Underrated and Under-appreciated Rock N’ Roll Films and Music Movies

Underrated and Under-appreciated Rock N’ Roll Films and Music Movies

There are of course dozens of great rock n roll films that we all agree are great. A Hard Day’s Night, This Is Spinal Tap, High Fidelity, Almost Famous, Blues Brothers and Walk The Line are all generally the rock n roll films that make “Greatest Music Movies” lists. So we aren’t going to bother with them here. Instead, we are going to be looking at the underappreciated rock n’ roll movies.

Some of our list just slipped by unnoticed by the wider audience. A few here were never destined to be any more than cult movies while it is a complete mystery as to who others never seem to get a look in. Many were panned, written off and derided. There’s some bananas dialogue (“I eat pussy, tonnes of it” from Rock Star being one of my particular favourite lines). There are action sequences (take a bow African-American Ace Frehley stunt double). Michael J Fox and Joan Jett get some proper acting on. Waynes World gives us more than just a few laughs and there is Ozzy as a crazy TV evangelist.

We think they are worth re-evaluation though. So this is not a “greatest movies” run down or any sort of definitive list, but we stand by the merits of them all (yes, even Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park).

There are no documentaries here as we will be dealing with those in a future post.

 

Slade In Flame

How many times do we have to scream it? SLADE IS NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS. We repeat, Slade is not just for Christmas. As Noddy Holder sits there lighting cigars with a wad of fifties, I doubt he really cares, but us fans do. Slade, that song aside, was a brilliant band. And if you are on the quest to find one of the finest British rock n’ roll films ever released, then Slade In Flame is a great place to start. Critics like BBC’s Mark Kermode would even happily remove the “one of” qualification. Shying away from their cheery Top Of The Pops loveable brickie-glamsters image, Slade In Flame went for a gritty take on the music business and absolutely nailed it. It was helped by a great script and Holder was better than anyone could possibly have imagined.

Pretty much every critic of note that bothered to see it loved it. Fans loved it too, but maybe that was the problem. The whole mid-70s British glam scene was as fickle as any fashion, so it wasn’t long before the wider public were lumping all glam acts in together, seeing them all as interchangeable. Bowie was the only one to escape artistically intact, and Bolan‘s reputation survived perversely because he didn’t. Slade and Sweet should have been able to climb out, but the dross of G**y Gl*tt*r, Mud, Alvin Stardust, Bay City Rollers, Showaddywaddy etc. was too much. They dragged down the entire genre – Slade in Flame too. Go and find it. Now. It’s the best film on this list.

 

Kiss Meet The Phantom Of The Park

All hail the Citizen Kane of theme park set movies featuring Kiss! Sold to Gene and Paul as “A Hard Day’s Night meets Star Wars“.  It turned out more Scooby Doo meets Battlefield Earth, but let’s not write it off just yet…

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No one is going to argue that this is a cinematic masterpiece or that it didn’t make the band look like idiots (other than Ace Frehley obviously as Ace is always awesome – Ack!) but Kiss Meet The Phantom Of The Park, just like the band themselves remains a part of rock folklore as a true pioneer. But just as in every other field, not every pioneering journey comes off. Not every experiment works. But without them, there would be no progress.

Kiss pushed the commercial boundaries of rock music (even if not always the aural ones) and television/film with Phantom Of The Park. It tested fan loyalty and helped shape how bands would engage with their audience in the future. So don’t write it off as a “so bad it’s good” midnight cult movie. Think of it as a crucial, if slightly troubled stage in the marriage between rock n’ roll and the movies.

 

Rock Star

Is Rock Star a good movie? Errr…. no, not really. Is it really silly and full of clichés? Yep. Does it have some truly dreadful performances? Hell yeah (Jason Bonham, we know you’re a drummer and not an actor, but we really are looking at you here). Is it even a faithful interpretation of its source story of Tim Ripper Owens joining Judas Priest? Not in the least – Judas Priest’s Ian Hill called it “a true work of fiction”. However, Hill also said that he still enjoyed it and that is why it makes our list.

Rock Star is really good fun and isn’t that enough of a reason to watch most films? For those of us that pranced around the back end of the 80s riding the nightrain, shouting at the devil and looking for nothin’ but a good time, this was exactly what we dreamed of happening. We too dreamed of getting plucked from obscurity and become an overnight rock star. Pah to the consequences. Double pah. We want groupies, fast cars, adoration and to live that rock n’ roll dream.

It had an authentic soundtrack and paid respect to the Metal genre by bringing in the likes of Bonham, Zakk Wylde and Jeff Pilson to play Steel Dragon as well as Miljenko Matijevic and Jeff Scott Soto to sing. Steel Dragon played to a Metallica gig was used to make sure that they got the concert scenes right, and they even went to the effort of getting in real life rock star wives/girlfriends to play the band’s wives and girlfriends – Vince Neil’s then-wife; Eric Carr’s long term partner and former Mrs Rod Stewart Rachel Hunter. Plus all these years on, it has a few lovely cameos of then-unknown stars like Myles Kennedy (“I’m Mike, but my friends call me Thor”) and Steel Panther’s Michael Starr. All this cost them a fortune, and it lost the studio gazillions of dollars. I don’t care though as I still enjoy watching it.

 

Waynes World

Wayne’s World is bloody funny, it’s full of iconic scenes, has a cracking soundtrack, cool cameos, and it still holds up today. So why is Wayne’s World nowhere to be found in lists of great music movies? No idea. Actually, I have a few theories, but none of us really know for sure what on earth goes on inside the heads of Rolling Stone and Empire hacks.

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My guess though is snobbery. Much like the Bill and Ted movies, Wayne’s World is a music film for the fans. Sure, it was popular way beyond those of us that got all the in-jokes and understood who Alice Cooper was, but those on the outside would never really got it. They thought it was laughing at rock fans, but no, it was laughing with us. I remember going to see it at the cinema and being upset by all the “regular” people there. Get lost, this is our film.

 

 

Rock N Roll High School

Of course, no one is actually rude about Rock N’ Roll High School. Hey, it has Ramones in it and therefore being rude about Ramones is a capital offence (or at least it should be). In fact, most people that have seen it love the absurdity of it. But that is why it is here, because “most people” in this case totals fewer people than think Donald Trump should be the next James Bond. It had the great pre-John Hughes take on education that we loved about Porkies and Animal House. It added the anarchy of Airlplane!, the camp of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and took the rock n roll movie rebellion that Grease wished it had and dialled it all the way up.

 

Detroit Rock City

That’s impressive work from Gene $immon$ to make another appearance on our rock n roll films list. However, it is sadly with another film that’s Wikipedia entry includes the lines “it was a box office bomb” and “The film has a cult following from rock fans”. But hey, it was Kiss’s money, and they are hardly skint.

When we posted the poster on Instagram, people were all over it, raving about how much they loved it. It is easy to see why, because while t is tough not to be cynical about anything involving old uncle Gene, but there is a real love to Detroit Rock City. Its faithful recreation of the era owes much to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, as well as to Kevin Smith and it’s more obvious ancestors, but with the added fun of a full on 70s teen road trip. Naturally, the Kiss concert finale is aimed squarely at the Kiss Army, but as a nostalgic good time movie its a (black) diamond.

 

Airheads

Ahh, 1994. Those were the days. Brendon Fraser was box office dynamite. Radio stations still had DJs that played music, and you could make rock n roll films rather than just a 3-minute videos for $11million. But now it is 2019 and I’m guessing Airheads wouldn’t be made today – what with hijacking and hostages being generally frowned upon as sources of comedy. Newspapers than the achingly woke will tell us it will give people ideas. Silly me, I just thought it was a really fun movie with the rarest of rare cinematic tropes… a watchable Adam Sandler performance.  At times the concept does seem a little thing, but like Rock Star, does that really matter when it is this fun to watch and the soundtrack is this cool?

 

Light of Day

Michael J Fox, Joan Jett, bar bands, dreams of stardom and a title track written by Bruce Springsteen. Behind both the script and the camera was Paul Schrader, the genius that wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Surely this is music movie gold? A young and then unknown Trent Reznor gets a cameo, and he only ever does good stuff. Even the critics raved about it. What’s not to like? And yet it never ever features in lists of music movies because…? No one ever mentions it in conversation about good music movies. No one even mentions it when talking about bad ones. Hell, it doesn’t even get a look in when the willfully obscure get going about cult movies.

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As for the film itself, granted, it is hardly a laugh riot. Its downbeat themes of blue-collar America struggling with recession are unexpectedly tough at times. Joan Jett puts in a really strong performance. One that pretty much no one other than her and Kenny Laguna would have expected. Jett plated a troubled single mother opposite Michael J Fox’s the first attempt to from teen heartthrob to serious actor. Light Of Day’s place in Fox’s career is the only real explanation for what held it back. His previous two movies were peak 80s MJF – Back To The Future and Teen Wolf and within a matter of weeks of Light of Day wrapping, he was back in familiar territory with Secret Of My Success.

 

Trick Or Treat

Were you a metalhead that frequented low rent video shop in the 80s? If not, then this story of a kid haunted by the ghost of a rock star will mean nothing to you. But in the mid to late 80s when the rest of world was obsessing over Tom Cruise movies, all us patch wearing rivet heads were watching this on repeat.

Why? Is “Trick or Treat” a lost treasure or a forgotten music movie classic waiting to be rediscovered? No, even as bad rock n roll films go, it was bloody awful. But it had Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons in it and a belter of a metal soundtrack. It didn’t need anything else. That made it “our” movie. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of drinking Thunderbird in the park with your mates. You know that you aren’t drinking the finest Bordeaux, but you don’t care because you are with you pals. You are listening to great tunes and getting off your face. So don’t watch Trick Or Treat because you want to see a great horror movie. Just call up all your old pals; find a few bottles of Thunderbird and remember the good times.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

Timing can everything and so it proved for Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Had it come out just a couple of years earlier it would have been seen as a punk masterpiece. A decade later and it would have been lauded as a pioneer of the Riot Grrrl movement. As it was, in 1982 punk was seen as old hat and the kids weren’t rioting anymore. Such a shame as Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains was a belter of a movie, so much better than many of the films that punk left behind and had anyone actually noticed at the time, it would have been a direct access bridge from The Runaways, X-Ray Spex, and Siouxsie Sioux to Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

 

Bonus entry: Killing Bono

OK, I’ve never seen it, but it has a great title. However, I fear that its title may be cinematic clickbait that can’t possibly live up to its billing as a great music movie. So I have no idea if it is actually worth watching.

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