Soundtrack Stories: FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH [1982]

It all began when Rolling Stone magazine decided to movie its main offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977.  Among the die hard, West Coast iconoclasts to stay behind was one Cameron Crowe, who had been interviewing and writing features on some of the biggest acts in the rock world for the magazine for five years - ever since he was a fifteen year old high school graduate.  Seizing change as an opportunity, Crowe had decided to write a book and set about looking for inspiration.  
Still baby-faced in his early twenties, he hit upon the idea of going undercover at a San Diego high school and writing about his experiences.  Before the book, originally titled Stairway To Heaven: A Year In High School, was finished, the film rights had been sold. (A first draft of the script pictured above, simply titled Fast Times, is dated September 9, 1981.)  Once finished, the book was published on September 15, 1981 as Fast Times At Ridgemont High: A True Story.  
In the October 7, 1981 issue of Variety, Universal production exec Bruce Berman said the motion picture Fast Times At Ridgemont High was expected to begin filming in November 1981 and a few weeks later, a full-page ad from Universal Studios scheduled the film for Summer 1982 release.  In a tiny, inch high news item in the Halloween 1981 issue of Billboard, it was announced that Irving Azoff's Full Moon Records would be issuing a double-disc soundtrack album to accompany the film Fast Time At Ridgemont High.  In other press releases, Irving Azoff bragged that the soundtrack 
"will be a superstar collection of entertainers writing all new, original material for the soundtrack. There will be a few new acts on it because I always do that because I feel an obligation to expose some new talent."  
He went on to announce
"the artists who will write and perform original songs for the movie are Jackson Browne, the individual members of the Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Timothy Schmidt, Joe Walsh and Don Felder), the Go-Go’s, Sammy Hagar, Michael McDonald, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Poco, Quarterflash, Todd Rundgren, Bob Seger, Billy Squier, Ringo Starr and The Whispers."
All of these announcements were made before filming had even begun and in fact, only just after a final decision had been made as to who would be the film's director.  First time director Amy Heckerling got the gig after a few other directors including David Lynch were approached and declined.  An authentic Bronx punk rocker with matching attitude, Heckerling had her own ideas about what music she'd like to include on the film's soundtrack as did first-time scriptwriter Crowe (who had adapted his own book) and they were free to use whatever music they liked as filming commenced, using songs by AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Dead Kennedys, Elvis Costello among others as background music as well as key scene cue music.  However, when it came time to edit the film in post-production, the first-time director was given the nineteen songs, the soundtrack package, that had to be inserted into the film by the film's producers, one of whom was Irving Azoff - the nineteen songs that would make up the soundtrack album. According to the detailed and lengthy commentary track she and Crowe provided on a later DVD release of the film, Heckerling claims three victories in her soundtrack war against music she flat out hated: 
  • having the Go-Go's "We Got The Beat" open the film instead of the Rayvns "Raised On Radio";
  • Cameron using his existing relationship with the band to secure rights to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir";
  • and having Oingo Boingo's "Goodbye, Goodbye" close the film as the credits rolled.
Expecting a box-office flop after an initial X rating was slapped on the film, Universal Studios decided not to spend any money marketing Fast Times At Ridgemont High as it neared a Friday the 13th opening in August 1982, so the majority of the marketing fell to Azoff and his star-studded soundtrack which was released a few days before the film. 
Azoff was ready as this was unofficially his fourth double-disc soundtrack album in as many years as he had his name removed from 1978's FM film and soundtrack tandem even though many of his acts were included.  The album peaked at #5 and was a certified Platinum seller.  In 1980, Azoff packaged the Urban Cowboy soundtrack (#3, Platinum) using mostly artists under contract to him, in the process compiling and producing so much music for the film - some 35 songs - that a third disc, Urban Cowboy II, was later released in 1981.  In 1981, Azoff repeated his proven formula for the soundtrack to the animated fantasy film Heavy Metal (#12, Gold), again using mostly artists in his management stable and again releasing the album on his label Full Moon, in partnership with Asylum Records.  
The week before the album and film's release, Azoff jump started his promotion of the soundtrack (and film) by firing a few shots at a rival label in an article from the August 7, 1982 issue of Billboard.  The first line: 
"The soundtrack to Universal's Fast Times At Ridgemont High, executive produced by Front Line Management's Irving Azoff, includes the usual cast of Front Line clients and friends, plus a number of hot outside acts, including the Go-Go's, Quarterflash, Billy Squier and Donna Summer..."
Then, in the second line, the gloves come off:
"But, out of 19 acts spread over two records, not one is from the CBS/Records Group."
Azoff then goes on to say that his client Universal "demands more rights than any other picture company" and CBS "grants less rights than any other record company" so he walked away from any dealings with interested CBS artists Heart, Nick Lowe and J.D Souther.  Heart, whose guitarist Nancy Wilson was dating Crowe at the time of filming, wrote and recorded a song titled "Fast Times" for the Ridgemont soundtrack but instead released it on their own Private Audition album in June 1982, ahead of the film.
As would be expected, CBS label chief Walter Yentikoff fired back at Azoff's allegations by making his own, point blank: "Irving doesn't pay enough to artists and record companies." In the rest of the article by Paul Grein, Azoff outlines his marketing plan which included not opening the film in New York ("For the same amount of money it costs to advertise a film in New York, you can grab six other major markets."),  allowing foreign licensees the right to issue the soundtrack as a single album and the film's biggest cross promotion with Van's Shoes, the iconic checkerboard shoes that appear prominently on the soundtrack album's cover as well as on the picture sleeves for a couple of singles from the album.

After listing the already released singles (Jackson Browne, The Ravyns) and "likely follow-up singles" (Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and Jimmy Buffett) from the soundtrack and outlining the three "new and developing acts" included on the soundtrack, it is noted that "scheduling problems prevented the inclusion of the Human League" and while Bob Seger did submit a cut for the soundtrack, he missed "the deadline". The article closes with the revealing of why a lot of acts do not appear on outside label compilation albums, such as soundtracks: "the standard industry clause in most artist contracts that if an artist has a cut on an outside compilation LP, he has to give half of the royalty to his label."
The Fast Times At Ridgemont High soundtrack album eventually peaked at number 54 on the charts, becoming the least selling and lowest charting of Azoff's four double-disc soundtracks.  In his continuing quest to dominate the music business, Irving Azoff currently has a seat on the iheartmedia Board of Directors.

Todd Rundgren submitted "Attitude" for possible inclusion on the soundtrack but it was rejected.  Listen.

Both Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe went on to direct several music driven films with soundtracks definitely worth checking out and generally making the world a better place.

My friend The Soft Rock Kid™ has sussed out all the music heard in the film and listed it HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Herc, a most excellent back story to a very classic early 80's soundtrack. I enjoyed this post a lot.