'Walk Hard' soundtrack ups ante for parodiesCreating a parody soundtrack for film is no easy task. Just ask writer-director Jake Kasdan, who spent eight months with co-writer Judd Apatow and a gang of songwriters in the studio recording songs for the Columbia "biopic" comedy "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," which opens Dec. 21.
"It was daunting at the onset," Kasdan says. "We knew part of the appeal to this was the opportunity to go for it right away, and we enlisted the help of a bunch of really talented people."
To add pressure to the process, there's the Holy Grail of parody soundtracks — "This Is Spinal Tap" — looming over any movie creating a canon of funny songs for a fake rock star.
" 'Spinal Tap' is perfect, and the record is insanely great," Kasdan says. "That's the kind of gold standard you aspire to when you're entering this world."
When Kasdan and Apatow sat down to write songs for larger-than-life musician Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), they cast a wide net to bring in songwriters and a few musical legends to help pen music that spans seven decades.
"We wanted the music to be good, even though it's a parody, even though it's funny," says Lia Vollack, president of worldwide music at Columbia. "Bad music unfortunately in a movie isn't funny, it's just bad. It actually becomes its own joke."
By the first draft, Kasdan and Apatow, who unlike their "Spinal Tap" counterparts are not musicians, had created titles and lyric fragments suggesting the kinds of songs they wanted for each sequence of the film. From there, they collaborated with a core group of songwriters, including producer Michael Andrews, Dan Bern, Mike Viola — who lent his vocals for 1996's "That Thing You Do!" — and Reilly. They also recruited several indie artists (and friends), including Antonio Ortiz, Gus Seyffert, Charlie Wadhams and Benji Hughes.
Veteran musician Marshall Crenshaw was brought in to tackle the title track, the Johnny Cash-inspired "Walk Hard."
"It was an important one," Kasdan says of the song. "He just nailed it and just found that basic thing, that riff."
To tap into Cox's political period, Bern, known for his Bob Dylan folk influences, came up with "Royal Jelly," a song Kasdan says is "marked by incomprehensible metaphors." Cox also sings a pair of politically incorrect protest songs that take up the causes of "midgets," "injuns" and others.
Composer and producer Van Dyke Parks, who collaborated with Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson on "Pet Sounds" and the ill-fated "Smile" album, was brought in to capture the essence of late 1960s experimental sounds. He penned a three-minute, 45-second acid trip titled "Black Sheep," which is highlighted in the film by Cox's in-studio drug-influenced eccentricities.
By the end of the process, hundreds of songs were in the can, and they eventually were boiled down to 15 for the soundtrack. An additional 15 songs are available on iTunes.
The finished product certainly is creating a buzz in the film and music community.
"I think the way this particular soundtrack is structured, and based on who's writing for it, it takes the 'Spinal Tap' experience up to 12," says Downtown Records president Josh Deutsch, who worked on parody soundtracks for "Music & Lyrics" and "Borat."
But can "Walk Hard" go down the same legendary path as "Spinal Tap"?
From elaborate press kits complete with concert T-shirts and "Walk Hard" lyrics "scribbled" on a cocktail napkin to the monthlong Cox Across America Tour, Dewey Cox seems to be walking hard in that direction.