PINBALL SUMMER (1980)
PINBALL SUMMER (1980) – Germain Gauthier and Jay Boivin
I’m just going to say it: this is one of the greatest soundtracks ever made. Since picking it up on LP for $6 at Primitive Records it has barely left the turntable because it’s so insidiously catchy and sweet that that it’s become the vinyl equivalent of a sugar addiction: triggering opioid receptors in the brain, casual listening to the Pinball Summer soundtrack often results in increased intake, withdrawal symptoms when access to the soundtrack is cut off, and then a relapse with binging to the point of excessiveness and alienation from one’s peers . I admit it. It’s a sickness.
Jay Boivin (an original member of Quebecois garage sensations Les Sinners!) and Germain Gauthier (also the man behind the soundtrack to depressing kiddie megahit La Guerre des toques) channelled the spirit of rainbows, sunsets, halter tops and denim cutoffs for this transcendental cornucopia of soft rock that underscores the freewheeling adventures of Greg and Steve (the latter played by Carl Marotte, best known to canuxploitation fans from My Bloody Valentine and Breakin All the Rules) and their attempts to annoy both the local dorky rich kid and greasy biker Bert (Tom Kovacs, also from My Bloody Valentine). There is a story about a pinball trophy in there somewhere but it’s kind of a minor plot device flanked by the film’s more imminent concerns, namely wet T-shirt contests and food fights (not that I’m complaining).
The first two songs on the A side, “Summer Girls” and “Summer Magic”, were released as a single on Celsius Records, who also released the full soundtrack in 1980, and the two are perfect breezy 70s am radio hits, “Summer Magic” being the bouncier of the two (complete with ELO-inspired oohs and aahs, chunky synths and a descending bassline).
The theme song, “Pinball Summer” is third on the A-side, and it’s this song that first had me swooning in sunshine pop bliss when I first saw the film years ago, even though it is essentially 5 minutes of the same verse and chorus on repeat. I think one of the lessons that can be learned from this soundtrack is that any film with an official theme song is superior to one without. (Even Lars von Trier knew this – thus the self-referential theme song to his film Epidemic). When a film has a theme song it kind of says something about the filmmakers’ concept of their film’s cultural importance, and I always admire that kind of ballsy-ness.
“Wheel of Fortune” closes the first side, with Jean Lebrun’s sweet sax and background vocals that beg for audience participation, while the B side kicks off with “Sally Joy”, an upbeat rocker named after one of the film’s bubbly female characters. The internet indicates this tune to be a crowd favourite, although I prefer the yacht-rock flavour of the softer numbers, like its follow-up, “Voyeur’s Motel” – one of the most lyrically robust of the album’s offerings:
Where many young girls come to sell
Some folks have told me some scandalous stories
About young boys turning into men
It may be obscure
But many find a cure
For lonely nights when they feel blue…
It’s kind of a creepy song actually, but its melancholy is masked by the saccharine swell of the music. A 50’s style bopper called “Can you Catch Me” comes on its heels, complete with “shooby-doo-wops” and a boogie-beat, but again, it’s the heavily harmonized Everly Brothers/Beach Boys-influenced numbers that really hook me, like the album’s closing song “Sweet Madness”, which handily encapsulates everything I feel about this soundtrack and its addictive properties.
An online fan of the film has pointed out that he has seen vinyl soundtracks of Pinball Summer selling for upwards of $70 on ebay, although I suppose I lucked out because the film was shot – and the soundtrack recorded – right here in Montreal! Directed by Fantasia pal George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine, Hostile Takeover, La Florida) and renamed Pick-Up Summer in the US, the movie and soundtrack are pure period cheese that just gets better with age. An alternate version of the soundtrack including covers of ELO’s “Evil Woman” and summer funtime staple “Do You Wanna Dance”, as well as Denis LePage’s instrumental disco tune “Hot Wax” supposedly exists, but the version I have contains just the Boivin/Gauthier originals. If you see this album for sale and you like smooth sunshine pop, do yourself a favour and snap it up.
- Kier-La Janisse