Pity the director prescient enough in the early ’80s to fill a movie with rock songs but lacking the foresight to secure ancillary rights. ”I didn’t know what the hell video was,” admits Ralph Bakshi, explaining why it took till now for a tape release of his 1981 animation epic, American Pop.
”The musicians gave me the songs at a tremendous break, and each label lawyer said, ‘Does Columbia want rights beyond the film?’ It was quite considerable, like $3,000 a song extra,” he says sarcastically. A few years later, rights for cuts by Dylan, Hendrix, and others on the Pop soundtrack were going for much more than a song — more like $50,000 a pop, Bakshi has said. Since he used more than 50 compositions that span the century, the studio suggested replacing numbers (an approach that helped other films in the same predicament, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High), ”and I kept telling ’em, ‘That’s not American Pop to me — leave it on the shelf.”’
It wasn’t until Columbia TriStar got a big response from its 1996 tape release of another early-’80s cartoon, the sci-fi cult favorite Heavy Metal, that it looked again at Pop. ”Heavy Metal sold over a million units,” says studio publicist Fritz Friedman, ”and we’ve become very aggressive in sell-through, so now it makes sense to spend six figures on rights.”
”It’s better than paying Kim Basinger that kind of money,” laughs a rueful Bakshi, who retired to painting after his 1992 Basinger vehicle, Cool World, froze stiff.