Various Artists – CBGB: Original Movie Soundtrack

Various Artists – CBGB: Original Movie Soundtrack
Omnivore Records
All Access Rating: B

Various artists - CBGB: Original Movie
Soundtrack 2013
So far, the critics haven’t been at all kind to the movie“CBGB.” Even though Television's Richard Lloyd and the Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome, both of whom have a long history with the iconic punk venue, have gone on record giving it their stamp of approval, others aren’t so enamored.

Their knives sharpened, the film’s detractors have crucified it, in fact. Actors were reportedly miscast for important roles or gave performances that were just plain flat. Inaccuracies are said to abound, at the very least compromising its authenticity. And these are just a few of the complaints.

Worst of all, there’s a sense that the filmmakers failed to go that extra mile to capture the explosive zeitgeist of the times or the energy of a place that was so vital in nurturing the innovation and raw fury of the nascent punk rock scene of New York City in the late 1970s, not to mention its propensity for good, dumb fun. The Ramones had a lot of it, and so did The Dictators.

If nothing else then, the Omnivore Records soundtrack has to be good, right? Well, yes and no. Taken out of context, without any regard for what actually took place at CBGB, this is a fine collection of riotous, vicious rock ‘n’ roll that provokes and agitates, with a pulse that simply races and lyrics that are poetic and unflinchingly honest. The tension of almost every track threatens to boil over at any point, even if stylistically speaking, there is a good amount of diversity. Whatever qualms people – especially the old punks “who were there” – have about the film, the track listing of the soundtrack offers at least some measure of salvation.

Containing all of 20 songs within its graffiti-splattered walls, it is not, by any means, an exhaustive survey of the trailblazing acts or performers who made CBGB their home. And some of the choices are predictable, but perhaps necessary, like the Talking Heads’ anxiety-ridden “Life during Wartime.” Exactly what the MC5’s wild-eyed “Kick Out the Jams” or The Stooges’ bad acid trip “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – both groundbreaking pieces of great significance and influence, no doubt – are doing here is up for debate, seeing as how the scene of the most memorable meltdowns from these Motor City proto-punks was probably the Grande Ballroom in Detroit.

In between such obvious and controversial selections, however, lies the true identity of CBGB, where the Tuff Darts’ gnarly, bull-in-a-china-shop manifesto “All for the Love of Rock ‘N’ Roll” knocks the martini glass out of the hand of Blondie’s sweet and stylish 2013 remake of the sunny and sophisticated “Sunday Girl.” What could be more CBGB than Wayne County and the Electric Chairs’ edgy, kinetic “Out of Control” sharing garish makeup tips with the New York Dolls’ gleefully obnoxious and thoroughly pugnacious “Chatterbox” or Television’s nervous art-pop tale of romantic bitterness “Careful” commiserating with Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers’ punched-up, soul-searing lament “All By Myself.” God, but the serrated guitars everywhere on this soundtrack cut you to the quick.

All of these songs bristle with frustrated energy just begging for an outlet. CBGB and its eccentric owner Hilly Kristal were only too happy to oblige the poetic vitriol and tortured self-loathing of “Blank Generation” by Richard Hell & the Voidoids, as well as The Dictators’ obscenely funny, amphetamine-fueled romp through The Rivieras’ classic rocker “California Sun.” Two songs by the Dead Boys, the snarling “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth” and the blazing arson that is “Sonic Reducer,” have a seat at CBGB’s table, as do the swaggering, hip-shaking garage-rockers “Slow Death” and “Psychotic Reaction,” by the Flamin’ Groovies and The Count Five, respectively.

Of course, they also made room for The Police, who played at CBGB just before they broke it big. Their super-tight, bubbling paean to a painted-prostitute “Roxanne” is part of the soundtrack, which, as many critics will undoubtedly say, could serve a musical textbook for any Punk Rock 101 class. It should have been much better though.

Although Joey Ramone’s bare-knuckled brawler “I Get Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” makes an appearance, how is there nothing from The Ramones as a whole here? And why give space to a Blondie remake of “Sunday Girl” when some other original from back in the band’s more subversively sexual heyday would have lent the set more heat? For that matter, who needs yet another chance to own “Kick out the Jams” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? Every winning choice and every unexpected surprise on the “CBGB” soundtrack is matched by another that’s completely baffling or gallingly superfluous. Give this to a kid who needs some real punk rock in his or her life, but tell them there was more to CBGB than this.
     Peter Lindblad


  1. Richard Hell despised the movie. Cheetah Chrome supports it because he participated in it. Richard Hell hasn't wasted his time commenting on the movie, but the one or two times he was asked in interviews he explained how pathetic the movie is.

    1. Sorry, you are right. I mean to say Richard Lloyd of Television. The change has been made.

  2. Jimi LaLumiaOctober 31, 2013

    Wayne County & The Electric Chairs!!!.. it gets no more NYC than that!!

    1. As New York as it gets, that's for sure. Great song, too!