Friday, May 26, 2017

Hit Parade Of Hell: The Liner Notes Of John Waters

Your Music Appreciation 101 professor, John Waters.

A stack of John Waters soundtracks on CD.
This will seem impossibly quaint to you youngsters, but music used to be bought and sold as a tangible, physical commodity. In other words, it was a thing you had to go get. In actual, brick and mortar stores, no less! First came the wax cylinder, then the vinyl record, followed by the 8-track, the cassette, and finally, the compact disc. Nowadays, music is all just ones and zeroes to be uploaded and downloaded in the twinkling of an eye over the internet.

For the most part, this change has been a good thing. More music is available to more people more quickly than ever before. But we have lost a few things along the way as we've abandoned physical media. Liner notes, for instance. Remember those? Yes, albums used to come complete with little explanatory essays that told you something about the music contained within. To me, the king of liner notes was cult movie director John Waters. He took obvious delight in penning the notes that accompanied the soundtrack albums for his movies, explaining exactly what these songs meant to him and even giving his listeners instructions on how to listen to the albums for maximum effect.

Much of Waters' writing has been collected and anthologized in book form elsewhere. But, to my knowledge, his soundtrack album liner notes have never reappeared anywhere. So before they vanish from memory completely, I thought I'd showcase them here. I had to scour through my musty, dusty underground storage locker to retrieve these little items, which I present in roughly chronological order. Notice that Waters' texts become more elaborate over time, from a humble paragraph for Hairspray in 1988 to a 450-word essay for A Dirty Shame in 2004.

This collection is not complete. I have yet to transcribe the notes for two compilation albums curated by Waters: A John Waters Christmas (2004) and A Date With John Waters (2007). Perhaps if the reaction to this article is positive, I will dig those up, too. (Update: I have.) In the interest of historical accuracy, I have tried to present these notes exactly as they originally appeared, with all spelling, punctuation, and grammar intact.


Hairspray: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCA, 1988)
Finally, my twelve all-time favorite records, many long out of print, all on one album. Here is the music I still like best, the only kind that late, late at night after three martinis in the privacy of my own home, I have been known to dance to. "Hairhopper" music, what was once known as "race" music, with a touch of Little Peggy March thrown in for shock effect. The singers we risked getting beat up to hear at the Royal Theater in west Baltimore. Obscure hits that remind you of the scariest kids in high school; the boys who got high on cough medicine, the girls with giant hairdos and mosquito bites on their ankles, who quit school and ran off with carnival workersthe teens we secretly wanted to be. At last, oldies but goodies you're not sick of the second time around. Play this album obsessively like I do and realize your music roots need a touch-up. It's the only known remedy to today's Hit Parade of Hell. 
John Waters

Cry-Baby: Original Soundtrack Album (MCA, 1990)
When I was a little boy in Baltimore in 1954, I wanted to be a juvenile delinquent when I grew up. With the release of my new film "Cry-Baby" in 1990, my career dreams have finally come true. 
Listen to this throbbing, hormone-busting soundtrack and you, too, can thrill to the searing pre-rock 'n' roll "hep-cat" music that made me go bad. "Drape" musicperfect for playing strip-poker or "chicken" and fighting the "squares," those goody-goody kids in charcoal gray and ponytails who listened to "Your Hit Parade" and wouldn't know "cool" if they fell over it. Music so "colored," so suggestive, that it seldom played on the radio and sold millions of 45's anyway through jukebox play. A rhythm so evil that good girls turned bad, wore tight sweaters and bullet bras and punched the cops with their knuckles instead of their fists so their nails wouldn't break. "Heat" music, so wild, so animalistic, that boys were glad to be in reform school, just itching to break out and steal another hubcap. Music that proved kids knew how to be bad before sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll! 
John Waters

Serial Mom: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album (MCA, 1994)

Sorry, no soundtrack liner notes this time, though John Waters is listed as the album's Executive Producer.

Pink Flamingos: Original Soundtrack (Hip-O, 1997)
Is there such a thing as "filth" music? Many of the lunatics, hillbillies and perverts I hang around with seem to think there is. It's definitely a pre-punk sound: aggressively shabby, technically primitive, and always sexually ironic. "Filth" music sometimes doesn't even know it's "filth" music. It can be an obscure instrumental you discovered on the B-side of an old 45 that sounded so nasty it inspired you to do your first devious behavior. Sometimes a song you remember from your youth is so square and sappy that you can turn it into "filth" music by simply imagining joyously obscene images in your head to go along with the sugar-coated lyrics. 
Everybody has their own personal "filth" favorites and you're about to hear mine. Can I help it if these seemingly innocent songs inspired my notorious cinematic scenes of coprophesia, cannibalism, artificial insemination and indecent exposure? It took twenty-five years for the soundtrack of "Pink Flamingos" to come out so I hope this music inspires you to commit your own creatively "filthy" acts. Cultural terrorism should be a goal of all people with a good sense of humor. Remember, bad taste is a terrible thing to waste. 
John Waters

Music From The Motion Picture Cecil B. Demented (RCA Victor, 2000)
Cellulunatics and cinema survivaliststhe time has come to take back the screen! Seize the cinema and play this CD as you run from the cops on your first Cecil B. DeMented cinema riot. Demonstrate, recruit and pillage at the cineplex to the psychotic sound of "The Locust." Defy theater managers and scare mainstream movie audiences by blaring out the torturous "Meatjack" in the middle of a Hollywood blockbuster. Horrify family-value followers with the outlaw cinema music of "SubstAnce" and celebrate cinema unrest in a cult-like trance by the repeated playing of Moby's stolen, distressed and warped "Opening Credit Theme."
Be a bad cinematic influence on others—join the revolution against commercial movies. Tear down the Hollywood star system with "Bankable Bitch" and rap along with "No Budget" when you're finally expelled from film school. Shout out the rappers' names (DJ Class, Teflon the Bull and Mayo) as you steal your first movie camera, and then again as you raid another film set, shutting down a big-budget production. 
Turn up Basil and Zoë Poledouris' score in the chop-shop as you strip the parts and repaint the van your crew stole from the Teamsters. Play "Demented Forever" by Karen McMillan over and over until you're in a brainwashed frenzy and then tattoo the name of your favorite director on your forehead.

Sicken your parents and worry them to death over your sexual preference by the repeated playing of Liberace's "Ciao!" Better yet, get a facelift to look just like him! When your family takes you away to the mental institution, demand they play the closing credit song, "Chow," as the psychiatrist straps you into the straight-jacket. Didn't you say you'd "die to make a movie"? Go ahead, suffer for celluloid! Death to those who are cinematically incorrect! POWER TO THE PEOPLE WHO PUNISH BAD CINEMA!


Hairspray: Original Broadway Cast Recording (Sony Classical, 2002)
I used to hate musical comedy, but Marc Shiman and Scott Wittman's score and lyrics for HAIRSPRAY have turned me into a real show-tune queen. If I had rhythm, these would be the songs I'd wish I could write. Listening to the feel-good numbers about rats, flashers, hickies, ratted hair and "checkerboard chicks" turns me into a happy Walt Disney on hallucinogenics, hoping whole busloads of twisted Broadway tourists go to the theater, abandon their diets and feel sexy about it. Cross-dressing, racial-integration, and over-eating have never seemed so wholesome, so American. I think Marc and Scott and the rest of the creative team have turned my weird little movie Hairspray into a jumbo-dream of a musical for outsiders of every persuasion.

Of course, the cast really helps. Marissa Janet Winokur has the voice of Lesley Gore, The Shangri-Las and Marni Nixon all rolled into one big ball of dynamite. When she sings "I Can Hear The Bells," a sort of teen commandments of love, lust and lunacy to her dream date Link Larkin (Matthew Morrison), they both rise to "hair-hopper" royalty in my  book. And Harvey Fierstein (Clarence "Frogman" Henry meets Kate Smith) ... well, when he and Dick Latessa (a new, cooler Jimmy Durante) warble their graceful duet "You're Timeless To Me," I get teary every time.

Is there any better way to get on your parents' nerves than race-mixing? When Seaweed (Corey Reynolds) croons "Run and Tell That" like a new Sam Cooke, he could make a Klu Klux Klan girl vote for Al Sharpton, and when he joins his mousey white girlfriend Penny (Kerry Butler) in "Without Love" even her racist mother (Jackie Hoffman) can understand the passion. Top it off with Seaweed's sister, Li'l Inez (Danielle Euginia Wilson) and the entire cast's finale "You Can't Stop The Beat" and you have a tent revival of a whole different sort.

The Musical. Their hair was perfect. But the world was a mess.

A Dirty Shame: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (New Line Records, 2004)
If you've recently received a head injury and experienced a carnal lust you cannot control, this is the soundtrack for you. Play the recycled appropriated title song "Sylvia" and be glad you're suddenly a sex addict. Listen to "Red Hot" and make a doctor's appointment to get silicone breasts twice as big as your head.

Ever sleep with that scary tow-truck driver who careens down your street like a maniac and gives you lewd looks? Why not? Turn up the volume of that great sex anthem "I Need Your Lovin'" and concentrate on that fake 'end' of the song that inspires horniness in even the most timid. Maybe you'll get lucky. Hum along with the lyrics to "The Pussy Cat Song" and watch those dreary "neuter" neighbors you can't stand tremble in sexual repression. Listen to Jody Reynolds's amazingly seductive instrumental "Black Tarantula" and imagine sleazin' around people's back yard stealing bras from clotheslines, watching ladies wash their hair through back door windows
you won't need lyrics to feel dirty.
Open a sex club in your garage and lure them in with Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back" and if you're lucky a cult might form around your new-found sexual tastes. But beware if you hear the 'neuters' anthem "Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In)"these sexual anorexics are your enemy and they're probably planning 'decency rallies' as you listen. They want you to never have sex again!
Could there be a better rockabilly recruiting song than "Eager Beaver Baby"? Hicupping, hip-swinging stalker music for erotomaniacs with one thing on their mindgoin' all the way! Need a little 'strange' in your overly active sex life? Become a 'bear' and growl out the hot, hairy lyrics to "Itchy Twitchy Spot"you might find a 'cub' of your own.
Who needs actual words in a song when you're looking for action? Just pant, moan and turn up "Hump-A-Baby" and start humping anything: your car, even these liner notes. Sometimes, of course, sex addicts strike outyou gotta howl and feel the frustration. You've got the blues alright'blue balls'! Put on "Moanin'" and concentrate on going back out to try for sex again!
"Let's Go Sexin'" is the mating call of concussion sex addicts everywhere. Listen to that snarling voice of James Intveld (the original voice of "Cry-Baby") and believe that tonight you're gonna discover a brand new sex act. When you're finally spent, pull the covers over your head and listen to the perfect 'afterglow' to your torrid little day"The End" by Earl Grant.
But the search for sex isn't ever over! No, you're not alone. Everybody's nuts when it comes to sex! Go ahead, take over your neighborhood. Somebody's waiting. Somewhere.

-John Waters

Just a reminder: If you liked this article, be sure to check out the sequel.