stores and to their garages. The movie serves up a good representation of the sounds that emerged.

   The fictional band, The Wonders, is made up of four teens from Erie, Pennsylvania.

The Wonders go from the lead singer’s garage to number two on the Billboard chart in the blink of an eye. Overnight sensations. 

   The movie is produced by Tom Hanks who plays Mr. White, the Playtone Records representative who coaches the group and guides them through the industry and sudden fame. Hanks wrote or co-wrote three of the songs on the soundtrack, according to Wikipedia.

   One reviewer said it was a good thing the title song, “That Thing You Do,” was so good because we sure heard a lot of it.  This is true.

   Just as Beatles producer George Martin got the band to speed up “Please, Please Me” to make it their first hit, the Wonders’ replacement drummer pumps up the tempo of ”That Thing You Do.” The band wins a talent show, which starts them on their rise.

   It’s a very fun story, one of my top five favorite movies.  Once they had written a great title tune it would have been easy to skimp on the music for the rest of the soundtrack but they did not.

   The songs are soaked in the reckless 60s, but with at least one winking reference to better sense.

   “Drive Faster” by the fictional group The Vicksburgs speaks to cruising in cars, living for the weekend and in both arenas driving faster.

    This lyric “We were cruising down main just me and the boys. Then I saw her face, I had to make a choice. I said whoever you are come on get in my car” makes me laugh every time. Making bad decisions, getting away with most of them, very 60s.

   “My World Is Over” by fictional diva Diane Dane is a great imitation of a Burt Bacharach song. 

   There is an instrumental, “Voyage Around The Moon” by the fictional Saturn 5, that approximates a song by The Ventures.

   Listen to the lyrics of “She Knows It” by the fictional Heardsmen and you get a sense of how music was largely written then from the male perspective. You hear “she knows all my hopes and dreams,” and you think what about her hopes and dreams?  Again, very 60s.

   If you never saw the movie but like 60s music and you got a copy of the soundtrack

 you’d like it a lot. But you wouldn’t know any of the stories behind the music, the good the bad, the ugly.

   That notion takes me from wistful to thankful.  At what cost do these performers get their music into the public domain? 

   If you’ve studied rock and roll at all you know some of the horror stories. With my non-fame I’ve been spared all that.

   One day I was in Cincinnati at a Reds-Padres baseball game and somebody behind me recognized actor Steve Zahn sitting in the row in front of me.  Zahn played Lenny, the lead guitar player for the Wonders in That Thing You Do.

   After the game I shook Zahn’s hand and told him how much I loved the movie. On the way out of the ballpark nobody recognized me and I just went about my business. There is something to be said for that.

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