A friend was over at my house a couple of weeks ago and, while we were watching a movie, asked if I have a record player. I merely leaned forward a bit and pointed over him across the room, where my turntable sat beneath a box of Kleenex and my sophomore yearbook.
“Does it work?” he asked.
“Duh, of course,” I responded, because I’m an asshole.
I then proceeded to kneel beside the device, shuffling through all of my records and playing him snippets of songs from several of them. He got tastes of some of the best Led Zeppelin, ELO, Cars, Bee Gees and “Dueling Banjos” that I own. I couldn’t contain my excitement at the opportunity to show off all my favorite music to ears that had apparently NEVER HEARD AN ALBUM PLAYED ON A RECORD PLAYER BEFORE. Really, it was the only way to keep myself from dwelling on how obviously ancient I am.
As he looked through a stack of records, he pulled out one and exclaimed seemingly eagerly, “The The?!”
I responded in kind, thinking he must know who they are and be very thrilled that I have their 1983 album, Soul Mining, on vinyl. My excitement was brief, as he quickly admitted to not knowing of them. So I, of course, told him he’s probably heard them before because one of their songs (from the album he was holding, in fact!) had been featured at the end of “Empire Records,” only one of the greatest movies ever made of all time.
My heart sunk when he said he’d never seen the movie before either, to which I responded by reaching over to the shelf beside the record player and grabbing a videocassette of “Empire Records” to hand to him. I told him about how I made a list of goals on my 17th birthday of things I wanted to do by the time I was 18, and one of them was to watch “Empire Records” 50 times.
“That’s a lot of times,” he said.
It was, indeed.
The next thing I did was take Soul Mining out of its sleeve and set it on the turntable. I played him the song from the movie (or at least a bit of it) called “This is the Day.”
Though I don’t recall his reaction — because I was drunk and because I had entered full-on Music Obsessive Mode, meaning no matter what you say, I’m probably not paying attention because I’m in a whole other zone, buddy! — I assume it was something like a boner. With the twinkling crescendo of electronic keys, a recurring kick drum double-tap and of course the accordion in the forefront (yeah, an accordion, keep up), the song deserves a boner. Oh, and did I mention the handclaps?! There are handclaps! No wonder this is Rob Delaney‘s favorite band.
As you’re aware by now, I’ve seen “Empire Records” no less than 50 times. It was one of my very favorite films for the better half of my teenage years and made me dream that someday maybe I could work in a record store, too! Part of the film’s appeal was no doubt the several attractive males who starred in it. And absolutely the main reason why it appealed to us youngsters was its message against corporate conformity. Stand up for what you believe in, and you will get results. To this day, the mantra “Damn the man, save the Empire!” still means something to me.
But there was another thing very special about “Empire Records” that had a lasting impact on my life: Its soundtrack. From start to finish, the movie’s musical cues never stop being perfect, and taught me that music is so essential to proper filmmaking. The OST remains one of my favorite compilation albums of all time, with “Crazy Life” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Free” by the Martinis and Evan Dando’s cover of “The Ballad of El Goodo” to name a few. And that’s just what actually made the soundtrack. You’d have to look elsewhere to find recordings of Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” or “Little Bastard” by the Ass Ponies. And to many people’s dismay, even though a studio version of Coyote Shivers’ “Sugarhigh” appeared on the disc, it did not include “Say No More (Mon Amour)” by the fictional character Rex Manning.
Among these songs excluded from the CD release was the aforementioned “This is the Day.” The The The tune (ha!) led up to the closing credits, a poignant moment ending our tale of a day at the record store, and was in fact one of the most important songs in the bunch. It completely wraps everything up in an uplifting little package, almost as a message to your future self: “All the money in the world couldn’t buy back those days.” In just one day at Empire Records, everybody’s lives changed and fell into place, just like the song says. It’s those words that elevate “Empire Records” from wonderful movie to inspiration.