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Retro Redux: Changing Musical Tastes Lead To Commitments

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Although my musical preferences are largely a product of my early years, not all of my likes and dislikes stretch back that far. Like most people, my tastes have changed throughout my life, and many of the things I now like are relative latecomers, some appearing in unlikely ways.

One that jumps to mind occurred as recently as the early 1990s, when I happened to catch a movie that really didn't attract a lot of public attention at that time, but has since become something of hidden treasure for those who appreciate it. Director Alan Parker took a script based on an Irish novel, brought together a bunch of relatively unknown British actors and/or musicians, and filmed a quirky little jewel, which he titled The Commitments.

It features a fast-talking Irish kid from the slums of North Dublin who decides to organize a soul music group, in the belief that poor Dubliners are just as acquainted with suffering as the blacks of America. He recruits a motley group with varying degrees of musical ability, and after a number of sporadic rehearsals and other ups and downs, the "World's Hardest Working Band" debuts to enthusiastic response.

Unfortunately, they ultimately suffer the same fate as many real bands — just as they seem to be reaching a level of success, internal pressures and jealousies cause a breakup of the group, and all go their separate ways. But before they do, they provide viewers a generous taste of their Irish-flavored soul music, and it was apparently enough to whet the appetites of a lot of music lovers because the movie spawned two soundtrack albums. (And I bought both.)

Their versions of many R&B classics might not be as smooth or polished as the originals, but their spirit and sense of fun is infectious, and some of the performers showed real talent. One of the most interesting stories behind the film is that of gravel-voiced lead singer Andrew Strong, whose forceful outpouring reaches amazing levels — especially for a 16 year old!

Strong sang – and looked – a lot older than 16, but his character was given a bratty, annoying persona, so maybe he was just a big kid. However, his singing was the engine that propelled the vehicle, and when he belts out "Mustang Sally", it's irresistible. Not surprisingly, he is the one singer from the movie who seems to have had some modest success with a later musical career.

The three female singers did a good job too, usually performing as backup for Strong but sometimes taking the spotlight themselves, either as a group or individually. The three ladies haven't really done much musically in the years since, but have continued to work sporadically as actresses. I can't think of a better way to wind this up than by comparing one of their efforts to the original.

"Too Many Fish In The Sea" – The Commitments

"Too Many Fish In The Sea" – The Marvelettes

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