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Animal House Soundtrack

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The 25th anniversary version of National Lampoon’s Animal House comes out on DVD tomorrow. I talked about the film here – the soundtrack recording is also very noteworthy. Yes, I have spent way too much time over the years thinking about this.

The Animal House Soundtrack features material from seven different categorical sources – I believe this to be a record.

1. The first category consists of original rock ‘n’ roll standards taken from the period depicted in the movie (the early ’60s). These songs include “Twistin the Night Away” by Sam Cooke, “Tossin and Turnin'” by Bobby Lewis, “Hey Paula” by Paul and Paula, “Let’s Dance” by Chris Montez, and “What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke.

2. The second category: “period” remakes recorded for the film with John Belushi on lead vocals: “Louie Louie” and “Money (That’s What I Want).”

3. “Shout” remake, produced by Mark Davis as performed in the film by “Otis Day and the Knights” with Lloyd Williams on lead vocals.

4. Original period piece written and produced by Davis, as performed in the film by “Otis Day and the Knights,” with lead vocals by Lloyd Williams, “Shama Lama
Ding Dong.”

5. Original period pieces written and performed by Stephen Bishop, “Dream Girl”
and the title track, “Animal House.”

6. Original orchestral music written and conducted by Elmer Bernstein, “Faber College Theme.”

7. Dialogue snippets from the movie.

Let us explore these derivations further:

1. The oldies on the soundtrack are well-chosen, but none were particularly
revived in real life as a result of their placement within the movie or on the soundtrack.

2. Things get very interesting in a confusing way with the “Louie, Louie” and “Money” remakes recorded for the film with John Belushi on lead vocals. Not only are they crucial to the movie, (“Money” follows “Louie, Louie” in the introductory party scene which identifies Animal House with the origination of rock ‘n’ roll itself), but Belushi’s version rejuvenated the popularity of both of these songs, especially “Louie, Louie.” Many people under the age of 35 recognize and prefer the Belushi version over the Kingsmen original.

As the character Bluto, portrayed by Belushi, interacts with the song “Louie, Louie,” as recorded by lead singer John Belushi, some complex questions of ontology come to the fore. Ontology is the philosophical study of the layers of reality, i.e., what it is that makes something, or someone, real.

John Belushi recorded these two songs in a recording studio, presumably before the movie was shot. But in the movie, Belushi-the-actor, interacts with Belushi-the-recording-artist, as though he were singing along with the original recording. In the film, he sings along with “Louie, Louie” as the Deltas do a kind of line dance, involving nudging and head-butting, at the pledge initiation party.

As Belushi was acting out the scene he probably faked the singalong, and then, after the fact, he probably dubbed the Bluto singalong vocals over his own recorded version of “Louie, Louie” so that the scene you see and hear in the theater is Belushi singing along with himself lip-synching a prerecorded version of “Louie, Louie,” upon which he was the lead singer. He was in the studio twice and acted it out a third time. You have to be Socrates to figure this stuff out.

3. A good case can be made for Animal House as a musical: characters perform and interact with songs at key and pivotal parts of the film. Actors portray musicians performing musical numbers. This happens in the bizarre Belushi sense, and in the more conventional Otis Day and the Knights scenes.

The two Otis Day scenes are among the most vividly remembered scenes from the film. The scenes flow smoothly from the action so that the audience is barely cognizant of the fact that these are staged musical numbers. The first number, “Shout,” is a group of actors portraying a band entertaining at a fraternity party.

The actor portraying Otis Day is DeWayne Jessie. He is not the singer on the recording though, Lloyd Williams is. So DeWayne is just lip-synching to a recording by another singer, as did Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

Animal House succeeds because it reproduces the liberation and ecstasy of rock ‘n’ roll in story form. “Shout” is where the rock ‘n’ roll metaphor becomes reality. The movie is no longer about rock ‘n’ roll emotions, it suddenly is rock ‘n’ roll.

The band, Otis Day and the Knights, performs “Shout” in the basement of the Delta house for their toga party. Everyone dances riotously. The band circles around the singer like Indians around a wagon train, spurring him onto even greater vocal bedazzlements. The crowd crouches down to the ground during the “little bit softer now” segment and rises accordingly to “a little bit louder now, a little bit louder now,” pausing at the bottom to gator – to writhe spastically on the ground.

The crowd raises its hands and shouts when the lyrics call for it. The character Boon (Peter Riegert), who is sans date, mimics Otis Day’s every nuance, not out of mockery, but out of deep respect and a desire to fit in with the revelry.

This scene has been recreated in real life, thousands of times, all over the country. People want to participate in the feeling of that scene with their bodies. They want their lives to imitate this art. There is something tribal and fundamental about participating in group ritual, a ritual of solidarity against what is often vague and nonspecific in real life – the forces of repression and routine and boredom and authority. In the movie these targets are made real, specific and absolute, Dean Wormer and the Omegas. People dance with vigor and animation to this song as though they are trying to physically eliminate these foes. They stomp them into the ground, they crawl all over them, they fight them.

25 years after the release of the film, “Shout” is still the most popular audience participation number at parties. People still act out the scene from the toga party. As a DJ, I have had 2,000 people simultaneously crawl down on the ground in the middle of the street and raise their hands and yell “Shout” at the appropriate times, the whole bit. The DJ, the conduit, can feel the power flow as people are united into a unanimous, joyous unit.

Essentially then, Animal House is a naturalistic musical with “Shout” as its centerpiece.

4. Animal House’s second-most memorable scene is the one in the black bar, again featuring Otis Day and the Knights. In this one, Otis isn’t so happy to see the lads as they stumble in to where they shouldn’t oughta. The scene perceptively points out that a performer must wear many faces, one for each crowd that he entertains. This is not the Otis Day of the fraternity party. This is the Otis Day that is a black man performing for other black people. They do an original written for the film (by Mark Davis) entitled “Shama Lama Ding Dong” (not to be confused with “Rama Lama Ding Dong” by the Edsels). The song is an excellent R&B finger snapper with a Fats Domino feel.

Another remarkable tribute to the power of this film and to its impact upon popular culture, is the Otis Day phenomenon. Otis Day and the Knights were not a real group. By now that should be obvious. They were a group of actors portraying musicians. Mark Davis assembled the musicians to record “Shout” and “Shama Lama Ding Dong.”

DeWayne Jesse, the actor portraying Otis Day, had nothing to do with the recordings. As “Otis Day” he was only onscreen for six minutes. And yet the impact of those six minutes was so great that there arose a demand for Otis Day and the Knights in the real world: the Otis Day and the Knights as seen in the movie. This created a problem. How to reconcile the appearance with the sound? Fortunately, as his manager put it when I booked Otis Day and the Knights into high school dances and frat parties, “It’s a damn good thing that DeWayne can sing.”

Jesse assembled a backup band and hit the college circuit as “Otis Day and the Knights.” He was Otis Day, and he sounded enough like Williams (the singer on the soundtrack) to make it work. DeWayne made a good living as Otis for many years thereafter. Every college wanted to prove it could live up to the Animal House tradition, and Otis Day had to be there to sanction the event – like the NCAA. There was even an Otis Day and the Knights album, produced not by Davis, the rightful heir to this good fortune, but by George Clinton! It failed, but the VHS tape of the live Otis show is much better.

5. Stephen Bishop wrote the girl-group-like original “Dream Girl”, which plays during the two “submarine race” scenes in the movie, and the title track, “Animal House”, which closes out the end credits. Both are effective and inoffensive but neither has created any impact outside of the movie theatre.

Where Bishop made the most impact is in a cameo role within the film. He plays the mondo-sincero folk singer who croons, “I gave my love a cherry,” at the toga party. By the time he gets to “I gave my love a story that has no end,” Bluto has zeroed in on the source of this aural annoyance. He wrests the guitar from Bishop’s aggrieved hands and smashes it to smithereens. “Sorry.”

6. Elmer Bernstein wrote incidental music and the appropriately pompous “Faber College Theme,” which opens and closes the soundtrack album.

7. Also on the record are lines from the movie, like the “I gave my love a cherry” scene, the “Do ya wanna dance” intro to “Shout,” and the “It’s so good to be back at the Dexter Lake Club” intro to “Shama Lama Ding Dong.”

I don’t know which, among all of these audio selections on the soundtrack, is the most “real.” The very fact that so many ontological questions are raised by the film and the soundtrack points to the depth and the impact that Animal House has had on the American public, or at least on me. Certainly, no film has had more impact upon our party habits and rituals.

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About Eric Olsen

  • brad

    Hello Eric,
    There was a movie in the late 70’s or early 80’s where a piano player was singing “The Gang Bang Song.”
    ex “Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Tijuana. Tijuana who? Tijuana bring your mother to the gang bang.” It was hilarious, and he had so many knock knock jokes. Any idea what movie that was, or who sang the song?
    Thanks,
    Brad

  • Doug

    Hey Brad,
    The movie with “The Gang Bang Song” is “Busting Loose”. It was like a “Porky’s” type movie with Tom Cruise in it.Pretty funny movie.
    Later,
    Doug

  • Eric Olsen

    Sorry I missed that Brad. Thanks for helping out Doug!

  • Doug

    I got the wrong movie earlier. It’s not “Busting Loose”, it’s “Losin’ It”.
    Sorry,
    Doug

  • Eric Olsen

    now all is right with the world

  • Eric Olsen

    by the way, I think this is a conceptually brilliant post that has been appallingly ignored, only to be resurrected by an inquiry into gang bangs.

  • Kirby Junge

    Hey, back in the eighties Jesse appeared at out college (Central Oklahoma) but he was backed by what was called the Animal House Band. Anyways, he was made an Honorary Initiate of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.

  • Panama Jack

    I just saw Animal House on a T V network replay and realized that their is a “bridge” to the Otis Day and the Knights Shama Lama Ding Dong. It appears once with vocals and later in the song as an instrumental. It is the classical 4th chord to 4th chord minor, etc.
    I have performed this tune numerous times without the “bridge” but would like to include it.
    Can you locate a version of the song with the bridge including the words, etc? Thanks

  • Eric Olsen

    does the soundtrack version have the bridge?

  • Giuseppe

    what is the name of the song that replaced wonderfull world of sam cooke in the new dvd version?

  • Eric Olsen

    I hadn’t noticed it was replaced – what part of the movie is it?

  • Eric Dungan

    Correction on #7, it’s not “The Dexter Lake Club”, it’s the “Depth of the Lake Club”. Check out the sign as the Deltas drive into and walk into the club.

  • Eric Schelkopf

    Maybe DeWayne could sing at one time, but he can’t now. I just attended his show in St. Charles, and I had to leave because his “singing” was literally hurting my ears.

  • Eric Olsen

    well, the soundtrack WAS recorded 27 years ago – I haven’t heard him live since the mid-’80s, when he sounded pretty good and put on a ripping show

  • john Holley

    Eric, I’m trying to find out what the obscure piece of music is that Otter uses to seduce Mrs. Wermer in his pad during Toga Party. He turns it on from the wall as he is adjusting the lights. It’s totally bossa-nova feeling and wondered if you had any idea! I must own it! Thanks for you help and your blog! Best, John

  • http://missingbite.com Bill

    Wow. Amazing “analysis” of the impact this movie has had on the American college scene in the past 25 years. Now, as an ancient 45 year old ;-) there’s no movie more fond to me than Animal House. Searching the internet for the soundtrack, I found your article. Many thanks! I thought your ideas on why “Shout” is so powerful were right on the money. There’s no other feeling of connection with friends and celebration of life than in the times in my life when I’ve been down on the floor gatoring with my friends. Thank you Eric. Awesome artticle!!

  • js

    no, it is indeed the Dexter Lake Club there is a big neon sign on the roof.

    I saw Otis Day and the Knights twice, once in the middle of campus at USC, and again at SC he joined the Trojan Marching band to sing Shout at a football game backed by the 100+ member marching band and for an audience of about 90,000 at the LA Memorial Coleseum.

  • q

    What is that song/soundtrack played when they were making their getaway from the black bar and smashing most (if not all) of the cars in the parking lot with theirs? (“Lay it down”?) I can’t find it listed anywhere.

  • LLoyd Williams

    Check me out in 2010, the original voice of,
    these songs. it should be interesting.

  • Mike

    Tijuana bring your mother to the gang bang…Oh yes you do, it’s been a long time since she had a screw, and when she was younger and went to school, she use to gang bang all the time (sung in a 1920’s tone) ;)

  • http://www.thedividingline.com/p progopolis

    It’s actually “when she was younger and in her prime, she used to gang bang all the time.”

  • joe arbeau

    Dr. Dirty John Valby was the lounge singer in the movie “Losin’ It” fyi

  • eZc

    Does anyone know any more info about Lloyd Williams?
    Was trying to locate a website to see if he still performs, etc. but can’t find much.
    And every google search for “Otis Day” turns up info on DeWayne instead.