The story behind the slow selling ''Almost Famous'' soundtrack
EW.com tells you how marketing took a backseat to music for Cameron Crowe's rock & roll tale
Movie soundtracks have become big business, so it’s got to be a disappointment to DreamWorks that the ”Almost Famous” disc has yet to crack the Top 40, even though it was released more than a month ago. After all, soundtracks from ”Mission: Impossible II” and ”Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” both debuted in Billboard’s Top 10 — and neither of those films has the musical pedigree of Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical rock movie.
But Danny Bramson, the music coordinator for ”Almost Famous,” tells EW.com that neither he nor Crowe were willing to play the cynical tie in game that can lead to chart success. ”So many soundtracks are marketing shills that have, maybe, one single [from the film] and the rest of the songs are laid in,” explains Bramson. ”[Cameron and I] have always believed in a real, true soundtrack, where the music from the album is actually in the film. How novel!”
To tell the story of Crowe’s years as a teen rock journalist, the pair chose songs like Simon and Garfunkel’s ”America” and Elton John’s ”Tiny Dancer” because they served as ”emotional benchmarks” for the movie. Likewise, Bramson says they avoided tunes that have been ”burned by classic rock radio,” even if more familiar singles might have helped sell more copies of the record.
That’s why ”Sparks,” a lesser known track from the Who’s ”Tommy,” was picked to illustrate his cinematic alter ego William Miller’s introduction to rock & roll, instead of a hit like ”Pinball Wizard.” And rather than use a blockbuster such as ”Changes” to convey David Bowie’s dominance in the early ’70s music scene, they opted for a comparatively obscure cover of the Velvet Underground’s drug dealer anthem ”I’m Waiting for the Man” from the album ”Live at the Santa Monica Civic ’72.”
Still, Bramson concedes that their choices for the album were limited by at least one marketing consideration: It would be impossible to fit all 50 of the songs used in the movie onto a single CD. ”To make the soundtrack affordable and not a double or triple disc we were limited to about 17 singles, or 75 minutes of music,” he says. Some of the favorite tracks that got trimmed were the Raspberries’ sugary ”Go All the Way” (which is featured in the trailer), Joni Mitchell’s classic ”River,” and ”Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath, the rockers for whom the movie’s fictional band Stillwater supposedly opens.
However, the soundtrack’s strict adherence to the film means that its early sales have hinged on ”Almost Famous”’s box office performance — which has not been stellar. DreamWorks released the movie gradually, hoping that positive word of mouth would bolster ticket sales. And it worked for a while. As ”Famous” moved from No. 7 to No. 3 among the nation’s top grossing films in its second week of release, the soundtrack followed a similar pattern: It debuted at No. 136 on the Billboard charts, then shot to the No. 69 position seven days later. But when ”Famous” next expanded to its maximum 2005 screens, it suffered a blow — slipping 24 percent for a mere $3.7 million weekend take. The soundtrack, meanwhile, has stalled at No. 43.
But at least one retailer doubts the collection is destined for the discount bin. ”’Almost Famous’ is something that will build,” says John Artale, National Record Mart’s director of purchasing. He points out that because the disc is faithful to the movie — unlike the fast seller ”MI:2″ — it will eventually prove more enduring because of its ”souvenir” quality. ”When the movie falls from sight, it’ll have a great second life on cable TV and video,” Artale says, ”and the soundtrack will also develop a second life.” Talk about music to Crowe’s and Bramson’s ears.