Loosely based on Krafft-Ebbing's Psychopathia Sexualis and originally titled Psychedelic Sexualis, this film marked the first of three by writer/director Albert Zugsmith (Confessions of an Opium Eater, Sex Kittens Go to College) scored by Joe (Joseph) Greene, a veteran jazz composer/arranger who had a brief fling with films during the sixties and seventies, mostly scoring exploitation fodder and the occasional drama, like Tiger by the Tail (1968).
The soundtrack album to this oddity was one of many LPs that cluttered delete bins during the seventies and eighties, and while not a top collectible (even the cover art is negligible), the short album features a wild mix of cues reflective of the film's psychedelic subject matter, augmented Greene's sharp writing skills for jazz orchestra.
The album's first two cuts basically introduce the film's main themes, and were likely lifted from the mixed film soundtrack because they feature slowed-down dialogue (more female moans and ‘surprised' vocal theatrics), which makes one suspicious of whether the stereo LP is in true stereo, or merely a tweaked version of this mono version.
In any event, Greene's score, much like the album, kind of grows on the listener because beneath the processed vocals that clutter the opening cuts is some intriguing writing by a very astute composer.
In “Main Title / Walk to Hell Part 1,” an ostinato on warm marimba lays the cue's rhythmic grounding, which Greene rapidly builds up with discrete electric bass, electric guitar, and increasingly agitated piano hits as the opening female moans become more strained. Violin and brass come to the fore, followed by a subtle fanfare motif, only to be interrupted by a shrill alto sax wail backed by thumping timpani. Greene shifts the cue's mood and colours by adding a gentle free-form flute, and the mawkish tone of the cue bears a slight resemblance to Mickey One , an equally schizophrenic jazz orchestral score written by Eddie Sauter with performer/jazz genius Stan Getz.
Greene uses a more contemporary selection of instruments, yet he maintains a strong fidelity to his thematic material. The opening ostinato is later reinterpreted in an aggressive, sexualized version as the multiple notes are reduced to an essential three building blocks, with Greene alternating hits between harsh electric guitar and hard piano hits. The wailing sax returns soon after, and Greene applies some atmospheric subtleties via distantly miked, long chords on strings, which in turn form a bridge for a spiraling motif on flute that leads into a fuller version of the march-like fanfare on brass.
Much of the cue consists of shifting moods, and Greene's orchestrations make surprisingly sparing use of various formal orchestral elements, and he adds xylophone, rattles, and string bass into the mix, but before the cue can evolve towards a dramatic conclusion, the album's producers chose to fadeout the music, making one curious if that's due to the album's sharp time limit, whether the cue literally came from a mixed sound element that were followed by actual dialogue and sound effects, or the fact both parts of “Walk to Hell” may have been edited and mixed for an extended A- and B-side ‘psychedelic' single.
“Walk to Hell Part 2 / Destruction” begins abruptly – it literally starts like the second half of a hard cut between dramatic scenes – but it introduces the score's first melodic true material. Greene uses several flues to convey his warm, sensitive melodic phrase that mimics a kind of peaceful sigh after a hard night of boffing (or maybe drug-induced ecstasy), while the three-note ostinato on piano is more contemplative that assaultive. The mood rapidly shifts when thundering timpani and vibes introduce a repeated 2-note herald, and Greene has a funky electric guitar and electric bass play a series of ascending notes that intermingle and alternate with the flutes and rattles.
The cue's second half, “Destruction,” introduces multiple versions of “The Boozer,” a bopping, stuttering variation of the 3-note ostinato where the main notes are slammed down by the rhythm section while flutes, vibes, guitar, and boozy brass shift chords in an endlessly repeated pattern. The first version is more loose and breezy, while the second is more of a drunken orgy as vibes back a skittering, stumbling, tinny bar piano. A third version – featuring a slow and easy flute – is cross-mixed with vocal effects, and the cue morphs into a battle between multiple versions before Greene returns to the more dramatic bits of the first cue, repeating the fanfare's percussion parts, and alternating echoplexed laughing sounds with strings and flutes.
Separated from the film and free from Zugsmith's unsubtle subject matter, Greene's music stands well on its own, with his integration of classical and contemporary effectively evoking a conflict between formal and free-thinking mindsets: while the concert-styled piano hits seem to shout for order and conformity, the solo cello ridicules the efforts, and sets up the improv jazz and jukebox elements within the score.
The cue's final section also contains a wonderful demented waltz that pairs cello with a jazz drum kit, and the snaking cello keeps digging away at the piano's ordered notes by gliding into chunks of jazzy reinventions. On the album, the waltz has been edited into a shorter, tighter piece, and the cue comes to a sudden halt when the sound cuts out, and a gunshot appears.
The rest of the album contains formal versions of the melodic bits, with “Rose's Theme” featuring a heavily romanticized version of the Greene's main theme. It's a bit sappy in parts – the lush piano style pushes the cue into mood music terrain – but Greene really develops the theme by playing with instrumental colours. Examples include pensive strings in the opening bars that create a sense of expectation and agitation, and the melodic core performed by flutes and light electric guitar. Warm electric bass adds to the loose and easy feel which never strays into sleaze because Greene keeps the focus on tenderness; the pauses are reflective, and the piano flourishes that close the brief cue are suitably melodramatic.
“Melissa Pensive” has a solo flute playing the intro melody – mimicking an almost child-like curiosity – while a childish xylophone taps the next set of notes in a sparse, almost hesitant manor. Backed by a light rock electric guitar, Greene's use of colour and contrast using three types of instruments takes a complete melody and divides it into almost specific generational components, assumedly tied to Zugsmith's characters who confront their own levels of emotional and sexual maturity (or lack of). While there's no further development beyond the melodic statements, the cue is a strong change from the quasi-experimental and idiomatic elements performed, mixed, and edited into the album's first two cues.
The same theme is reinterpreted for small jazz combo in “Melissa Glad,” with electric guitar, piano, electric bass, and light drums and hi-hat. The cue's simplicity gives lots of room for traditional jazz improv, with the piano really shining in long stretches. Likely a source cue, Greene's jazz version just stops after a buildup, which is always a problem in source cues as the solos just start to get going; in a regular jazz album or concert setting, one would hear the other musicians' solos before a proper theme restatement that closes the piece.
“Mother's Blues” is one of the album's best cuts, and among the few meaty works that feature some great stretches of improv (albeit within a still too-short running time). Initially beginning with also sax, strumming electric guitar, and fat electric bass, the bluesy intro is knocked up by a full drum kit, with nice hard hits that shape it into a great barroom tune, with smart dialogue between alto and tenor sax, and fancy guitar in the cue's midsection. The sax solos are slow and elastic, and the cue stays just a few feet away from complete burlesque.
“The Boozer” is kind of a head-butting work that features wailing brass either playing the score's dominant 3-note motif in unison, or as drifting partners, thereby creating some wiggle room for electric guitar and some marimba solos. It's admittedly limited in scope, but Greene sets up the cue with a bopping rhythm that ultimately closes with scattering piano improv, and the alto sax occasionally wails up from the distance when not blaring the same 3-notes. Although the album's longest cue, it ends on a very abrupt fadeout.
Closing out the album is “The Bar Fly,” a swaggering jazz-rock piece that surprisingly gives a fair amount of room for some piano improv (twice!) between breezy theme statements led by alto and tenor sax. There's also two solos from electric guitar in the cue's second half (again accompanied by marimba), and the drums and fat bass keep the cue grooving, although as an album closer, the cue just slows down and ends fast with a drop in volume.
It's an uneven album that doesn't fully represent the score, but it's a great snapshot into the kind of dynamic and subtle writing that was being written for exploitation fodder. The music was meant to be functional, but it's nice how Greene's refreshing music has outlived the dated sleaze of Zugsmith's production. Greene also scored the director's next film, Movie Star, American Style, or LSD I Hate You that same year (and the score was apparently released by Mira, too), and The Chinese Room in 1968 before parting with the auteur (ahem) and scoring two John Derek films in 1969, A Boy… a Girl , and Childish Things.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan