Soundtrack September Selection #5: POPEYE (1980)

This Soundtrack September selection comes from a movie that many would like to forget – even (or especially) Robin Williams for who this was his film debut:

POPEYE (1980)

In the planning stages a conventional (and more importantly commercial) comic book movie was envisioned but a few factors rendered far different results. The first was the signing of maverick Robert Altman to direct, then there’s that cantankerous cartoonist (and screenwriter of such incompatible works as LITTLE MURDERS and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) Jules Feiffer was commissioned to write the screenplay, but the adding to the mix of Harry Nilsson to write the soundtrack has to be the oddest choice of them all.

Hardly an obvious choice to write songs for a live action family comedy, Nilsson nevertheless handed in a collection of demos that, while weird, fit Altman’s re-imagining of E.C. Segar’s salty sailor seaworld. From the opening song sung by all the townsfolk: “Sweethaven” to the character defining “I Yam What I Yam” straight through to the gruff “Kids” spoke-sung by Ray Walston (a notable non-singer in a cast of non-singers), Nilsson matches Altman’s overlapping dialogue and scewed sense of narrative with a just as scewed and overlapping soundtrack.

In 2002 one of the songs was granted new life: “He Needs Me” sung by Olive Oil (Shelly Duvall) appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. As it stands it’s the only song from the POPEYE soundtrack that is currently available on CD.

Though long out of print, the original 1980 soundtrack can be found online as can Nilsson’s deliciously demented demos. They are definitely worth hunting for, if only to hear one of the oddest collection of songs composed for a feature intended for kids.

More later…

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