Friday, July 15, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Jimmy Smith, "Walk on the Wild Side"

You know what would have made the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum 10 times more fun? Jack Palance's awesome voice. They should have gotten him to record narration for every single museum display. To a certain generation, Palance will always be that weird old dude who did one-handed push-ups on the Oscars, but I'll always remember him for 'Believe it... or not.'
Song: "Walk on the Wild Side" by master Hammond B-3 organ player and Beastie Boys "Root Down" sample source Jimmy Smith
Released: 1962
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: I first took notice of "Walk on the Wild Side"--not to be confused with the Lou Reed classic of the same name--when I heard it during Martin Scorsese's Casino. I later discovered that Smith's exhilarating instrumental was a cover of a movie theme, Elmer Bernstein's theme from the 1962 New Orleans bordello drama Walk on the Wild Side, which starred Laurence Harvey, Capucine and Jane Fonda (that was an interesting way for Scorsese to insert a shout-out to Bernstein, whom he previously worked with on Cape Fear and The Age of Innocence: he needle-dropped a cover of one of Bernstein's earlier compositions).

The instrumental version of Bernstein's Walk on the Wild Side theme accompanies one of legendary movie title designer Saul Bass' best opening title sequences, which, unlike most of Bass' other sequences, doesn't use any animation and is simply footage of an alley cat, cleverly edited to the tempo of Bernstein's slinky-sounding theme. The catfight at the end of Bass' titles pits a black cat against a white cat. It's like a Real Housewives of Atlanta fight scene with better acting.

The word on the street is Robert De Niro would like to pet this black pussy.
(Photo source: The Movie Title Stills Collection)
Though its lyrics contain gospel-style references to the promised land of heaven, it's odd how this theme from a then-risque '60s movie about New Orleans hoes has become a gospel standard. It's like if Blondie's "Call Me" from American Gigolo got rewritten as "Call Me (Hello Lord)" or something.

I always liked the Charles M. Schulz version of luggage for runaways and hitchhikers: a simple stick with a polka-dotted sack tied to it at the end.
Walk on the Wild Side star Jane Fonda models Timbuk2's new "Hitchhiking Ho" line.

All the other "Rome, Italian Style" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Goldfrapp, "Pilots"
Mike Patton, "Deep Down"
Barry Adamson, "The Big Bamboozle"
John Zorn, "Erotico (The Burglars)"

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