The great Led Zeppelin fantasy draft

Young Zeppelin

On Nov. 18, the Music or Space Shuttle? boys joined honorary MoSS? brother Travis for an evening of Led Zeppelin love at Donnelly’s Pub (the Music or Space Shuttle? Iowa City office). What we did was similar to this past summer’s Smashing Pumpkins “draft”: compile the best playlist of Zep tunes. Rather than having a traditional draft, we decided this time we’d put the songs on the auction block. Everyone would have a shot at songs, assuming they could budget accordingly. So armed with 100 credits and some drinks, sliders, and wings, we took turns tossing out tunes and creating 10-song playlists.

Here’s how it played out. Consider each guy’s recap and click the links at the bottom to have your say (or feel free to comment here on the blog).

Todd’s Draft Notes (a.k.a. In My Time of Drafting)

What was my drafting strategy for this time around? I’d like to say I walked into the drafting room like at the Smashing Plant 4 Pumpkins draft, unprepared but confident and loose. No, I studied for this one. The two days prior to drafting, I listened to Led Zep non-stop, choosing favorite songs and thinking about possible themes for a good set list. Should I go with the hits? Should I go with the bluesy stuff? Should I focus on one album? Maybe I’ll just take songs that reference The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Basically, I was rocking the fuck out of my cubicle at work. I’m usually quiet as a church mouse and keep to myself at the office so coworkers were taken aback by the braggadocio I exuded while strutted around my workspace like Robert Plant. There’s just something about Led Zeppelin that brings out that inner rock n’ roll god attitude.

So yeah, I had a few strategies. The only thing I didn’t have a plan for was the drafting method. We decided on an auction style draft this time. That meant that everyone had a chance to take any song as long as they bid the highest. With that knowledge I knew I didn’t want to get into some crazy bidding war on one song and screw myself out of good songs later in the draft by blowing a huge portion of my $100 limit.

With my first chance to bid, I started off with one of the songs at the top of my favorites list, “Ramble On.” I thought this may be a bid heavy song but luckily I got it for $15. Not too bad. It was early and we were all getting a feel for the auction process. Plus, I figured I could make up the deficit with some deep cuts later.

Sam was up next. He chose “The Rain Song,” the song I had highlighted as the one with the highest potential for crazy bidding. Every Zeppelin fan loves that song and I knew that my Main-MoSS?-Man Chris REALLY loves that song. Sam started the bidding low and we quickly went around the table driving the price further and further up. Once the bidding was in the teens Travis and I bailed out. Sam and Chris continued bidding until Sam finally won with a $40 bid. It’s a great tune but I’m sure Sam will admit that his now very limited budget severely hampered his future drafting. I think Chris teared up a bit when he finally gave up and lost. Maybe it was just from of the hot sauce on the chicken wings he was eating during the draft. Who’s to say?

For my second bid opportunity I chose “The Wanton Song.” I’ve always loved that song, mainly because of the percussion. It’s your typical John Bonham power drumming but I love all the little fills that he throws in during the choruses. No one else in the draft must have cared for Wanton as much as me because I won the bid with a thrifty $5. I now had two songs at an average of $10 a piece. Right on pace.Bonham

My third song purchased was “That’s the Way.” I friggin’ love that tune. I had it pegged as my “Must Have Song.” If I was going to really overpay for a song, this was it. To my shock I won the bidding without a struggle. I bought it for the low-low price of $10. Still right on pace.

I went with that strategy for the rest of the draft, taking songs at or below the $10 mark. The only song that I went over $10 with was “Bring It On Home,” the last song on Led Zeppelin II. I really wanted it for my set list closer. $15 was a small price to pay in my opinion. Especially since after that I picked up some absolute bargains:

“Your Time Is Gonna Come” for $10
“Friends” for $6
“Over the Hills and Far Away” for $11
“Immigrant Song” for $3
“Kashmir” $11
“Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” for $1

All of those kick-ass songs and I ended with a $13 surplus. The U.S. government could take a lesson from my frugal spending habits. Although, there was a small to medium sized controversy surrounding my last pick.

I had one song left to select and still had $14 remaining. I looked at my draft board (my iPhone) and saw 3-4 songs I would have been more than happy to have as my 10th selection. The song that caught my attention most was “In My Time of Dying,” a bluesy slide guitar filled song from Physical Graffiti. I started the bidding at $1. From Sam’s reaction at my choice, I got the impression this song was on his draft board as well. With his limited funds I thought he was struggling with whether or not to bid. Being a fairly good sport, I decided that if he bid I would just let him have the song. Then I realized he was really just bidding to get me out of the draft. My thrifty drafting of killer tunes was getting on his nerves. So he threw out a bid of $13 on the hopes I would counter with $14. He would concede and I would be out of the draft. Well that wasn’t going to happen. Like I said earlier, if he bid I was going to let him have it, only this bid was well over the song’s value and would further dip into his already minimal budget. Sportsmanship went out the window as I said, ”You can have it.” Sam was not thrilled. I’m wondering how his version of this event will go. (He swears a lot yet defends the hell out of it. –ed.) Anyways, after the dust cleared and my next turn came up I bid on and won the song “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” for $1. I’ve always loved the guitars on that one and it fit well in an already Led Zeppelin III-heavy set list.

Plant 1Was it a perfect draft? No. Did I walk away happy? Definitely. I only lost out on one song that I really coveted, “How Many More Times.” Chris and I had a small bidding war on that one. I gave up after $16. Seems silly now after leaving the draft with money on the table. Live and learn, I guess. I did really enjoy the auction style draft and hope we incorporate it in future fantasy playlist events. So after all that, here is my set list. I didn’t really have to spend much time tinkering with the song order. Like I wrote above, the list is a bit Led Zeppelin III heavy, so of course I open with the first two songs from that album. The rest sort of fell into place after that. Give it a spin. Careful not to get too crazy if you’re listening at work. Most workplaces will only tolerate a small amount of rock n’ roll machismo. Too much and someone will surely alert Human Resources.

 

 

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Team Travis (a.k.a. My Girlfriend Made Me Buy That One Song)

I am a music fan, and I am also a fan of making lists about music. So, when Chris approached me to join the MoSS? Led Zeppelin song auction…fuck yeah, I’m in.

I went into Donnelly’s Pub that night with a pretty good idea of the playlist I wanted, but I figured that with songs this good and three other guys with music tastes very similar to mine, I would face a battle for most of these.

The highlights from my perspective:

  1. Zeppelin acoustic“Going to California.” My favorite Led Zeppelin song, it’s just beautiful. Great Jimmy Page acoustic guitar. Outstanding lyrics. Just perfect. I was gonna go “all in.” As luck would have it, I won the roshambo match to see who started first, and I was not fucking around! The bids go around the table and…what? I just got “Going to California” for 10 credits? What just happened? I didn’t see that smooth victory coming. Little did the other guys know that they could have bankrupted me and left me with a playlist full of “South Bound Saurezes” and “Candy Store Rocks.”
  1. “When the Levee Breaks.” My second-favorite Zeppelin song. The thunderous drums, the slide guitar, and that harmonica that sounds like a freight train stuffed full of demons rolling through. That song has always had a Midwest, blue collar feel to me. I love it, and had to have it. I had a little more opposition with the bids, but I won it for 20 credits. Sweet, I’m off to a kick-ass start!
  1. It got bluesy up in here. I managed to score “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Tea For One,” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” I’ve heard a lot of people say Led Zeppelin stole from the old blues artists; I say I don’t give a fuck—they did it better every time. If you’ve ever been 10 beers deep, put on a dim red light, and listened to “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” you know where I’m coming from.
  1. “No Quarter.” That riff. That tone. ’Nuff said.
  1. I was very happy I was able to score both “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Thank You.” Two great songs that are perfect for rounding out a Zeppelin mix between the rocking and the beautiful.
  1. “Heartbreaker.” I needed a rocker, and I got one. That opening riff just screams Led Zeppelin. A perfect rocking addition to my playlist.
  1. “All My Love.” OK, could I have gone for “Black Dog” at this point? Maybe “In The Evening”? Both good tunes that hadn’t been picked yet. Maybe “Gallows Pole”? Nope! I was instructed by my girlfriend before I left that I must have “All My Love.” We like that song. It has a special place. (She also demanded I get “Immigrant Song” because she is part-Viking, but I passed on that one.)

All in all, I think I made a fucking solid list…as did the other three guys. That’s the great thing about Led Zeppelin: you can make a kickass 40 song playlist. In retrospect I should have bid harder for “Dazed and Confused” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” As much as my playlist rocks, it’s missing those two songs. “Kashmir” also would have been a very welcome addition.

My biggest takeaway from the auction: I’ll admit, I never really gave “The Rain Song” a chance before. Chris and Sam went head to head for that song, and it wound up being the most expensive song of the night, ending at 40 credits. I thought, “Am I missing something here?” I went home and listened to it with a different set of ears, and I understand now. The slow build. The almost weather-sounding guitar licks. Then the glorious climax that is almost like the sun coming out after a storm. There’s just something about that moment when a song you’ve heard a million times finally makes sense. As Todd stated after many of the songs got put on the auction table: “Oooh, that’s a good one.”

Also, it was fun watching Sam give himself an ulcer.

#####

Team Sam: “Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Please Remove Your Gallows Pole From My Ass)”

I was 14 when Led Zeppelin entered my life. Seems young, but I already felt old. I was (happily) buried up to my eyeballs in pretty much nothing but thrash metal at that point, with a few lingering vestiges of the hair bands clinging for dear life. And for some reason, I fought it when my pal Scott Boone tried forcing this dinosaur band down my throat. In hindsight … um, why exactly? This band is the friggin’ foundation of every band I loved. He lent me his cassette of Led Zeppelin I, and it sat on my speaker for months. Months. I finally listened. Yeah OK, it was pretty good.

Then I heard IV. And II. Holy. Shit. Then he gave me Houses of the Holy, and it was the only album I listened to for months.

Oh yeah … Boone ended up becoming a priest. He spent time in the Vatican. He’s hung out with the Pope. Yeah, there’s some knowledge and influence there. Probably shoulda listened sooner. I’m sorry, padre. Please forgive me of my sins. Send up a good word for me.

I set out to make him proud in this draft. Piece of cake.

I boned up and created cheat sheats when we did the Pumpkins draft. But this one? No prep work. Why would I need to study? This is Led Zeppelin we’re talking about. The catalog is incredible, but it’s not vast. I knew my must-have list. This would be easy.

Wrong.

The Pumpkins snake draft had been easy, but I hadn’t even considered for a second what adding a fourth person to the mix would mean. And the bidding format? The fact that everyone had a shot at every song? Fuck. I didn’t know it, but I was in for a long night.

Pick #1: The Rain Song

This was Chris and me the first time we listened to “The Rain Song” together in 1998.

This was a no-brainer. The only song going into the draft I knew I had to have. And I knew it would be a fight. I knew Chris loved it as much as I did. It was going to be a bloodbath.

The mistake was not waiting. I should have let a few rounds pass until I got a feel for the bidding. But instead, I figured “let’s get this out of the way right now.” Patience is a virtue … I wish I had remembered that.

I put it up fourth overall, the first time the pick was mine was to make. Todd and Travis didn’t even bother and got out almost immediately as bidding jumped by increments of five. Neither guy was backing down.

Eventually, I said $38. Chris countered with $39. Was I really ready to spend $40 on one song? I was ready to begrudgingly bug out.

But it was “The Rain Song.” Much as I tried, I physically could not stop. I said $40. I swear to God, if Chris had said $41, I was out. But he was the one who couldn’t pull the trigger. I had won.

In the greater scheme of things, turns out I probably didn’t. With all the ammo he saved, Chris went on to draft a playlist for the ages. Meanwhile, I was Mike Ditka trading my whole draft class to pick Ricky Williams. Almost half my credits were gone. On one song.

Let’s make one thing clear right now: that’s not a knock on “The Rain Song.” Sweet fucking Christ, no. It’s eight minutes of musical perfection. It’s easily my favorite Led Zeppelin song of all time. And it’s probably in my top five songs ever created by man.

It’s just a very hard song to build a draft around. I would just have to find a way. With food stamps, apparently.

Pick #2: Tangerine

After the shock had worn off, I had to soldier on. I watched helplessly as song after song I coveted slipped out of my grasp. But I couldn’t let “Tangerine” go without a fight. My favorite song off of III (almost neck and neck with “That’s The Way,” which I later found out was Todd’s must-have. I didn’t have the ammunition to fight for it so he got it for fucking peanuts).

The good news? I got “Tangerine.” The bad news? It cost $12. I now only had $48 to spend on my last eight songs – a scant $6 per song. I wasn’t optimistic.

But I’d worry about it later. “Tangerine” was worth the risk, since it’s the soundtrack to the perfect epilogue of one of my top five favorite movies of all time, Almost Famous:

Pick #4: In My Time of Dying

By the time I acquired a deep-cut favorite (“Out on the Tiles”) with my third pick, everyone else was eight or nine deep. It was ridiculous. Todd had filled his first nine slots and still had $14 left. He put “In My Time of Dying,” the 11-minute epic from Physical Graffiti, on the board. After a very solid draft, it would’ve been the perfect closing pick for him. And for me to navigate the rest of the draft on the cheap, I need him out. I didn’t have my heart set on the tune, so I wanted to make sure he took it. We both win, right?

The problem is that I was on tilt from losing so many of my coveted songs, causing my admittedly dumb ass to actually announce this plan OUT LOUD at the table. And instead of jumping in with a low bid, I immediately bid $13, meaning Todd could go to $14 and finish up strong.

Instead, he says “take it.”

Motherfucker. I’m convinced he did it just to see me melt down. If that’s the case, he succeeded.

Even worse, he takes “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” – one of the more annoying songs in the Led Zeppelin catalog (seriously, it’s on par with “Hot Dog”) – for a dollar, finishing with a surplus of 13 imaginary dollars, which he can use to finance his trip to the land of fucking make-believe, climbing rainbows and hunting leprechauns while mounted on his flying unicorn. Meanwhile, I had spent $70 on four songs.

The next day when I was assembling my final playlist, I realized I was an idiot for being mad about this. Why? Because of his majesty, Sir John Fucking Bonham.

There’s a reason why every kid who picks up a set of drumsticks wants to be this guy. This is the king’s showcase tune. And for anyone still doubting this, skip ahead to the 3:45 mark. The timing of a metronome, yet he still hits really fucking hard. The footwork … no double bass drum. All with one foot. Unbelievable. I can’t believe I was pissed. I got lucky.

So Todd, enjoy the hillbilly romp with your last pick. If you’d stuck to your guns, your playlist might’ve rivaled Chris.

I thought I was the one who fucked up. Turns out it was you. Idiot.

(Did you write this part after the Odell Beckham catch or something? –ed.)

(Yes. Yes, I did. Too obvious? — Sam)

* * * * *

I ended up sailing through the rest of the draft somewhat painlessly. I jumped in on a few songs just to drive the price up on Travis and Chris and give myself some breathing room. I scooped up a few of my favorite deeper cuts like “The Battle of Evermore” and “Down by the Seaside” for pennies, and scored “The Song Remains the Same” to be my closer (even though it’s actually an album opener).

Also, here’s some random notes on a few of my picks:

Pick #9: The Ocean

“I think her name is Lucy but they all call her Loose …”

I was into the Beastie Boys before I knew Zeppelin. It’s only fair to acknowledge that here:

Speaking of which …

Pick #7: Good Times Bad Times

Like I said, I was buried in thrash metal before I discovered the Zep. This is a perfect example of me needing to pay better attention back then, because there was a (short) time when I didn’t know this was a cover:

Pick #3: Out on the Tiles

Zeppelin has always been accused of, ahem, “liberally borrowing” from the great old blues legends. But what about the bands that liberally borrow from them? There’s a pretty cool new band out there called Rival Sons, and when I caught the video for their song “Pressure and Time” on the new 120 Minutes a while back, its main riff sounded vaguely familiar

Pick #10: Custard Pie

With everyone’s boards full, the guy that at one time only had $48 to pick eight songs now had $17 left to pick two songs unopposed. Christ. I went with the aforementioned “The Ocean” first.

There were some very well-known tunes left in the pool for the final pick in the draft. “Black Dog.” “Rock and Roll.” “Communication Breakdown.” “Fool in the Rain.” “Achilles Last Stand.”

But as a guy burned out on the band’s populist tunes ruined by classic rock radio, I wasn’t interested. In fact, I would’ve given up a spot and paid my cohorts to NOT infect our draft with “D’yer Mak’er.” Thankfully, that was unnecessary.

(And my sincerest apologies, Booner, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on “The Crunge.” The image of you dancing in those bell-bottomed maroon sweatpants of yours wasn’t enticing enough. I guess we’ll never find that confounded bridge, padre.)

Instead, I picked this one, the opener from Physical Graffiti, mainly because the version that Page played with the Black Crowes kicks all kinds of ass:

* * * * *

I won’t lie: When we were done, I was disappointed with my list and thought it was pretty clear that Chris had dominated the draft. Because I went for “The Rain Song” way too early, before I had figured out a gameplan, Travis (“Thank You”), Todd (“Your Time is Gonna Come” and “That’s the Way”), and Chris (“Ten Years Gone”) all got songs I coveted without much of a fight, and I never stood a chance when heavy hitters like “When the Levee Breaks,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Stairway To Heaven” were up for grabs.

But thankfully, as I listened to my final assembled playlist aboard an elliptical machine at my gym, I had an epiphany.

In what fucking universe was my list bad?

It has my favorite Zeppelin song of all time. It has another top five song. It has a signature Bonham song. It has a whole gaggle of songs that I’ve absolutely loved for decades.

Most importantly, it has a bunch of killer tunes that haven’t been buried by overexposure on classic rock radio. I grew up in Marshalltown listening to FM 95 KGGO – (Skynyrd! Boston! Eagles! Only Back in Black and that’s it by AC/DC! Clapton’s absolute worst!) – and you heard the same Zeppelin songs. All. The. Time. So as good as Chris’ list is, I’ve heard “Whole Lotta Love” and “Misty Mountain Hop” and even “Stairway to Heaven” enough.

If I wanted to initiate a novice to the band, I’d pick his list, sure. But if I wanted to show a budding fan what lies beneath, I think I’d pick mine over Travis and Todd’s lists. I might just feel differently tomorrow, but that’s how I feel as I write this. That’s because all four lists effing rule. ALL of them. But if you’re ready to take a deeper dive, grab a vest and start here.

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Team Chris (a.k.a. Sara M Knows a Winner When She Sees One)

I spent most of the week before our Led Zep extravaganza in Atlanta with two of my favorite co-workers (and two of my favorite people, period), where we ate, drank, ate, watched Interstellar, ate, drank, ate grits, drank, watched The Breakfast Club, ate, and drank things named “Buttery Nipple,” “Naked Girl Scout,” and “The Wet Spot.” And we went to sessions and workshops on higher education communication when we had time.

One particular night before we went out, Sara M fired up a YouTube video of Led Zep performing in 1969, tearing through a handful of tunes from the debut album. We had recently talked about Led Zeppelin I‘s place in the band’s album hierarchy; I argued it was fourth-best at best, while she said it belonged among the very best. And seeing these young kids (Plant and Bonham were 20 at most at the time) go to work, I suddenly realized she might be correct. (She usually is.)

Anyway, I went into our Led Zep playlist auction fresh off this awakening. And it kinda shows in my playlist, or perhaps the amount of money I spent on the three songs I bought from the debut album.

Going in, I had five songs I really wanted: “The Rain Song” (this has been covered above, I believe), “Ten Years Gone,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and “How Many More Times.”

success-lolFour out of five = success. Consider: Meat Loaf says a 66.6666666666666667% rate of success ain’t bad, so I am confident that 80% isn’t too shabby.

“Whole Lotta Love” was my introduction to Led Zeppelin, courtesy of my dad’s vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin II. It was like something out of Almost Famous: young teen, over-the-ear headphones, dark bedroom, and genuine intrigue. It was amazing to hear the song swirl around the headphones. Song will always hold a lofty spot for me.

I enjoyed the fight for a couple of these songs (“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “How Many More Times”). They both went a bit above the average price ($18 and $16) but money well spent. I also respected Sam’s determination to get our shared favorite song.

The cool thing, aside from getting the best playlist of the bunch (speaking objectively, of course), is that our personal “quirky” songs were exposed through low-bid wins. Mine: “Four Sticks” for $1 and “Bron-Yr-Aur” for $3. I once suggested our football team take the field to “Four Sticks” (request denied); I think it would have been pretty fucking intimidating. And “Bron-Yr-Aur” is a couple of minutes of beauty. Todd got his with “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” and Travis landed “Tea for One” for $1. Sam got a couple as well, although he had to go up to $4 to keep “Down By the Seaside” off my list.

The biggest surprise was my acquisition of three songs from Led Zeppelin IV, especially “Stairway to Heaven.” But as songs went off the board, I realized that those overplayed tunes on IV are overplayed for a reason: they’re pretty fuckin’ good (like a $5 milkshake, one might say). And I must admit, listening to “Stairway” always takes me back to my football days, sitting in front of my locker, cranking the last two minutes of that tune through my Walkman earphones and feeling like I could run through a wall. Not because the lyrical content would inspire one to do that; not because the song goes at 200 bpm. I think it was the crescendo effect of an epic song. And for $12, why not add it to the list.

I couldn’t wait to get back to work the next day and blare my playlist for my officemate…the aforementioned Sara M. She approved, with a sly wink toward “all the Led Zeppelin I on here.”

Yeah, yeah…

#####

Auction recap

(listed in order of acquisition; winning bid in parentheses)

Travis

  • Going to California (10)
  • When the Levee Breaks (20)
  • Tea for One (1)
  • Thank You (17)
  • No Quarter (11)
  • Since I’ve Been Loving You (16)
  • Heartbreaker (8)
  • I Can’t Quit You Baby (3)
  • What Is and What Should Never Be (7)
  • All My Love (1)

Chris

  • Whole Lotta Love (20)
  • Dazed and Confused (10)
  • How Many More Times (16)
  • Four Sticks (1)
  • Ten Years Gone (16)
  • Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (18)
  • Stairway to Heaven (12)
  • Dancing Days (1)
  • Bron-Yr-Aur (3)
  • Misty Mountain Hop (3)

Todd

  • Ramble On (15)
  • The Wanton Song (5)
  • That’s the Way (10)
  • Your Time Is Gonna Come (10)
  • Bring It On Home (15)
  • Friends (6)
  • Over the Hills and Far Away (11)
  • Immigrant Song (3)
  • Kashmir (11)
  • Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp (1)

Sam

  • The Rain Song (40)
  • Tangerine (12)
  • Out on the Tiles (5)
  • In My Time of Dying (13)
  • The Battle of Evermore (1)
  • The Song Remains the Same (5)
  • Good Times Bad Times (3)
  • Down By the Seaside (4)
  • The Ocean (1)
  • Custard Pie (1)

What song would you have broken the bank to get? What song(s) should have made our lists? And is there a clear winner among the four playlists? Sound off in the comments, or have your say on our Facebook page. Or yell at us on Twitter.

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Great moments in music history: The Flash Gordon soundtrack

QueenI caught a matinee of Interstellar yesterday, yet another excellent effort from Christopher Nolan. But the movie itself isn’t what struck a nerve. No, it was a musical cue that lasted for all of about two seconds during one of the film’s climactic scenes and wound up being a false alarm.

I won’t spoil the film for anyone, but as Mr. McConaughey’s [redacted] [redacted] into [redacted], I swear the film’s score, for about a millisecond, sounded just like the well-synthesized section of “In the Space Capsule,” the love theme from that other cinematic sci-fi masterpiece, Flash Gordon.

I wouldn’t have thought too much about it, but I’ve had Queen on the brain ALL weekend. After I got off work late Friday night, I came home to find Queen Live Montreal playing on Palladia at 3 in the morning. It was majestic, and it just reminded me of how I wish I could’ve been a teenager in the late ’70s so I could have seen this band in all its cinematic glory. Alas, it was not to be. Rest in peace, Freddie Mercury.

Soundtrack coverBut for a band with enough stadium-rocking anthems … that will, that will … rock you, it was their soundtrack to a cheesy sci-fi movie that came out when I was in first grade that was mind-altering.

I was 7 years old when that movie came out, and I’m fairly certain my mom’s best friend Kathy took my brother and me to see it on opening night. And considering a 7-year-old hasn’t quite developed a Gene Siskel-esque eye for fine cinema, I pretty much thought it was the greatest fucking movie I had ever seen that didn’t have the words “Star” or “Wars” or “Pete’s” or “Dragon” in the title. It wasn’t until I was much older – ninth grade or so – that I rode my bike out to the mall and rented it on VHS and realized it was a piece of shit.

But what an entertaining piece of shit!

1980 Flash Gordon Football Trading CardI mean, when I was 7, I was just captivated by the landscapes that pretty much looked like a bowl of water with a bunch of swirled food coloring. And spaceships!. And lizard men with their eyeballs in their mouths! And dudes with blue blood! And green blood! And Hawkmen!

(Something that I didn’t realize was hilarious until much, much later: the character Flash Gordon was the star quarterback of the New York Jets. I like to imagine him as the heir apparent to Joe Namath, but then he suddenly vanished from the face of the earth, which means they STILL drafted Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino in the ’83 draft. Even in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, the Jets still suck.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized what was actually appealing were the chicks. The planet Mongo had a thing for draping all its royalty in pink spandex (or less). Better to be comfortable and sexy than regal.

Princess Aura

This is what I was too young to appreciate at age 7

 

Clearly, in the year 4000, we will have shag carpet from ceiling to floor.

Clearly, the year 4000 will have shag carpet on the walls.

(And while we’re at it, I wish I could still be around for the 40th century, since – as Barbarella taught us – we can get ourselves off with the Orgasmatron in a world that looks like Austin Powers’ Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club. So 2,000 years from now, the universe will look like swinging London in 1968? Awesome!)

But, rightfully so, the legacy of Flash Gordon is its kick-ass soundtrack. I got it for Christmas that year as a gift from Kathy’s brother Jeff (who was also a de facto big brother to my brother and me, complete with the cool car and the playful bullying … 12 years older than us, he used to hold us down and dangle spit about two inches from our screaming faces as we thrashed around like marlins on a giant fish hook. I can only hope to have a son of my own someday to bust this move out on).

That record was a proud edition to my ever-growing music collection, which consisted of my mom and Kathy’s discarded 8-track mixtapes, as well as my own Fisher-Price record player, with Kiss’ Rock and Roll Over and a pile of 45s that included “Disco Duck,” “Convoy,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “Brick House,” “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and a double-A-side of “Hot Blooded/Double Vision.”

I can’t think of a better album for the attention span of a 7-year-old. A bunch of minute-long bursts of rock guitar and synthesizers, interspersed throughout with the laser blast sound effects and cheesy dialogue (delivered by the dudes better known as Father Merrin from The Exorcist, the Fiddler on the Roof, James Bond IV, and a magnificent Shakespearian stage legend whose booming voice is unfortunately best remembered for this ):

It really was the next best thing to having the movie in the days before VCRs were plentiful. And bookending the album were two actual SONGS – the bumping “Flash’s Theme,” featuring Roger Taylor’s pulsating drums, and “The Hero,” which is pure Brian May guitar bliss followed by the soundtrack’s overture.

What would’ve happened if I’d gotten, say, the Star Wars soundtrack instead? Orchestra? At age 7? No, instead I got to soak up the bombastic riffs. I was on my way.

Eventually, I got into Queen for real. Queen’s Greatest Hits (arguably THE greatest greatest-hits album of all time … fuck the Eagles) was the go-to cassette in my Walkman when I did my paper route for a year. Yes, I was in up to my eyeballs with Queen before Wayne, Garth, and the Mirth Mobile drove “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the top of the charts during my senior year of high school, 17 years after its initial release.

Queen had more soundtrack success after that, with its contributions to Highlander and that triumphant moment when Nerd Persecution ended and Lewis the Nerd stole the hot cheerleader away from the dastardly Alpha Betas, all to the strains of “We Are The Champions,” in Revenge of the Nerds.

But nothing was quite like THAT soundtrack. I finally bought it on CD when I was in college, and I once briefly considered putting it on as sex music (have you heard “In the Death Cell,” “Execution of Flash,” and “The Kiss” back to back to back? They’re really quite dreamy), but I figured Prince Vultan bellowing “GORDON’S ALIVE?!?!” might spoil the moment. I instead chose to romance the lucky lady with a combination of Dark Side of the Moon and Santana’s Abraxas. Ah, the art of seduction (there really is nothing like “Oye Como Va” to set the lovemaking mood. Oh, alternative women at the UI in the ’90s, I love and miss you all).

And when it still pops up in pop culture, it makes me giddy. I’ll never forget sitting in the theater and clapping like one of those toy monkeys that crashes cymbals when it showed up in the wildly-underrated, pitch-black comedy Observe and Report (it was basically Taxi Driver but as vehicle for dark humor), as Seth Rogen’s schlub, comedically-psychotic mall cop beats the shit out of a bunch of real cops with his flashlight, all to the majestic flourishes of Flash’s “Battle Theme” and “The Hero”:

And, of course … Ted:

Next year will be the 35th anniversary of the release of the Flash Gordon soundtrack. Since Queen is still putting out new records under the Queen moniker (just this week, they released Queen Forever, featuring long-lost discarded tracks featuring both the late Freddie Mercury and their long-retired bassist John Deacon), my hope is that they’ll revisit Flash Gordon, stripping out all the dialogue and unnecessary sound effects and giving us just the music in its purest form. I’d scoop that shit up on the first day.

I mean, Interstellar was awesome and all, but it didn’t have Queen. Oh well, nobody’s perfect, not even Christopher Nolan.

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