Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:5 February 2021
When they first wrote and performed comedy sketches on the US television show Saturday Night Live, it is unlikely that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had any inkling their alter egos—“Juliet” Jake Blues and his brother Elwood—would take on a life of their own. With crumpled thrift-store suits, ever-present sunglasses and a briefcase of harmonicas handcuffed to Elwood’s wrist, The Blues Brothers made albums, toured as a live act, and—most significantly—made the 1980 film classic that bears their name.
Landing with a snare-drum crash somewhere between loser redemption comedy and super-cool musical, the John Landis film is an off-beat road trip with a timeless charm and enough hilarious dumb gags to entertain over and over again. The same applies to the film’s stellar soundtrack (the charm part, not the dumb jokes). Here is an OST that continues to delight forty-plus years after the film’s release. Why? Let’s start with the performances by the Brothers themselves.
After the opening credits, we ease into the infectious boogie of “She Caught the Katy” as the sun rises over Jake exiting prison. The newly liberated brother sings the Taj Mahal tune and the band—more on them soon—lock in behind like a grooving caboose. Later, Spencer Davis Group classic “Gimme Some Lovin’” gets a recharge while the song over the end credits is the perfectly chosen “Jailhouse Rock” (written by Leiber & Stoller and made famous by that Elvis chap). In between they thunder through the immortal Henry Mancini “Peter Gunn” theme.
The Blues Brothers Band is one tight outfit. Powered by the guitar legend Steve Cropper and his Booker T & The MGs comrade Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, the unit features a tight-as-Belushi-in-spandex horn section and simple, accessible arrangements that let the soul of the music shine. This is especially energising with the “guest spots” that—unlike many musical interludes in films—lift The Blues Brothers to a whole new level.
Aretha Franklin reprises her 1968 hit “Think” in the down-at-heel diner she runs with Matt “Guitar” Murphy; Ray Charles is an utter delight when, backed by Jake and Elwood, he delivers an exuberant version of “Shake A Tail Feather”. Wanna get churched? Turn to Rev James Brown (and choir) for a gravity-defying “The Old Landmark”. And we have to mention the super turn by veteran Cab Calloway performing his 1931 hit “Minnie The Moocher” out front of an authentic big band. The one disappointment in this wonderful soundtrack is the omission of John Lee Hooker’s street-party version of “Boom Boom”, but this can be remedied by the simple expedient of buying a John Lee Hooker record (always a sensible move).
The US Library of Congress selected The Blues Brothers film for preservation based in it being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Discrepancy Records recommends the soundtrack as being “cheerful, infectious, and artistically nourishing”. Shake your tail feather today.
Bonus factoid: For eighteen years, The Blues Brothers held the record for most cars destroyed in a film production, with an impressive 103 mangled autos.
© Bruce Jenkins 2021
Super soundtrack15 February 2021My mate and I used to play a cassette of this whenever we went roaming. It's a really great soundtrack with amazing people - Aretha, Ray Charles, etc etc etc. Thanks for the reminder!