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:
Voyeur’s motel
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

About the author:

Kier-La Janisse

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Owner/Artistic Director of Spectacular Optical Publications and founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017). She co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (Spectacular Optical, 2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (Spectacular Optical, 2015) and Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017), and is co-editing Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television for release in late 2017. She is currently writing A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: Children’s Programming and the Counterculture, 1965-1985, monographs about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter and Patricia Birch’s Grease 2, and is in development on a TV series based on her book House of Psychotic Women with Rook Films.

Comments

  1. Germain Gauthier Reply

    Great comments ! I enjoyed reading this, this was such a fun experience writing and recording these songs , Jay and me where inspired by the easy going summer fun aspect of the movie. I don,t have the actual album but I have all the tracks in my computer ,
    I sure would like to get in touch with you Kier ,Germain

    8 yearss ago
  2. Kier-La Janisse
    kier-la Reply

    wow!! Thanks Germain!

    8 yearss ago
  3. Was contacted by Jay Boivin
    to borrow my copy of the LP
    to be remastered. It is
    still one of my favorites
    and can’t wait for the re-
    release.

    8 yearss ago
  4. Scott O'Connell Reply

    Great read! Thanks so much. I own 3 copies of this lp and I also have the single. I listen to it every day.

    5 yearss ago
  5. Arthur Reply

    Great, comprehensive article, Kier! You nailed it better than I could have; and, believe me, I know and appreciate this work rather well! Upon seeing ‘Pinball Summer’ for the very first time eons upon eons ago on a late-night station (either ‘Night Flight’ or ‘USA Up All Night’; yes, me from the States) and hearing that very theme song to the closing credits, and then seeing the names of the duo who practically were responsible for every track, teenage me immediately came to the very conclusion that…these two REALLY loved and were PASSIONATE about ROCK and ROLL! They must have had a BLAST making this album, I thought!

    Well, duh, every rock and roll musician is passionate as well. However, this very soundtrack; just something about it…it makes Germain Gauthier & Jay Boivin equally if not MORE responsible than Mihalka himself and the terrific cast and all else responsible for the film! G&B are just as big a characters in the film as Greg & Steve themselves thus being the reason why ‘Pinball Summer’ is not only the reason why Quentin Tarantino considers the film one of his favorites, but also the reason why it’s on the ‘Mt Rushmore’ of cult-classic films alongside (first-and-foremost) ‘Repo Man’, ‘The Class of 1984′, and ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains’!

    I find it kind of interesting that the soundtrack starts off with the least-bouncy of all its tracks as well as it not appearing in the film until about halfway into it. That track, of course, being the real mellow England Dan/John Ford Coley-esque, “Summer Girls (free and easy)”. The track, of course, was played during the romantic double-date getaway via ferry boat ride across the lake to the island/campsite. Just having binged all of ‘Bad Blood’ on Netflix a week ago (takes place primarily in Quebec; awesome show, by the way), I wonder if the lakeside cabin that ‘Declan’ (played by Kim Coates) sometimes went off to was off that very lake.

    The next track, the, of course, much more upbeat “Summer Magic”…yes, Kier, very much filled with Jeff Lynne sensibilities! However, anyone who thinks that the keyboard solo was inspired by Steve Winwood (“When You See A Chance”/ “Valerie”)…not so fast! Not so fast. This track actually came out before either of those two. Makes one beg to wonder if maybe ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’ himself saw ‘Pinball Summer’ in the theatres and thus was inspired by that very solo. Same with his ex-Traffic-bandmate, Jim Capaldi. Just listen to the keyboard solo in HIS very well-enough-known solo track, “You’ll Never Change the World”.

    In either event, such a fun, happy, heart-warming track played during the La Ronde amusement park scene. One of the many examples of the music and the scene going so well (dancing) together. That very keyboard solo going on during a tender romantic moment between the leading couples, big blue teddy bear won at the stand being a ‘cute’ prop, Zelniker being silly with the little kids riding the train going by, etc. If ‘Pinball Summer’ is “Porkys with ‘heart’”, this very scene – and, of course, its soundtrack – is ‘Exhibit A’ with a Bullet!

    Third track, of course, should be the FIRST on the LP or maybe even the first-AND-last. But I guess there was a reason. Maybe like you say, Kier, those first two tracks were A and B sides respectively of a single G&B put out so both were made first for that reason. As for that very title track…what a true, blue ROCKER! If I led a cover band, I would ALWAYS play it (as well as other songs on this soundtrack), and I KNOW my band would bring down the house! Even those who never heard the song before would totally rock-out and have a good time!

    Now onto the 4th track, “Wheel of Fortune”. Another example of the soundtrack being out-of-order (track didn’t show up until closer to the end – Donna’s ‘wild’ ride with Bert) but by now no point in pointing that out any further. Let’s just talk about the MUSIC as well as killing two birds with a stone and bringing up the final track on this LP as well, “Sweet Madness”. Yes, track was played closer to the beginning of flick but as I said, no more critiquing the chronologically out-of-order stuff.

    The one obvious thing that these great G&B tracks have in common…that damn, breathtaking-as-hell SAX!! Jean Lebrun, huh Kier? Thanks for giving the name! Always wondered who played it! Rivals, and reminds me, of many sax-works in rock! “Walk on the Wild Side”, “Changes”, “One on One”, “Waiting on a Friend”…heck, throw “St Elmo’s Fire Love Theme” in there as well! Just simply that clear, sharp, echoing SAX! LOVE it!

    “Sally Joy (you’re not just one of the boys)”…yes, the title track’s ‘twin’ in that it’s SUCH…(yes)…a ROCKER! That track did indeed capture the spirit of Donna & Suzy’s poolside (AND lakeside as well; wow! to be rich!) pinball bash! And all the tomfoolery and weirdness (someone brought a PUPPET to the party) that came with!

    And that very NEXT track…yes Kier, it IS the ‘dark horse’ for me as well – the ‘darkest’ track on the whole LP (I’m going to actually sing it) – “Voguer’s Motel”! Yet another example of Mihalka’s direction going along so-accordingly with G&B’s background music! Just the simple ‘Whimpy’ knocking on the door and the ‘lady in waiting’ answering, “Come In”, and then you hear, “Voyeur’s Motel!”. That ALWAYS kills me! Love the whole scene, love the track (“You’re a TIGER”; Kovacs a real talent). That all said, I personally would have added one last thing very end of scene. As everyone was running from the (Voyeur’s) motel, I would have sounded in “Voyeur’s Motel” one last time just before the scene ended (thus segueing into the ‘free and easy’ romantic lake getaway).

    And being that “Sweet Madness” has already been mentioned, this brings us to just one more track on this very soundtrack. A track that would make Steinman, Meatloaf, Most, and Quatro very proud – “Can You Catch Me”!

    Another such ‘biker’s bar delight’, “Evil Woman”? Was that, Kier, an actual ELO remake of that very song? Or was it an all-out different song altogether but of the same title? And were G&B actually the composers/performers? I believe the track was playing at the hangout while the two couples were there and Donna and Suzy were taken aback by (‘Arthur’) the talking (to Bert) pinball machine. It sounded very different from the ELO song from what I can gather.

    As for other tracks not on the official soundtrack, you got the Beach Boys-remake-medley. It would be nice if that were on there as well. Hearing that can only remind me, and make me laugh, about that party. And then that disco track that you also mention, Kier, that played at the discotheque that Donna and Suzy ‘escaped’ to, to take their ‘break’ from Greg and Steve. I’d like to get me a remastered version of every single track that was in the film! I like going on youtube and hearing the songs in their entirety albeit a nice guitar solo or piano solo you never hear on the film; or an extra verse or two from a song as well.

    Yes, ‘Pinball Summer’ needs more universal revering! Movie-wise and especially soundtrack-wise! After all, Gauthier and Boivin ARE the LIFEBLOOD to that very flick!

    Germain! I see you made a comment. I hope you come back again to read this. Jay, hope you come by to read it too. Much thanks to Mihalka and cast and entire crew for making ‘Pinball Summer’ one of my All-Time favorites! The fact that I’ve been to Montreal numerous times and had a blast every time (neck very sore after each trip for constantly looking in every direction at all the French girls walking up and down St Laurent St – though none as cute as Suzy; SHE should have won the pageant!!) makes me appreciate the film all the more. But it WAS Germain and Jay that set the atmosphere for all cast and crew to perform upon in the first place and I thank you BOTH for that! Pinball Summer a MtRushmore cult-classic because of you guys!!

    3 months ago

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