Combining Film Scores And Pop Rock, Wall Of Voodoo Was Not Just A One-Hit Wonder
Morning Edition's series One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers in the United States are defined by a single monster hit, and explains why their catalogs have much more to offer.
In this installment, Alexandra Patsavas, a Hollywood music supervisor for shows like Grey's Anatomy and Mad Men, argues on behalf of Wall of Voodoo. Fans of MTV in its earliest days might remember "Mexican Radio," which became an underground hit in 1983 for being one of the first music videos played in heavy rotation. Read Patsavas in her own words below, and hear the radio version at the audio link.
One of the great '80s bands, Wall of Voodoo, came out of the punk/alternative scene in Los Angeles in the [late '70s].
Stan Ridgway founded Wall of Voodoo. His company [Acme] was originally conceived as a soundtrack company for low-budget sci-fi and horror films and their offices were right across the street from the storied Masque Club in LA. Out of that club came The Germs and X and The Go-Go's.
And you can really hear that score and soundtrack influence in his music. I think "Mexican Radio" is one of the most compelling, memorable sing-alongs ever. It is just such a wonderfully weird song. Stan Ridgway's delivery is so unique.
The way that he weaved such interesting cultural references like noir, like Spaghetti Western and his tip-of-the-hat to Ennio Morricone. And once you understand that, you hear it right away. But as a casual fan, what you come away with on "Mexican Radio" is this glorious pop hit that you sing along to. When you deconstruct it, you can feel all those influences. And to me, that that's what makes an interesting all-time artist.
As a music supervisor, I'm always obsessed with different versions of songs. I must have discovered "Ring of Fire" after "Mexican Radio." I think it's one of the great covers [of] one of the best country songs of all time [by] the great Johnny Cash. "Ring of Fire" was actually written by June Carter Cash [and Merle Kilgore]. I think it's difficult to do a song that is so storied and well-known, but [on] the Wall of Voodoo version, which actually pre-dates "Mexican Radio," you can really hear the score influence. The second half of the song actually includes the theme from Our Man Flint, which of course was composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
Stan Ridgway not only thought in terms of writing a great pop hit, but also considered and used his scoring background. And perhaps that's part of the reason I love ["Ring of Fire"] so much. I can see it set to picture. It is minimalist and outrageously, wonderfully large all at the same time.
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