This Was... Cult Fiction Part 4: 'This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction'

 
Late in 1970, when progressive rock was still relatively new and exciting and its key practitioners weren't above having a laugh (or indeed composing something short enough to go on a 7" single), Pink Floyd were hard at work on that most radical and indeed progressive of concepts - a song that would take up the entire side of an album and stretch the available studio technology to its limit. They had of course been building up to this for some time - from the nine minutes and forty one seconds of Syd Barrett-led space-riffing that made up Interstellar Overdrive to the previous year's side-long instrumental suite Atom Heart Mother - and indeed would go on to take the idea further and expand the 'concept' to a whole album, but the technically demanding epic that they had variously labelled 'Nothing - Parts 1-24', 'Son Of Nothing' and 'Return Of The Son Of Nothing' marked a real turning point. Unfortunately, this turning point involved everyone else turning into a humourless cul-de-sac where 'real' musicianship was prized above all else and frivolity was to be avoided at all costs. Possibly not what they had envisaged when providing a wry commentary on some bacon frying onstage the year before.

Late in 1996, things were starting to get all serious and heavyweight and stoneyfaced yet again, with the likes of The Verve and Kula Shaker and even makeweights like Embrace reminding us all at every given opportunity that their music 'meant' something more substantial than silly frivolous Britpop, and the laugh-a-minute likes of Trainspotting and Our Friends In The North doing much the same for visual entertainment. Leading the charge were, inevitably, Oasis, though much like a certain other Knebworth-favouring outfit once upon a time, maybe that wasn't what Noel Gallagher had in mind back when he was composing witty throwaways like Married With Children. Suffice it to say that the mood suddenly became very much stop-that-laughing-at-the-back fact-times-importance-equals-news mister-carpark-has-been-kind-enough-to-come-here-this-afternoon-all-the-way-from-nottingham, and even the most hardended disliker of Play Away-esque novelty gurners Space must have winced at the Select review dismissing their album Tin Can Alley or whatever it was called alongside a cartoon of The Bloke From Space in a Hawaiian shirt taking a photo of himself on a 'fun camera' set against giant Rushmore-esque stone faces of Richard Ashcroft and 'Thom' Yorke. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the volume of Cult Fiction that sought to take a snapshot of this era - and followed on from the infectiously light-hearted This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction - should have adopted the mantle This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction.

Yes, only halfway through the entire series, the titular '...' that everyone automatically associates with Cult Fiction finally puts in an appearance. And... there's not really very much more to say about that, so let's take a look instead at the other more obvious visual re-routings. Gone are the jaunty retro flashes and judicious use of whitespace and pale colours that had defined both This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction and This Is Easy (and even arguably, to an extent, the original This Is Cult Fiction itself), replaced by moodier shades of blue with appropriately gritty decorative pattern, Action Movie-friendly fonts, and a whopping great cover illustration of a psychedelically-decorated cross between The Mystery Machine and the Fisher Price Daredevil Sports Van. Something about all this would seem to suggest that we're not exactly in for an album's worth of flute-heavy seventies sitcom themes, hamfistedly faded out or otherwise.

Yes, it's 'serious' film music for 'serious' film fans, and pretty much the same for the handful of 'allowed' TV shows, nearly all the way here, with no psychedelic spies, wide-tied crooners or surrealist animated dogs on hand to frighten people. The rough, tough outdoorsy vibe is almost overpowering, and there's very little room left for anyone who's turned up hoping for a bit more safari-jacketed fun. This is, on face value, the compilation equivalent of Paul Weller's contemporaneous bit of ridiculousness Woodcutter's Son. But it's also a Cult Fiction compilation, so we're almost certainly in for the odd surprise or two.

This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction kicks off in fine style with Quadrophenia's dynamic curtain-raiser The Real Me, sounding so punchy and loud that you feel like jumping onto a scooter in front of some back-projected London streets and shouting "BOLLOCKS! FUCK OFF!" at some rockers, followed by the dynamic collision of Loungecore and hard rock in CCS' one-time Top Of The Pops-introducing cover of Whole Lotta Love, but it all goes very rapidly downhill. Well, not downhill so much as off-script. Film and TV-associated the opening tracks may well be, but they are both 'proper' songs that predated their use in a soundtrack capacity, and, well, that's what the bulk of this compilation is composed of. There are very few hard-to-find gems previously hidden away in title sequences or beneath film dialogue here, just a collection of admittedly very good pop and rock songs that happened to later show up on soundtracks that anyone could have got hold of and stuck together on a tape easily enough. What's more, it's all very much leaning towards the bluesy stoner-friendly hard-rock gentlemen-welcome-to-the-second-base-mobile end of the scale, with the likes of All Right Now, Born To Be Wild, Smoke On The Water and Be-Bop-A-Lula queueing up to give you the impression that you've inadvertently picked up one of those point-missing late seventies The Old Grey Whistle Test spin-off compilations by mistake. Throw in a Trainspotting-referencing Lust For Life and it's all starting to sound a bit like what the most boneheaded of 'New Lads' circa 1995 would put onto the student union jukebox on a loop to show them namby pamby Blur fans wots wot uh hur hur hur.


Meanwhile, the actual from-the-original-soundtrack selections start off well with the theme from The A-Team, complete with oft-omitted Hannibal-dressed-as-a-crocodile middle eight, but quickly lose their way to the extent that it's actually a challenge to listen towards the end. Echo And The Bunnymen's bafflingly overlauded banda copier facsimile of People Are Strange from The Lost Boys and Urge Overkill's still-overexposed sub-Crash Test Dummies Strepsil-averse twang through Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon are skip button-friendly enough, but out in the furthest reaches you'll find such endlessly listenable fare as Duelling Banjos from Deliverance, the theme from Northern Exposure (so devoid of melody that it makes those of The Cosby Show and St. Elsewhere look like lost Gershwin tone poems), and John Williams arpeggiating his way through Cavatina, included here on account of its The Deer Hunter credentials though surely it would have been more saleable to the album's target audience on the basis of its contemporaneous adoption as the 'The Gallery' music in Take Hart. True, the theme from M*A*S*H (as performed by, of course, 'The M*A*S*H') is on board to add an upbeat note (well, relatively speaking), but when the most musical selection in this long procession of album-closing atmospherics is that Calling You song from Bagdad Cafe, you know it's set to be something of a slog. In fairness it all just about works in the context of the compilation's 'mood', but the last album's sign-off was the theme from Roobarb. All of this 'serious' business can sod off and frown to itself in the corner, frankly.

Fortunately - and indeed precisely why this prolonged downbeat ending works in the context of the album as a whole - there are a couple of brighter passages earlier on. There's a refreshing run of mid-sixties sourced psych-tinged selections midway through, taking in White Rabbit, Venus In Furs, Louie Louie, Green Onions and Herbie Hancock's Deee-Lite sampled Bring Down The Birds from Blow-Up (which is a convenient point at which to mention the nameless NME hack who, while sneering at a James Taylor Quartet album in a wince-inducing 'look at me I'm controversial' fashion around this time, scoffed of their cover of the main theme from Blow-Up that "halfway through they decide to start playing Groove Is In The Heart for some reason"), though the lone unwelcome feature of the previous Cult Fiction album makes an equally unwelcome reappearance here. Presumably for space-saving reasons, the compilers have opted for the shorter edit of The Monkees' The Porpoise Song from the actual Head soundtrack album, which is more of an audio collage than a collection of songs, meaning that we get the abrupt police siren-drenched fade in while the glorious extended coda is completely missing, and it's literally not half the song it should be. Still, it must have been worth it to get the Northern Exposure theme squeezed on there.

Meanwhile, if you've been paying attention, you'll already be aware that the greatest strength of the Cult Fiction series was that the compilers were always prepared to go just that little bit further and include rarities and obscurities that were wowing fans of the genre or scene and deserved wider exposure, and happily This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction is no exception. Not only do we get Warren Zevon's decidedly odd (though not that odd when you know about his former musical escapades as half of Lyme & Cybelle) slice of late seventies soft-rock Werewolves Of London, which like Brown-Eyed Girl, I Believe In Miracles and The Whole Of The Moon is one of those records whose enduring popularity far outstrips its actual success at the time, there's also the sexually aggressive sitar groover The Lions And The Cucumber by Vampyros Sound Inc., drawn from the soundtrack of deeply hallucinogenic early seventies Spanish horror/soft porn crossover Vampyros Lesbos, which like many films of a similar vintage, origin and persuasion had recently become a cult favourite with UK viewers on account of their Sunday night appearances in stray German sattelite channels (a phenomenon that you can read more about here). In case you were wondering, Vampyros Lesbos is set on a party island that hides a secret society of nubile young lady vampires desperate for a bit of girl-on-girl B Negative-siphoning action. And if you're thinking that sounds like the plot of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer only with more shagging, or indeed like the plot of an episode of Torchwood only with less shagging, you'd be exactly right. By the end of the year Quentin Tarantino would have reused the track in Jackie Brown, but this compilation came out nearly twelve months earlier and, in effect, the Cult Fiction compilers had outdone the very person they were originally inspired to emulate. Stitch that, 'Trackspotting'.

Yet for all of its isolated shortcomings, it has to be said that This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction hangs together incredibly well as an album. Though the preponderance of well-known rock classics makes it by far the least interesting of the series, this is actually a strength from a listening point of view, starting off as a superbly judged bit of air-punching anthemic fun before taking a turn in a weirder - and ultimately bleak and haunting - direction. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd's follow-up to the album that nearly had 'The Return Of The Son Of Nothing' on it, as the history books know only too well, built on their experiments in a direction that saw it unexpectedly become purportedly the biggest selling album of all time. The follow up to This Is... Son Of Cult Fiction, however, didn't...

This Was... Cult Fiction Part 3: 'This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction'


Sitting uneasily alongside the Easy Listening revival, and much more comfortably alongside the post-Tarantino hoo-ha that the original This Is Cult Fiction had sought to cash in on, was the rise of what would later come to be known as 'lad mags'. But - crucially - they weren't always known by that label. What often gets conveniently forgotten is that Loaded was founded by a former NME journalist, who in turn had wound up at the NME after publishing his own surreal and vaguely establishment-baiting fanzine, and in its earliest incarnation it had a 'mission statement' of sorts to suggest to those who enjoyed looking at Liz Hurley in her pants that they might also like classic films, classic books, indie music, Peter Cook and what have you. This of course was hastily jettisoned when they realised they sold more copies when they had glorified porn stars on the cover, but all the same they did try it at first, and it would have all manner of unlikely and unexpected side effects.

Sandwiched between Anna Friel's knockers - not literally, thankfully, as that would cause several readers (both male and female) to explode - you would often find short and impressionistic pieces on such retro ephemera nonsense as Kung Fu-mania, Aztec Bars and spacehoppers, and more often than not the long-lost televisual likes of Hawaii Five-0, Tucker's Luck and Help!... It's The Hair Bear Bunch!. This was, it's fair to say, one of the key initiators of the nostalgia boom that became big cultural business later in the decade, which would ultimately give rise to TV Creamthough less happily it also gave rise to endless 'talking head' clip show appearances by Peter Kay counting off imaginary lists of things he pretended everyone else had forgotten on his fingers. There was even a post-Loaded magazine devoted to this very phenomenon, Cult TV, which strove to interest fans of Friends and The Simpsons in the likes of Babylon 5 by way of articles enthusing over episodes if Scooby Doo Where Are You? where Daphne wore a bikini. It was not exactly a roaring success.


It's hardly surprising, then, that having already covered both the Easy Listening revival and the post-Tarantino hoo-ha, the compilers of the Cult Fiction series would choose to mine this sort-of phenomenon for their next offering. Released over the summer of 1996, This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction collected a ton of outmoded TV themes, and a handful of film themes that you might well have found lurking somewhere in the same schedules, with Glen A. Larson-esque 'car escapades' photos on the cover to match, which ended up as the closest thing possible to a musical evocation of flicking through a vintage issue of TV Times from the days when they used those infamous 'genre' icons. Plus of course there were a couple of inclusions that didn't really fit this unofficial format, but more on them in due course.

The bulk of This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction leans very much in the direction of the late seventies/early eighties 8pm big budget glossy American import, and as they've opted to go for the halfway decent ones rather than the likes of Hooperman, Vega$, Simon & Simon and Scarecrow & Mrs. King, this is no bad thing. Charlie's Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, Magnum P.I., Taxi (impressively in its original show-predating album incarnation, as opposed to the later single-length re-recording with the "Night Mr. Walters" - "Hrmph" business tacked on to the end), Wonder Woman, Hill Street Blues and Starsky And Hutch all show up in their original wah wah-tastic sax-rasping as-heard-on-TV versions (well, apart from Taxi, and the at least very close approximation of The Six Million Dollar Man), although this does have some unfortunate side effects in places; most noticeably, the relatively sluggish pace and restrained soloing of Starsky And Hutch drives home just how used we'd got to the James Taylor Quartet's version in the interim.

The filthy choppy-chord duelling of both The Return Of The Saint and The Professionals - impressively, for once, the actual real original recording with the middle eight and with the electric violin actually in tune and everything - suggests that we're also going to be seeing a lot of UK-made counterparts to the above. Which is why it's a bit of a surprise that the album immediately goes off in a very different direction, serving up a sizeable quantity of erstwhile ITV and BBC mainstays that may well have had great theme tunes and impeccable Darren-Grimley-glugging-Quatro seventies/eighties crossover retro credentials, but are about as far removed from glitzy big budget action as... well, to be honest you'd usually just name one of these actual shows anyway. Doctor Who (the contentious early eighties squealing electric guitar makeover by Peter Howell), Vision On (the skittering Parisian jazz intro music AND the vibraphone-strobing music from 'The Gallery', which at that point was still just this side of overexposure), Dave Allen At Large (the rarely heard onscreen version), Tales Of The Unexpected, Budgie (the atmospheric tone-button-fluctuating instrumental from series one rather than the Kinks number from series two), Man About The House, On The Buses, Minder, Please Sir!, Ski Sunday and, erm, World Of Sport fill out the tracklisting in fine Back In Denim-friendly style, and even The Two Ronnies get in on the act courtesy of the Moog-tastic funk-out that opened their 'Charlie Farley & Piggy Malone' running serials. And there are two real treats saved for right near the end - White Horses by Jacky, the theme from the of-the-same-name multi-million episode German children's serial that became one of the 'big five' of the BBC's imported dubbed 'Tales From Europe' alongside the uniformly equally impressively theme-tuned The Flashing Blade, The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, Belle And Sebastian and The Singing Ringing Tree (only one of which, outrageously, has ever found its way onto CD), and the alarming scuzzy guitar riffing, inhaled harmonica and supervision-averse barking that bookended Roobarb. Though annoyingly, if inevitably, they've added an 'And Custard' here.


Then it's back to America, only further back in time to the days when everything was black and white and everyone got a new hoover every week and Raymond Chandler continually fell face-first into a swimming pool. Like the soundtrack to some lost Adam Curtis documentary, Get Smart, Perry Mason, I Dream Of Jeannie and Bewitched add a very different kind of retro-space-age sponsor-message-festooned glamour, and taken as a whole it's refreshing to find so many contextually diverse yet strangely well-fitting approaches to the idea of 'Cult TV'.

The handful of film themes that also find their way onto This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction mostly adhere to the first of these approaches, though, with the superbly schlocky Moog-and-kiai curtain-raiser for Enter The Dragon rubbing shoulders with the dark-side-of-Lorimar mirror-threatening antics of Taxi Driver, and more unexpectedly Last Tango In Paris, whose infamous Maria-Schneider-bumming sequence certainly leaves the odd flash of semi-nudity that occasionally troubled Magnum and Kojak languishing in the "I have a horsey neigh neigh" doldrums. Elsewhere, the Bewitcheds and what have you found a suitably pre-Monterey Pop friend in Hitchcock's North By Northwest, though what the Incantation-evoking panpipery and apparent inspiration for the theme from Five To Eleven that made up the theme to Once Upon A Time In America is doing here is anyone's guess; it would barely even have fitted on the very first This Is Cult Fiction either thematically or musically, and here it's really just a fish out of water that does little bar drag proceedings down. Meanwhile, fitting into none of these categories whatsoever is Julie London's interpretation of Fly Me To The Moon, included here as a result of its contemporaneous use in a Ford advert, but its syncopated jazzy flourishes fit so well with everything else surrounding them that there's really no point in quibbling.

All in all, there are a whopping thirty six tracks on This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction, but there's a catch. Those thirty six tracks are on just one CD, and where This Is Easy had at least opted for tasteful detail-retaining edits of selected tracks as a way if squeezing on as many as possible, here they just fade them out hamfistedly and at a seemingly arbitrary point. Doctor Who, Vision On (both of them), Tales Of The Unexpected, World Of Sport and The Return Of The Saint all slide frustratingly out of the range of audibility before they've actually finished, sometimes with barely twenty seconds left to go, and with no real purpose either as they could easily have trimmed one of the blander or less well-fitting other inclusions. Oh alright, let's just be upfront about it, they should have ditched Once Upon A Time In America. The upshot is that this brings a jarring and unwelcome element of frustration into an otherwise excellently sequenced compilation, and causes so much point-deduction that there's no option other than to put This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction at the very bottom of the 'Best Cult Fiction' list. And that really is a shame.

Still, the most fence-falling of the Cult Fiction series is still infinitely better than the vast majority of other compilations (oh and Trackspotting), and This Is The Return Of Cult Fiction really does pull off the infamously difficult feat of taking a load of short tunes originally written to catch the ear of TV audiences rather than with anything resembling sustained listening in mind, and fashioning them together into something coherent and infectiously upbeat. This was, in many ways, the sound of This Is Easy's madcap mate who remembered the names of all the cars in Wacky Races. Cult Fiction would never be quite so frivolous again. Well, not for a volume or two...

This Was... Cult Fiction: Part 2 'This Is Easy'


Imagine, if you will - or indeed if you can bear to - an alternate universe where everything's backwards and Nathan Petrelli has slightly different hair and Trackspotting proved so popular that the compilers got to do a second volume. There'd be more Tarantino barrel-scraping, probably with that one by Tha Dogg Pound from Natural Born Killers wedged awkwardly between all the tune-averting rock'n'roll stuff. There'd be the entire eighteen million minute version of A Final Hit by Leftfield. And there'd be The Passenger by Iggy Pop, doubtless crowbarred in on the back of a spuriously generic claim that it had been used in 'an advert' (or even - shudder - as 'the theme from Channel 4's Passengers').

Thankfully, though, we don't need the time-bending shenanigans of one Peter Petrelli to correct the dimensional alignment on this occasion, and in reality it was, sensibly, the compilers of This Is Cult Fiction who got to do the compilation lap of honour. The first volume had of course diverted from its Tarantino-centric brief in all manner of interesting if vaguely related directions, but even so it would have been reasonable to assume that any follow-up would have basically just included more of the same. Well, how wrong we all were. And that's 'we' as in 'anyone who actually bothered guessing at the potential contents of a purely hypothetical follow-up that probably nobody had even had the slightest thought about'.

While This Is Cult Fiction was busy doing the rounds of the card-mounted counter-top record store display racks, a very strange offshoot of the Britpop phenomenon had been rapidly gathering mainstream-bound momentum. A world away from the 'Noelrock'-toting 'lad'-espousing flag-rehabilitating dullards that the scene would later come to be tarnished by association with, the original adherents of what probably wasn't really known as 'Britpop' at that point had - more through a lack of sufficient suitable sounds than anything else - invested a good deal of time and energy into mining the past for new pop favourites; not just the expected likes of The Who, Northern Soul and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity but also further-afield esoterica culled from European pop exotica, Swinging Sixties film soundtracks and the groovier excursions of Light Entertainment superstars. Known as 'Loungecore' to its devotees, and 'a sort of Easy Listening revival thing' to the world at large, whatever it was, it had picked up its pace and started to find its way into the charts and onto the TV, with The Mike Flowers Pops' much-better-than-the-original cover of Wonderwall only narrowly missing out on the Christmas Number One slot late in 1995.


Of course, people would eventually miss the point with all this just as they did with Britpop, ignoring the fact that it was originally about the music first and foremost and indulging in all manner of ghastly 'irony' with crooners and safari suits, and the age of Funtastian Retrololz was upon us. Before that happened, though, a couple of pre-ironists managed to get in there with some pretty dazzling pre-irony compilations of music that had previously been obscurer than obscure; Martin Green's definitive library music trawl The Sound Gallery and its more cerebral spinoff The Sound Spectrum (which you can hear more about here); London-based DJ team The Karminsky Experience and their globe-spanning mock-soundtrack In-Flight Entertainment (and its sequel that took the 'flight' into space); The Easy Project which looked more towards the groovy Marine Offences Act-contravening sound of Pirate Radio; and, less impressively, the sound of a point starting to be missed on K-Tel's Nice'n'Easy. And then, with impeccable timing, came the one that would show them all how it's done - This Is Easy.

The first thing that you notice from a look back at This Is Easy is that, contrary to popular belief, it didn't quite perform a total musical volte-face on the first volume in the series and the more Speeding On The Needlebliss-inclined percentage of its potential audience need not have felt any more alienated than they routinely pretended to in an attempt to show that they 'got' their favoured films. With a whole extra disc to play around with, there's plenty of room for movie and TV themes that are, for the most part, at the very least distant relatives of the ones that ended up on This Is Cult Fiction. Indeed, Midnight Cowboy puts in a return appearance here, albeit in a carefully chosen schmaltz-tastic orchestral reworking of the title theme by John Barry himself, and there's a cunning redeployment of Misirlou as almost unrecognisably reimagined by birdsong-bonkers 'exotica' bandleader Martin Denny, while the not-that-'easy' electric harpsichord jangles of more recent (and, at least compared to a lot of films that ended up on the first album, more deserving) sneaker-in-through-the-back-door-of-cult Get Carter turn up for the first but by no means last time in the series (though more about that - you guessed it - later), albeit most likely more than a little 'influenced' by its recent appearance on The Sound Spectrum, and if we're bending the rules to accomodate 'gritty' Westerns (as opposed to all those ones set in antiseptically clean municipal boroughs) there's the chant-tastic chart-troubling cover of the theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly by Hugo Montenegro, and for a touch of King Cone-scoffing authenticity the original Pearl & Dean jingle is thrown in for good measure. Even the Burt Bacharach number chosen to open the set, Bond Street, originates from the soundtrack of the original - and some would say only scientifically recognised - Casino Royale.


In fact there's a lot of Bacharach & David to be found on This Is Easy - hardly surprising really, given that Noel Gallagher was at that point continually dropping the former's name as an 'inspiration' in the hope that it would deflect attention away from the fact that he was actually just purloining old Milltown Brothers songs and replacing the lyrics with something even more clumsy (and that's no mean feat) - but that's not actually as much of a good thing as you might reasonably assume. For while Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head shows up as the definitive BJ Thomas original, complete with the weird jerky Stereolab-inspiring stop-start outro, and Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Matt Monro are on hand to handle Walk On By, I Say A Little Prayer and (They Long To Be) Close To You respectively (as, regrettably, is Jack Jones for Wives And Lovers), and light music maestro Ron Goodwin at least has a charming melting-trumpet whirl through Do You Know The Way To San Jose? and What The World Needs Now Is Love, several other key compositions are drawn from an album where Bacharach himself elected to recast them in drippy orchestral instrumental arrangements with just the odd random line sung here and there, which wasn't what anyone wanted or needed. Probably not even Noel Gallagher.

Meanwhile, hailing somewhat slightly less from the same genre universe as the movie-skewed contents of This Is Cult Fiction come Un Homme Et Une Femme (the lift-door-opening-alike title theme AND the Panorama-purloined Aujourd'hui, C'est Toi, both in their rarely heard vocal versions), the maudlin, self-repeating and misleadingly tagged variance-free 'Theme And Variations For Two Pianos And Orchestra' from The Go-Between, and perhaps inevitably The Windmills Of Your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair, upon which the jury will forever be out as to whether it's really good or a little bit annoying. But just before those groups of seven individuals (including the token 'girl one') dressed as Mr. Pink larking around in the foyer before a late-night cinema showing of the still-banned-on-video Reservoir Dogs start to feel so utterly left out of proceedings that they briefly consider purchasing The Cult Files: Reopened instead, a fair smattering of faintly hip-to-the-zeitgeist TV themes come screeching up in their E-Types. The Champions, Strange ReportThe New Avengers, Man In A Suitcase, Tony Christie's earwax-shifting yodelling from the end credits of The Protectors, and of course The Pink Panther, who makes his way onto this list by virtue of having a snazzy car in the opening titles. No? How about because The Inspector was sort of like a jetsetting sixties detective if you bend the rules a bit, then bend the rules a lot, then just pretend that he was? Oh alright, please yourselves then.

Joining everyone's favourite anthropomorphic feline antagonist of Man With The Triangle Nose on an equally sizeable list of TV themes that (mostly) fit the bill musically, but pose something of an image problem for someone attempting to recast themselves as Patrick Mower on a spacehopper, are a couple of sporting-themed selections that at least evoke the image of retro Adidas gear, namely soccer-heralding Hammond undisciplinedness The Big Match, and the none-more-loungetastic Superstars, that bizarre BBC effort that strove to determine which sporting giant was best at standing on a school assembly bench over a paddling pool. And sounding great but presenting logistical headaches for all but the most 'ironic' of easy scenesters there's The New Adventures Of Black Beauty, Crossroads, Animal Magic and This Is Your Life, the latter two in heavily if barely perceptibly truncated space-saving edits, which is something that as we shall see would later become the lone blot in the copybook for the This Is... series.

Elsewhere, popular bandleader Ray Conniff is given the chance to show off some of his stereo test disc-ready instrumental readings of seventies MOR pop hits, and actual literal sixties non-MOR pop hits come courtesy of Aretha Franklin (I Say A Little Prayer), Dionne Warwick (Walk On By), Chris Montez (Call Me), Sergio Mendes (Chelsea Morning), Honeybus (I Can't Let Maggie Go), Fifth Dimension (Up Up And Away), Nancy Sinatra (As Tears Go By) and Sandie Shaw (There Is Always Something There To Remind Me, unfortunately in 're-recorded by the original artists' form), and a couple of full-on lounge legends show up to show everyone who's boss; everyone's favourite pal of Bear Asking For 'Cookies' Andy Williams with the Blur-purloined ode to Music To Watch Girls By, Bert Kaempfert's naggingly catchy Daktari-goes-mod silliness A Swingin' Safari, and best of all the wonky whistling and outer space backing vocal effects that make up Esquivel's interpretation of something that may at one point have vaguely resembled Sentimental Journey.

In acknowledgement of The Sound Gallery's library-scouring efforts there's also room for The Riviera Affair and Girl In A Sportscar, two tunes that are probably stuck in your head already if you ever watched any post-Loaded BBC2 magazine show, and there's that trademark This Is... touch of where-the-fuck-did-that-come-from? courtesy of Mason Williams' Classical Gas (a tune that had probably previously been mainly associated with those damn crazy hippies, or at the very least with Lord Winstanley urging you to claim that thirty seven and a half pence water rates rebate on This Is Your Right), some Herb Alpert numbers as hurriedly reworked for cash by 'The Mexicans' for the long-lost Decca album The World Of Tijuana, and modern-day walking embodiment of all things lounge Count Indigo, whose My Unknown Love as recorded in cahoots with The Mike Flowers Pops is probably the second greatest track to be found on here.

So, you're no doubt wondering, what IS the greatest? Well, that honour has to go to one of the few artists to appear on both this and the first volume - Isaac Hayes, whose brilliantly yet hilariously elongated take on The Look Of Love frankly ticks off every last item on the list of what a good 'loungecore' track should be; funky, schmaltzy, Bacharach-penned (with an extra point for having been originally penned for Casino Royale), full of extemporising flutey nonsense, virtually unrecognisable as the song it's supposed to be, positioned somewhere between Easy Listening and 'proper' music, and actually genuinely really, really good. So, um, a bit like Theme From Shaft, then.

As a whole, This Is Easy more than meets all of those criteria too. Trying to define a genuine subculture for the purposes of raking in the megabucks is a risky and rarely-attempted gambit - for a comparison, consider how nobody dared to do a Hey Hey It's Yer Grunge Rock Superpals! type compilation only a couple of years earlier - but this impressively broad and knowledgeable sweep of the sounds that were being frugged to by the big-trainered girls and boys in clubs that they thought only they knew about pulled it off in style, and there's probably some truth to the suggestion that its success led directly to the genre-led actually-quite-good compilation market as we know it today. The compilers weren't about to start resting - or indeed lounging - on their laurels, though. There was a complete change of direction to be getting on with...

This Was... Cult Fiction: Part 1 'This Is Cult Fiction'

If only Quentin Tarantino had known what he was starting.

Think back, if you will, to a time before cinema's Jimmy Dimmick was a millionaire megastar director who prefers to spend most of his time making the same film again and again but with different hats interspersed with getting a bit shirty on What The Papers Say, and when he was, quite simply, potentially the most exciting movie-maker ever. He was someone who - not unlike certain figures in the independent music scene around that time - appeared to have seen the good, the bad and the just plain weird in any and every area of 'underground' cinema from the forties onwards, and had decided that the time had come to put a nice new shirt on it and send it 'overground'. At a time when the concept of postmodernism itself was the stuff of postmodernity, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance and Natural Born Killers arrived like a pop cultural call to arms (well, maybe not Natural Born Killers), simultaneously pointing the way into cinema's future and into the more weird and wonderful (though mostly just plain weird) corridors of its past.

Part of the reason for this, of course, was his revolutionary approach to soundtracks; ignoring the tradition of the Oscar-courting original orchestral score in favour of employing a similar sort of pop culture archaeology to his visuals, which was probably more inspired by American Graffiti than by any Polish art film with a stop-motion goose tapdancing to a slowed-down-then-speeded-up version of The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, and using the parade of non-stop half-remembered hits to actually emphasise something about the characters or setting; the tacky seventies pop radio sounds in Reservoir Dogs, for example, give an indefinable extra sense of definition to the sharp-suited career criminals addicted to oldies stations, while the sparse and trebly forgotten pre-Beatles chart smashes in Pulp Fiction do much to underscore the empty fringe-of-society netherworlds in which its various protagonists variously operate. Hardly surprising, then, that both films should have inspired soundtrack albums that bothered the upper reaches of the chart for years on end, to the extent that it's now impossible to venture into a charity shop without spotting one or the other of them. And then there's True Romance with its tongue-in-cheek reuse of existing film scores, and the blues-hollerin'-driven original script of Natural Born Killers. By the time of Kill Bill he really was just playing back-of-the-bargain-bin Top Trumps, though.

Needless to say, those top-selling soundtrack albums inspired a brief but prolific outburst of me-too soundtrack albums, and indeed me-too themed soundtrack compilations, all of which spectacularly missed the point of why those Tarantino efforts had been so popular in the first place (and of course Trackspotting, which missed the point of just about everything ever). Most of these efforts, as you can imagine, or indeed may well have been trying to forget, simply bolted together a couple of blatant borrows from Tarantino and Tarantino-affiliated (seriously, remember when we were supposed to regard Killing Zoe and Threesome as somehow relevant?) soundtracks with a handful of de facto Britpop-era hits and some seventies rock stuff that Loaded had said it was OK to like, which is why you'll now find them all lurking in their hundreds in the 58 CDs For £1 section at That's Entertainment.

There was one album, however - well, series of albums to be strictly accurate - that somehow managed to get this least get-right-able of approaches right, and would then subsequently go off on all manner of obscure and esoteric tangents that would have caused all those people whooping at Stuck In The Middle With You at the student union to shudder like they'd been forced to watch a single minute of The Magic Fountain on a loop for forty eight hours. It started off with both feet planted firmly in Tarantino-land, yet six volumes later it had taken in Count Indigo, Bardo, the 'wrong' Magic Roundabout, and plenty more besides. And, what do you know, they all still stand up well today. So join us, if you will, as we take an album-by-album relisten to... the Cult Fiction series! Beginning with...


This Is... Cult Fiction (1995)


As the Pulp Fiction-riffing title suggests - though as we shall see, within a very short time 'Cult Fiction' seemed almost to become an original name in its own right - this inaugural offering came very much in the slipstream of the initial outbreak of Tarantino-mania; something that was in turn very much reflected in the cover art, featuring as it does a stocking'n'suspendered and unfeasibly-chested blonde in a bleak motel having recently discarded a wine glass and the world's smallest record. Meanwhile, lord alone knows that that TV show's supposed to be. Doubtless this was intended as some sort of non-copyright-troubling homage to Uma Thurman's iconic pose from the Pulp Fiction poster, only commissioned from an artist that was briefed to not to watch the film, nor to learn anything at all whatsoever about what might possibly happen in it. If anything, it's closer to being a homage to the cover of Tony Hancock's favoured page-turner Lady Don't Fall Backwards, although sadly you won't find Spying Tonight anywhere on this tracklisting.

Needless to say, said Hancock-deficient tracklisting leans very heavily towards the Tarantino-weighted end of the scale, and yet somehow, rather than seeming like yet another cash-in stroke rip-off, it manages to hit all the right notes and throws in a few impressive suprises to boot. The opening double whammy of film-openers Little Green Bag and Misirlou still sounds amazing, the over-familiar but still great Stuck In The Middle With You rubs shoulders with the lesser-heard Jungle Boogie and You Never Can Tell, and the compilers have also found room for Rumble, the menacing crumbly-toned Link Wray instrumental that was inexplicably left off the Pulp Fiction soundtrack album in favour of Maria McKee whistling about a sodding dress for twelve years.

As you might well be deducing from that rather left-field inclusion (well, relatively), the compilers of This Is... Cult Fiction seem to have been keen - as would rapidly become a trademark of theirs - to put that extra bit of effort in and come up with something that would both warrant and withstand repeated listening; no mean feat when you consider that many of the similar efforts it was jostling for space with in the HMV Soundtracks rack were a slog to get through even just the once. The only problem is, when you've exhausted the Tarantino soundtracks and incorporated as much of them as you feasibly can without your target audience feeling royally ripped off, where do you go next?

And this is where This Is... Cult Fiction starts to get interesting. Initially they seem to have opted to reach for the nearest recent films with similar (if far lesser) 'cult' credentials, meaning that we get Bjork's still-astonishing theme from Young Americans and the original Lalo Schifrin version of Mission Impossible (as opposed to that miserable angle-grinding reworking by Larry Mullen and a bin, which was virtually inescapable at the time but thankfully barely heard now), though on the less appealing side we also get Here Comes The Hotstepper from Pret A Porter, a film that the media appeared to decide appealed to the 'Tarantino set' without actually canvassing any of them for their opinion on the matter, and - stetching the definition of 'recent' slightly - the never-entertaining Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton. The latter had in fact been a barely explicable Twin Peaks-affiliated reissued top ten hit late in 1990 (and that's not the last that we'll be hearing from Dale Cooper and company), and indeed room is made for a couple of further then-recent Revived 45 chart-vaulters; Perez Prado's Guaglione, as featured in the first of several thousand Guinness adverts that apparently 'everyone' thought was amazing apart from anyone at all that you actually knew, and the similarly beer-propelled We Have All The Time In The World by Louis Armstrong.

The latter's James Bond associations provides a convenient route in for the James Bond Theme, here in one of its later elaborated-up John Barry re-recordings rather than the twisted beat boom twangings of the original (though - spoiler alert - that's something we may well end up touching on at some point in the future), and while there aren't really that many big name big screen big themed spies or detectives worthy of a place alongside him on such a commercially minded compilation, there are nonetheless many of a more televisual persuasion who are eminently suitable for the task, and indeed that's the next major port of musical call. Laurie Johnson's single version of The Avengers is joined by a couple of judiciously chosen top-drawer covers, The Les Reed Brass' take on The Saint and The Bob Leaper Orchestra's frantic rattle through Danger Man (which was then also doing a stint as the theme music for Mark Radcliffe's 'Graveyard Shift' Radio 1 show - which you can read all about in my book Fun At One), while from across the 'pond' come the barnstorming original black-and-white-era arrangement of The Man From UNCLE and, rather less impressively, a pedestrian trot through Hawaii Five-O by a struggling post-psychedelia The Ventures, twanging politely through an arrangement that does neither them nor the tune any favours.


Then there's a bit of a lurch forward into seventies urban funk hipness, with Theme From Shaft (which, weirdly, sounds like an inferior re-recorded version even though it isn't), The Harder They Come, the overquoted monologue-enhanced All The Animals Come Out At Night from Taxi Driver, and - letting the urban funk quotient down slightly - Everybody's Talkin' from Midnight Cowboy, as then recently pushed back into the charts by The Beautiful South though anyone with even the slightest bit of sense should prefer this reading by indie nearly-men Moose. And once again there's some small screen contemporaries for this lot, with a reading of The Sweeney by the dreaded Power Pack Orchestra (an eighties studio ensemble that specialised in microscopically close approximations of original film and TV themes, virtually indistinguishable from the genuine article but just about mechanical and workmanlike enough to be detectable, which in a way is actually worse than a ludicrously inauthentic bash-it-out-after-lunch job), and the throw-some-notes-at-the-wall funk-jazz of The Streets Of San Francisco, a show that has blithely ignored repeated attempts to artificially build up any kind of cult following around it. Meanwhile, from completely the other end of the seventies comes Francis Monkman's alarming theme from The Long Good Friday, a suitably nasty-sounding reminder of the days when library music started to get just that bit unsettlingly antiseptic in a slap-bass-and-sequencer reflection of the dockland redevelopments that the in-character Bob Hoskins so despised.

And that's just about it, apart from three notable fishes out of big-poster-bought-from-the-Student-Union water. An all-too-familiar four-note twang signifies it's time for Twin Peaks, a show which has since disappeared from the 'cult' map in a manner that you really wouldn't have predicted from the endless conversations about the latest 'clues' back in 1990 (most of them conducted by people who claimed not to understand The Prisoner when it showed up on Channel 4 a couple of years later), Great Big Giant Of The Cinema Horson Welles shows up to show these young upstarts how it's done with the beatnikky bongo freakout from the start of A Touch Of Evil, and then... there's... Joe 90. Yes, Joe 90. The least marketable of any Gerry Anderson show (and yes, that does include The Secret Service), and with about as much in stylistic and thematic common with anything else on the album as Here Come The Double Deckers. And yet Barry Gray's spectacular transistory Hammond and speaker-rattling guitar theme music is quite simply the best track on here by a very long distance indeed. Yes, Sam Loover and company may lack the cult credentials of the collar-turned-up sax-accompanied types that make up the bulk of the rest of This Is... Cult Fiction - let's face it, they even lack the cult credentials of a country-yowling Supermarionation cowboy with an oversized head - but end up showing them all by virtue of having the best theme music. Even if it does appear here with the dreaded 'wow' intact (if you have no idea what that might possibly mean, have a look at this highly amusing rant on the very tape-warbling subject).

One place that you won't find the Joe 90 theme though, 'wow'-equipped or otherwise, is on the little-known American edition of This Is... Cult Fiction, a heavily truncated affair in the tradition of the early Now That's What I Call Music CDs that dispenses with the less hoagie-scoffing friendly selections in favour of... well, a lot of tracks that we'll be coming back to in the near future. And to know what did show up on those future volumes, well, you'd need to have a police box that travelled in time or something. Or be Belgian.

Yet one thing that the American edition does do is highlight just how diverse, even within its own narrow and limited self-imposed parameters, This Is... Cult Fiction really is. Rather than stick to entirely safe and predictable choices, there's at least an attempt to suggest to people who had bought it on the back of Pumpkin and Honeybunny's jabbering that there's a lot more out there that they might like, from gritty urban gangland thrillers to sub-psychedelic sixties private eyes to, well, Joe 90. Whether this actually had any effect is another question, but it's a question better suited to future instalments. For now, it's worth highlighting just how well this seemingly all over the place selection of soundtrack excerpts hangs together, disregarding what 'fits' in a humourless berk HERNing on a forum sense and concentrating on what 'fits' musically and indeed as just stuff you might be into. Something that The Tarantino Connection never quite managed.

So, that was This Is... Cult Fiction, a relatively by-the-book yet eminently listenable compilation that by ignoring its original theme developed a whole new theme of its own, and which, whether by accident or design (and it was probably a bit of both), managed to avoid falling into the usual small-minded post-Tarantino 'YER LIKE THIS' trap, and took the time and trouble to say 'ACTUALLY YER MIGHT QUITE LIKE THIS AS WELL'. Though when it came to a second volume, they changed what yer might quite like completely...