The Blues Brothers


Atlantic Records, 1981

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When I review an album here on "The Daily Vault," it doesn't matter if I just purchased it or have owned it for over a decade, I'll still dig it out of the Pierce Memorial Archives (where we're in the process of baby-proofing) and give it another spin to refresh my mind.

In the case of today's review, the soundtrack to the classic comedy The Blues Brothers, I didn't have to find it in the Archives - some ignorant bastard in my apartment complex has treated me to over-amplified performances the last three nights. (I know where you live - you asshole.) I did find my copy of the movie and watched it before writing this review - there is no such thing as doing too much research.

The first movie based on a skit from "Saturday Night Live," the soundtrack has some performances that still sound fresh - though the term "blues" is a misnomer. If anything, this is a mixture of rock, jazz, and r&b.

The film resurrected more than one career of a musician whose career was in the proverbial toilet. Ray Charles turns in a stellar performance with Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Ackroyd) Blues on "Shake Your Tail Feather," which only added to Charles's prowess and legend in my eyes. And while I have never been a big fan of Aretha Franklin, she turns in a decent cover of her hit "Think" - less than five years later, Franklin would top the charts again with "Freeway Of Love."

And who could forget James Brown? The "Godfather Of Soul," "Mr. Dynamite" couldn't even get arrested (oops...) before his role as a preacher in the film, and his performance of "The Old Landmark" with the James Cleveland Gospel Choir. Again, I am not a fan of gospel music, but this song knocks me out. (Trivia question # 1: Who was the soloist in the choir in the movie? Answer: Chaka Khan, who went on to have a hit with "I Feel For You".) Another musician who was brought to many moviegoers' attentions was John Lee Hooker with a cover of "Boom Boom" (not on the soundtrack). And when I hear (and see) Cab Calloway sing his signature song "Minnie The Moocher," I thank Jah that I was able to see him perform and I realize how much the music world misses his scat singing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The band backing Belushi and Ackroyd is no slouch either. With rock legends like Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn in the band, as well as other talented musicians like Alan Rubin, Lou Marini and Matt "Guitar" Murphy (who I once met - nice guy), this is a crack team of musicians who know how to whip a song into a frenzy, as they do on the cover of "Sweet Home Chicago." Their cover of the "Peter Gunn Theme," however, seems out of place. It is far from blues, and though it fits the mood of the scene in the film it is featured in, it is a puzzling choice.

But what about the stars of the movie? Belushi proved he had an okay set of pipes on the soundtrack for Animal House, but he seems much more at ease with the material for The Blues Brothers. His laid-back vocal on "She Caught The Katy" flows quite naturally, while his take on "Gimme Some Lovin'," to some people, is even better than the original by the Spencer Davis Group. As for Ackroyd, he takes the lead vocal position only once, on "Rawhide" - and while it is an admirable effort, you quickly see why Belushi does most of the singing.

The weakness of the soundtrack to me is not what is on the album - rather, it's what's left off the album. I would have liked to hear Hooker's street-corner version of "Boom Boom," I would have liked to hear at least one of the Sam & Dave tunes that are featured in the film, and I would have liked to have heard some more blues. The movie featured songs from artists like Hooker and Elmore James - why couldn't they have given these artists some attention?

One side note - there is a sequel to The Blues Brothers in the works. If Ackroyd or Jim Belushi are reading this (or if anyone who knows them is), do the world a favor - don't do it . The chemistry that was in the original film was a one in a million occurrence that can't be duplicated (look at the collective ass you made of yourself during the last Super Bowl), though God knows you've tried. Please - leave the memories alone. Leave me remember the day you shot the scene in downtown Park Ridge without clouding it by a half-baked attempt to recapture the magic. (Trivia question # 2: what rock star is featured in the film, and what role did he play? Answer: Joe Walsh, who appears as one of the inmates during the prison concert/"riot" in the final scene.)

The soundtrack to The Blues Brothers still sounds as fresh as it did when it was released in 1980, but there is one major sin committed on it - the sin of omission. Still, it complements the film well.

Oh, and to my neighbor: one more night of you serenading the complex, and I'm crankin' up some heavy duty Napalm Death to melt your drywall... comprende?

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.