“PIRATE RADIO” (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Tom Sturridge, Kenneth Branaugh & Nick Frost)
The first time my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I told him ‘a disc jockey’. When I finally decided to pursue a career in radio, I was in my thirties. I went to work for the station I grew up listening to, KJR. I was the overnight board op, meaning I could play anything I wanted as long as it was on the playlist. It was the perfect job for me, but I couldn’t go on the air. Then the station switched to an all-sports format & everyone was ‘let go’ except me. I was finally disposed of after 18 years.
So I know a little bit about the radio business – well, more the ‘on air’ side than the business side as I worked directly with D-J’s (in the beginning) & Talk Show Hosts for the bulk of my career. I throw that background into this review just to let you know where I’m coming from when I say I enjoyed this film because despite the fact that they didn’t stick exclusively to songs that were released in 1966-67, the soundtrack is fantastic & the portrayals are realistic.
Originally titled ‘The Boat That Rocked’, this fictitious story ‘inspired’ by actual events depicts a rivalry between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘The Count’ & Rhys Ifans ‘Gavin’ that is exactly the type of egotistical behavior one would expect to find when the employees of a radio station are forced to live together as well as work together. Hoffman’s verbal & facial sneers at the ‘hot shot’ Gavin are what elevate the otherwise thin plot to an upper level.
True, the film tries frequently to capture the look & feel of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” & fails basically because there’s no John, Paul, George or Ringo... Anywhere! Not even in the soundtrack (Blame Michael Jackson) which made it seem ‘unrealistic’; How do you depict the ‘feel’ of mid-60’s rock & roll without including the group that was played the most often on radio & located off the shores of the country of their birth?
Still, there were plenty of great songs from that era & the ‘DJs’ play several tunes that took me back to my youth (They also play some that made me shake my head & go ‘huh?’) I’ll run thru the list at the end of this review, but first I’ll finish off the ‘movie’ part – To keep from having to pay royalties to Her Majesty & licensing fees on top of that, rock radio stations would anchor themselves off shore & broadcast from ships. Kenneth Branaugh plays a stuffy British official whose main goal in life is to shut down ‘Pirate Radio’ despite the fact that rock & roll in the mid-60’s saved the U.K. from delving into a depression. For this reason, I doubted the validity of this character, but watching the film I realized, this clown is a government official, of course he hasn’t a clue as to what’s going on in the real world.
Bill Nighy plays Quentin, the owner of the radio station/ship & the story sort of centers around his Godson, Carl (Tom Sturridge) who comes on board as an intern. Most of Carl’s scenes involve his attempts to try to lose his virginity to the maidens that row out to ‘be’ with a big time DJ.
But the best parts are the scenes involving the DJs & their off air hijinx. This is true, 80% of my favorite radio memories are moments that happened ‘behind the scenes’.
Although I liked Nick Frost as one of the DJs, one scene that fell flat was when he tried to switch places with young skinny Carl so the lad could ‘lose his cherry’ to an unsuspecting fan of Nick’s.
Emma Thompson has a cameo as Carl’s hot mother & it’s a nice segment, but surprisingly short & void of a grand pay-off.
I’d be interested to see what the Under 45’s think of this film; especially the soundtrack since all of the songs played were recorded before they were born – That would be like me watching a film that only featured 40’s & early 50’s crap... But I know a lot of under 40’s who were introduced to The Beatles by their parents & consider them to be one of, if not THE best rock group of all-time. Now ‘Pirate Radio’ wonders – will they like the bands that followed in their footsteps?
Movie review portion over – Now for the soundtrack...
Opening with The Kinks “All Day & All Of The Night” was pure genius – A much better song than their early ‘staple' “You Really Got Me”, “All Day...” provided a toe tapping blast of fresh air that put this viewer in the right frame of mind; to not care whether or not the song was released in 1966, but to just sit back & enjoy. For the record “All Day...” was a hit in early 1965.
The Easybeats were actually from Australia, but “Friday On My Mind” captured the British Invasion sound so succinctly it belongs on any ‘Best of the 60’s’ compilations. It was released in early 1967.
“Here Comes The Night”(1965) was by Van Morrison’s Them (“Gloria” was their biggie) an unorthodox melody switching from skiffle-like verses to a bluesy chorus. I didn’t care for it much as a kid, but learned to love it later.
“Hang On Sloopy” the first American song heard was a huge hit for The McCoys featuring Rick Derringer (Of ‘Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo’ fame & later as Weird Al’s guitarist) ‘Sloopy’ came out in 1965 as well.
“I’m Alive” was an early Hollies song that didn’t do anything on the American charts yet went all the way to #1 in England (1965)
An odd selection came next, The Tremeloes “Silence Is Golden”. For one thing it came out in the summer of ’67 & secondly, they did a great rendition of Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” which preceded ‘Silence’ & is just a better all around song.
To bring things to a complete stop, they played Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is”. I guess because they had yet to play a song that was actually released in their target year, 1966.
A welcome surprise was John Fred & His Playboy Band’s “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)”; Outside of the box (It hit in 1968) but one of those quirky little numbers that you can’t help but like. Bending the rules to include this was an excellent choice.
I found Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” to be a weird choice, but she’s so cute & adorable, I never mind hearing one of her songs (1966)
When you talk ‘classic’ psychedelia, you must include something by Donovan & the “Pirate” producers went for the sure thing, “Sunshine Superman”(1966) I just wished they had found room for his equally strange but delightful “Epistle To Dippy”.
The Supremes should be mentioned during this era & the inclusion of “The Happening”
didn’t bother me at all; In fact, it’s a favorite of mine (1967)
Good thing Michael Jackson didn’t own the Rolling Stones catalogue otherwise “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” wouldn’t have been heard – Going outside the parameters again(1968) but glad they did.
“Fire!” How dull would the 60’s have been without this gem from The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (featuring a young Carl Palmer on drums) So far every time they’ve ventured in 1968, the results have been fantastic.
The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love”(1965) was their first & biggest American hit but I would have preferred “Shapes Of Things” or “Heart Full Of Soul”
The Box Tops’ “The Letter” kind of came out of left field in 1967 as their debut single held the #1 spot for a month. Joe Cocker's remake cooks but this was the original.
I guess to give the ‘gals’ something to enjoy “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers was ‘aired’. It fit the criteria (early 1967) so why not play something cheesy? It just dawned on me – This, “To Sir With Love” & “The Happening” were all theme songs from movies of the same names & they are the only songs used so far with female lead singers... Hmm?
I loved Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin’ on The Dock Of The Bay’ so much, I bought his Greatest Hits CD & discovered ‘Dock’ was Otis’s attempt to move in an entirely different direction (& unfortunately he died before we got a chance to hear where that new direction would have taken him) So I knew his “These Arms Of Mine” when it played, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it – thrown in as an ‘oldie’ I guess since it came out in 1963.
The first song I had no idea who sang it or what it was called was a Leonard Cohen tune, I’m guessing the title was “So Long, Mary Ann”. Leonard was big in England for some unknown reason, so using this made sense for a British radio station to play.
The Turtles provided the next 2 tracks; “She’d Rather Be With Me” came out in ’67 so it fit, but “Elenore” (late 1968) was included solely to be played for a character of that name to be introduced. Still, both cuts are favorites of mine- some labeled Flo & Eddie’s original band ‘bubble gum/pop’ but I was never one to label songs – they were catchy tunes that were fun to singalong with & if it makes me a pansy for admitting I liked The Turtles, so be it.
A lost ‘classic’ came next – better known for the simplistic ‘Wild Thing’, I loved The Troggs’ “With A Girl Like You” back then & it holds up to this day. If ever a vocal ‘style’ matched a song perfectly it was Reg Presley’s on this. (1966)
A second Kinks effort appears with the hard not to like “Sunny Afternoon”(1966)
The Stones are back with the song that I mention anytime someone offers the opinion that THEY are the greatest rock group of all time. Has nothing to do with “Let’s Spend the Night Together”(1967) being a bad song, on the contrary, it’s one of the best ‘flip sides’ ever; but those who know the story about The Ed Sullivan Show will understand when I say the greatest rock band of all time wouldn’t have changed the lyrics to appease Ed’s stuffy producers. Ask Jim Morrison what a ‘real’ rock star would have done in that instance...
Herb Alpert crooning a Burt Bacharach tune on ‘Pirate' radio? “This Guy’s In Love With You” provides more than enough schmaltz to the brew. Doesn’t even fit, it came out in the summer of ’68!
To let everyone know its Christmas on the Boat That Rocked we rock out with The Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick” just to prove that pirates are pussies too...
Not a favorite of mine, but Martha & The Vandellas’ “Dancing In The Streets” at least brought the soundtrack back to life for a moment.
I love Dusty Springfield’s voice, but calling her ‘rock’ is stretching things - Why “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” (1966) made the soundtrack had to be because she’s British.
Sorry, Seattlites, but Jimi Hendrix had to go to England to be discovered, thus his rather boring “Wind Cries Mary”(1967, originally) works in this environment.
Skeeter Davis’ version of “The End Of The World” is used instead of Herman’s Hermits for some reason (Michael Jackson owned Herman’s stuff too?) since the original came out in 1963 & The Hermits better version fits right in with the mid-60’s motif...
The Who are finally showcased with 3 songs, one too early (My Generation-1965) one that ‘almost’ fit (I Can See For Miles-late 1967) & one so far off it didn’t even come out in the 60’s! (Won’t Get Fooled Again-1971)
I’m sure ‘Fooled Again’ being included is what set off the naysayers to gripe about the songs being ‘no where near’ the time period. That’s why I bothered to look up every songs year of release – ‘Fooled’ is the ONLY one that isn’t even on the map, but because a few 1968’s were sprinkled in that makes them feel justified to complain.
Procol Harum’s 1967 masterpiece “Whiter Shade Of Pale” would have been a major oversight if they’d forgotten it. Too bad 'Conquistador' wasn't included as well.
Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son” also came out in the 70’s, but it was used as a plot point.
The Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin” belongs in any group of ‘classic’ rock collections. Though it wasn’t a hit in the U.S. until the 70’s, it came out in the U.K. in 1967, & it would have been a nice ‘moody’ track to end the film (The station does go ‘off the air’ at the finale)
But then they decided to send the audience on their way home with a more uplifting rock classic... Would they, in true pirate radio fashion, decide to say screw you to the Michael Jackson estate & play the ultimate 60’s song “A Day In The Life”? No, not exactly uplifting, is it? “Got To Get You Into My Life”? or “Day Tripper”? No? Don’t want to take a chance on having to pay for that extravagant funeral? Okay, Cream hasn’t been used – “Sunshine Of Your Love” Yes, that’s the perfect song to go out with! What? Too obvious? What the ---- does that mean? Oh, you want something more obscure – another ‘out of left field’ shot that everyone will enjoy hearing again – an overlooked gem that hasn’t been heard in years... I got it – “Him Or Me – What’s It Gonna Be?”
Works on all levels – released in 1967 – fits with plot (DJs fighting over chicks) - & brings Paul Revere & The Raiders back into the limelight with a great singalong cut that also has some bite to it. No, doesn’t work for you? Okay, what kick ass classic song from the mid 60’s do you want to end with? . . .
Go see the movie & tell me if you think THAT was a good choice. I like the song fine, but as a classic ‘send them home bobbin’ their heads in time with the beat’ number? It falls waaaay short.
& those are just the songs I remember hearing!