HBO’s series Vinyl is a huge deal, since the executive producers are Martin Scorsese, who directed the movie-length pilot episode, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter of Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire fame.
The drama smells like catnip for music fans, especially ones open to the idea of a show chronicling New York City in its crime-and-grime-ridden but creatively explosive ‘70s. It’s a time when glam, punk, disco and hip-hop were all starting to bubble up from the sewers, gutters and alleyways.
As its title suggests, Vinyl is a music story, starting in 1973 and centered around a record label. Of course, the soundtrack is of utmost importance.
Vinyl: Music from the HBO® Original Series — Volume 1 is comprised of vintage tracks, covers of vintage tracks, and new material by emerging acts, sometimes the ones appearing on screen.
Each week, the initial soundtrack is set to be followed by digital EPs highlighting songs from subsequent episodes: Iggy Pop, The Strokes’ singer Julian Casablancas, Trey Songz, Chris Cornell, Charlie Wilson and Charlie XCX are just a few of the artists destined to appear.
First things first, though — a handy scorecard breaking down the initial soundtrack.
Brand New Boogie: Three of the first four cuts on the soundtrack are basically tough, blues-based, original numbers, by current, lesser-known performers: “The World Is Yours” by L.A. soul revivalist Ty Taylor; “No Good” by Icelandic stompers Kaleo; and “Sugar Daddy” (Vinyl’s theme song) by semi-psychedelic country outlaw Sturgill Simpson.
Taylor also covers “Cha Cha Twist,” an obscure 1960 dance number by soul singer Brice Coefield. (Garage rockers, The Detroit Cobras, actually did a much, much wilder, frat-rocking version of the song to kick off their 1998 debut Mink Rat or Rabbit.)
David Johansen Covers Himself:David Johansen provides newly recorded versions of two amazing songs he recorded in the exact place and time Vinyl’s plot is set: “Personality Crisis,” from the New York Dolls’ great 1973 debut, and “Stranded In the Jungle” from their great 1974 sophomore release.
The first song, a direct precursor of bands from the Sex Pistols to Guns N’ Roses, is a Jekyll and Hyde admonition about a prima ballerina turning into a werewolf (or maybe just a regular New Yorker going nuts when the sun goes down); the latter track, originally a crazily comical Top 40 hit in 1956 for three (!) different R&B vocal groups (Cadets, Gadabouts, Jayhawks), ends with Johansen escaping a cannibal’s cauldron — a racial stereotype that only seems less called for as time goes on. Interestingly, in 1973 the Dolls also recorded “Frankenstein” — but the “Frankenstein” used by Vinyl isn’t the Dolls, but the monstrous instrumental that Texas bandleader Edgar Winter topped the pop charts with.
The Memphis Connection:Dionne Warwick’s younger sister Dee Dee’s very soulful 1971 minor-hit cover of Elvis Presley’s 1969 Memphis-comeback-era “Suspicious Minds” is directly and appropriately followed on the soundtrack by Mott the Hoople’s immortally yackety-saxed and boogie-woogie-pianoed 1973 Brit-glam road-life chronicle “All the Way to Memphis.”
R&B Oldies:Ruth Brown’s 1953 “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” furious proto-rock ’n’ roll about a bad fellow; Chris Kenner’s 1961 “I Like It Like That,” New Orleans gumbo about a super hip roadhouse and The Meters’ 1970 “Hand Clapping Song,” a near-instrumental chant that teaches listeners how to clap between the beats, not just on them.
Anticipating NYC’s rap future, the soundtrack also features 1972’s “It’s Just Begun” by Jimmy Castor, a song later sampled by Grandmaster Flash, Eric B. and Rakim, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and countless others.
The Jagger Connection: Another soul warhorse on the soundtrack, Otis Redding’s 1965 self-deprecating and horn-honked “Mr. Pitiful,” was covered live on stage a few times by the Rolling Stones a decade or so back. “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” the 1954 Willie Dixon blues is included in its extremely bad-assed and raunchy 1972 rock-dawg version by Foghat, which had been covered by the Stones on their 1964 debut. And the faux-vintage proto-punk screed “Rotten Apple” by Nasty Bits is sung by none other than Vinyl costar and Jagger’s son James, who leads said band on the show and co-wrote the song with his dad, among others.
“Light a match,” the younger Jagger demands of New York, “We’ll burn it down!” Or as Mick himself wailed in his New York punk tribute “Shattered” in 1978: “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple. Don’t mind the maggots!”