Period soundtracks – and this one is the ’70s – function both as a repository of songs from the era portrayed, and if they are really good they also collectively evoke a flavor of that era and hang together as an album (bad ones don’t even use real songs from the era).
Starsky and Hutch in its eccentric way does just that. Setting the mood is Chicago’s “Old Days,” which lyrically tells us we are going back in time, and takes us back to the ’75 of the song’s original release. It’s not one of Chicago’s best songs, but it isn’t one of their worst either and it does the job of setting a slightly kitschy period table (and popular music rarely gets more kitschy than the last period piece on the collection, “Afternon Delight”).
Brick’s “Dazz” (short for “disco jazz”) is an extended, laconic funk-disco classic with a solid guitar-bass foundation and real jazz-quality musicianship, especially on sax and flute solos from Jimmy Brown. Yowza.
Switching moods radically is Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” his prisoner’s claustrophobic lament, rattling down the hard Western train tracks of time (from ’68 – I won’t hold it against them). Later, Waylon Jennings mines similar territory and rhythms on ’74’s “Rambling Man”
Maxine Nightingale’s egregiously bouncy, staccato-backed Brit-pop tune “Right Back Where We Started From” grabs any listener still lingering in he present and yanks them right back to ’76, for good or for ill. The underappreciated Bill Withers’s “Use Me” is a prime example of what we would now call “neo-soul,” with a deep syncopated drum kit-acoustic guitar-clavinet groove. Next, Michael and the other four Jacksons throw themselves body and soul into the nascent disco era on “Dancing Machine” from ’74.
Again veering in the direction of profound American roots music, we arrive at the Band’s “The Weight” (’68, a great year for Americana) with the other group voices joining lead singer Levon Helm one at a time on the anthemic chorus, “And, And, And, And – you put the load right on me.” Timeless, yet also fitting.
You don’t get much more archetypical disco than KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way [uh huh, uh huh] I Like It” (’75), and Leon Haywood’s slinky, lubricious “I Want’a Da Something Freaky to You” leaves very little doubt as to the nature of his intentions in this Isaac Hayes-style, moaning orchestral soul workout.
There are three contemporary remakes of period tunes on the album and none fare well, although Owen Wilson’s version of David Soul’s (who played the Hutch character on TV) ’77 hit “Don’t Give Up On Us” is appropriate and horrifying enough to be amusing.
In all, it feels like the Top 40 radio of the era: although I wasn’t listening to a lot of Top 40 by then, you couldn’t escape it entirely in communal settings like high school and college, and each song kicked off at least one memory. Now I guess I’ll have to see the movie.