When I was a kid, comps and soundtracks were an essential part of growing your musical taste. They were good ways to find out about new bands, and in the case of the soundtrack – a cash cow for the movie studios. (I’d put money on “Kiss from a Rose” and “Gangsta’s Paradise” adding a few million to Batman Forever and Dangerous Minds’ gross due to their associations).
Nowadays, with single songs averaging a little over buck a piece online, the mixtape-style soundtrack is basically a dead art. (Okay, so there’s Guardians of the Galaxy’s Awesome Mix but other than that, dead)
But in the 90s, we were treated to a number of cool, and a little bit weird, soundtracks. Dumb and Dumber’s mix of alt pop and novelty and the surprisingly eclectic Clueless come to mind as standouts from this era. But hands down, the best soundtrack was for a relatively obscure little film called Angus.
I remember very little about the plot of the film, but I’ve played the soundtrack enough times that the spoken word intro to Ash’s “Jack Names the Planets” is more familiar to me that the words to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
In fact, I wore out my cassette copy, upgraded to CD, and when that was scratched from too many bumpy summer drives blasting it front to back, I went digital. And when technology reaches the point where we can download songs directly to our brains, I’ll make the rare quadruple dip and buy it one more time. It’s just that good.
I think I love the Angus soundtrack so much because it works as a perfect snapshot of a very particular period of time, my personal favorite period in popular music. Grunge had started to fade, we weren’t quite in the boyband era yet and jangly, earnest and, most of all, fun punk-influenced rock was ready for its moment in the sun.
Following the explosion in popularity of Green Day a year prior to the soundtrack’s release, Green Day’s parent label Warner Bros was eager to capitalize on the band and exploit what they thought would be the sound to replace grunge (they weren’t wrong, though it was more of the Epitaph sound that really took hold in 1995).
So Green Day managers Elliot Cahn and Jeff Saltzman were put in charge of picking the lineup for the soundtrack, which included Green Day themselves, Tilt, Weezer, Dance Hall Crashers and Love Split Love, a side project of Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler.
Not surprisingly, most people, myself included, picked up the comp just for the Green Day song. Following up a massive, multi-platinum success like Dookie is no easy feat and, man, did Green Day ever deliver here. “J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva)” was written by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt and was a scrapped track from the band’s Dookie sessions. It’s still my favorite Green Day song, and it has everything that made vintage Green Day so great, namely a killer bass line and a particularly memorable drum performance by Tre Cool.
Next to Green Day, Weezer was the biggest band on the soundtrack at the time of its release and like Green Day, they used the spot to produce one of their best songs, a near perfect 2 minutes of sugary powerpop goodness in “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly.” The heavy use of keyboard makes me think then-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp had a strong hand in writing it, as it bears more of a resemblance to his work fronting The Rentals than anything else Weezer has done up to that point.
Green Day got their start on independent label Lookout! Records and for Angus, they brought along old labelmates for some of the soundtrack’s strongest takes. Riverdales, the post-Screeching Weasel project from Ben Weasel, slow things down with “Back to You,” a song that is reminiscent of Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Pansy Division, who also opened for Green Day on their Dookie tour, channel The Smiths with the moody riffs of “Deep Water,” a song that sounds like it could have been written by Johnny Marr.
Based on this soundtrack, Ash seems like the best band Lookout! never signed. Their buzzsaw riffs sound like they’d be at home on Green Day’s Kerplunk and their vocal melodies remind me a lot of Scott-era ALL. Ash contributes two songs, with “Kung Fu” as the standout. It’s an exceptionally catchy track, with a chorus of “who oh ohs” that drill themselves into your head on first listen and allow anyone to sing along.
If a two minute ode to martial arts films isn’t you’re thing, the soundtrack takes a 180 with Smoking Popes, whose heartfelt lyrics on the melodic “Mrs. You and Me” are so sincere they’d make Linus van Pelt blush. And if that’s not your thing, you’ve got The Muffs more sardonic take on love with “Funny Face,” the song’s slower tempo allowing frontwoman Kim Shattuck’s wonderfully scratchy vocals room to shine.
My fondest memory of Angus was discovering the Goo Goo Dolls with their contribution, “Ain’t It Unusual.” It might surprise some to see Goo Goo Dolls in the mix, but at this point, 9 years in their career, they were knee-deep in Replacements worship and “Ain’t It Unusual” is like the best song Paul Westerberg never wrote. I became obsessed, tracking down all their older, punk-influenced jams. The lyrics are about critical love not turning into mainstream success, which is kind of funny considering the success they’d enjoy a few years later. And even with the latter day success, I still think this is the best performance of their career.
If you want a snapshot of one of the best periods in popular music, hear some deeper cuts from your favorite bands or discover a few new-to-you artists ( I certainly discovered a few lifelong favorites here), you can’t go wrong with the Angus soundtrack.
“J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva)” – Green Day
“Jack Names the Planets” – Ash
“Enough” – Dance Hall Crashers
“Kung Fu” – Ash
“Back to You” – Riverdales
“Mrs. You and Me” – Smoking Popes
“You Gave Your Love to Me Softly” – Weezer
“Ain’t That Unusual” – Goo Goo Dolls
“Funny Face” – The Muffs
“White Homes” – Tilt
“Deep Water” – Pansy Division
“Am I Wrong” – Love Spit Love
If you want to give the ‘Angus’ soundtrack a spin for yourself, check out our Spotify playlist below (unfortunately, the Riverdales and Pansy Division tracks are currently unavailable). ‘Angus’ alumnus The Muffs will also be playing in Vegas at this year’s Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival. Tickets for that can be purchased from the PRB website.