' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...the Twister Soundtrack

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Some Drivel On...the Twister Soundtrack

The “Twister” soundtrack was released on May 7, 1996, a Tuesday as was customary in those days, three days ahead of the movie itself. The movie finished second at the box office that year, though the soundtrack was a little less sucessful, peaking at #28 on the June 1, 1996 Billboard chart, right behind 2Pac’s “All Eyez On Me” and two spots ahead of No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom”, which really does feel of its time, or my time, at least, since I probably listened to those two albums more than any others in 1996. (Alan Jackson’s Greatest Hits was wedged in at #29, probably an album played against my will at the pizza place where I worked.) But the “Twister” record also felt of its era in a larger sense. The 90s were a boom time for movie soundtracks. Not the standard-issue ones with the musical score, no, but collections of pop songs, even if they were not featured in the movie, in which case they were deemed as being “inspired by” the movie. If this soundtrack phenomenon sometimes felt spot-on, like the “Singles” soundtrack capturing the grunge era, or even the heavy metal “Judgement Night” soundtrack epitomizing its hapless middle class suburbanites going hardcore, more often these albums were merely sonic marketing ploys, a secondary revenue stream for any would-be blockbuster, throw some songs together and make a few extra bucks.

Both “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin” went this route, enlisting the likes of U2 and The Smashing Pumpkins, respectively. “City of Angels” is probably less remembered for the movie than its soundtrack while both the apex and nadir of the genre might have been “Godzilla”, with then-Puff Daddy being featured alongside The Wallflowers, Ben Folds Five, The Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Silverchair, even Jamiroquai, a weird, right mélange of 90s sounds. “Twister” was in this vein. “Like the force of nature it’s named after,” Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote for Entertainment Weekly, “the soundtrack for Twister careers across the land, never settling anywhere.”

It’s strange, in a way, that it failed to get settled because “Twister” itself is more music-centric than you might remember. An early scene of the storm chasers making preparations in an Oklahoma field cuts from Jo (Helen Hunt) fiddling with the doppler above her truck to Dusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman) fiddling with the speakers he has installed above his van. Indeed, he is introduced singing along with Eric Clapton’s video for “Motherless Child” and later, when the team heads out in search of its first tornado, he cranks Deep Purple’s “Child in Time”, broadcasting it over those same speakers we seem fiddling with to the ostensible benefit of every other car in their storm chasing line. (Neither of these songs was part of the official soundtrack.) Not that everyone wants to hear Deep Purple. The camera tracks to the stationwagon in front of Dusty, piloted by Preacher Rowe (Scott Thomson), who is listening to the William Tell Overture, while ahead of him, Beltzer (Todd Field) and Haynes (Wendle Josepher) belt out “Oklahoma” from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.  

It’s a missed opportunity, really, to go through everyone in this scene and reveal their musical choices. I imagine Sanders (Sean Whalen) being into early R.E.M. (not on the soundtrack); Brian Laurence (Jeremy Davies) probably dug Minutemen (not on the soundtrack); Joey (Joey Slotnick) might have been into Rusted Root, which makes their presence on the soundtrack feel more allowable than the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Soul Asylum. No one here is listening to them. Mark Knopfler? Eh, maybe Rabbit (Alan Ruck), though I have to confess, when I really stop and think about it, I picture him saying the immortal words of my seemingly square high school pre-algebra teacher (and this is an exact quote): “There hasn’t been a good band since Alice Cooper.” (Alice Cooper is not on the soundtrack.)

Of course, that’s the whole problem with the “Twister” soundtrack, it too often makes no sense, in terms of character or in terms of the movie. It’s why even if most of these songs do seem to appear in the movie itself, they are often brought way down in the mix so you can barely hear them. Even when they aren’t, they don’t always fit. If I believe Jo might listen to Alison Krauss, the Krauss track here doesn’t quite fit the eerie moment when a tornado tears through a drive-in showing “The Shining.” On the other hand, it’s totally believable that the roadside service station and coffee shop where the whole gang briefly stops would have Shania Twain playing. Would Jami Gertz’s un-immortal Dr. Melissa Reeves have been into Tori Amos? k.d. lang? Belly? C’mon. She would have listened to Celine Dion and even then, only because the Adult Contemporary station in Oklahoma City told her to.

The big song here, of course, was Van Halen’s “Humans Being”, which did ascend to the top of the Mainstream Rock charts for a couple weeks. I can hear the so-called Extreme version of Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding listening to Van Halen, and probably Dusty too, though probably early 80s Van Halen, not Van Hagar, especially not mid-90s Van Hagar. And though in imagining the song’s conception, Chuck Klosterman pictured “somebody from Universal Pictures (being) like ‘We need a song that feels like a tornado’, and some guy taking the meeting for Warner Brothers (being) like, ‘I think I know who to ask’”, I’m not sure I agree. What do people always say when asked what a tornado sounded like? That it sounded like a train. Wouldn’t Johnny Cash sound more like a tornado than Van Halen?

“Twisted”, which was written and performed by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, did not get the attention of “Humans Being.” The former is heard in the movie, though at such a low level you have to strain to hear it, which Nicks herself knew all too well, telling Uncut in 2014 that “When songs go into movies you might as well dump them out the window as you’re driving by because they never get heard.” I’m inclined to agree with Stevie’s lingering notes of bitterness. I mean, it’s a movie about a squabbling couple chasing freaking tornadoes. If you’re not making the song by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, pivotal figures on the greatest breakup album of all time, your anthem, you’re not doing your job. 

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