Friday, October 02, 2020

Song of the Day: 'Help Me!' by Robin Gibb and Marcy Levy (aka Marcella Detroit)

Fans of '80s nostalgia will want to read David Chiu's excellent piece for Forbes about the soundtrack of "Times Square," Allan Moyle's 1980 film that was billed as the punk and new wave equivalent of "Saturday Night Fever." Although it tanked at the box office, it's long been a cult classic dating back to repeated airings during the fledgling days of USA Network. (Who remembers "Night Flight"?)

The story centered around two teenage runaways named Nicky and Pamela (played by Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado respectively) from opposite backgrounds who rebel against convention and authority to form a punk band in New York City called the Sleez Sisters, and gain notoriety and young female fans after performing on a radio station. Although the film is a lesbian love story, the version released in theaters makes it much more subtle than the original script. (The actresses were only 13 and 15 when the film was shot.)  

In addition to finding out that Mick Jagger was all but signed for the DJ role eventually played by Tim Curry, and that David Bowie was approached for a song contribution that never materialized, we also learn that RSO Records wanted another double album -- a la "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever" -- which led to licensing songs by the Pretenders, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, the Ramones, XTC and the Cure, among others. And that Robert Stigwood -- who produced the film with sometime Carly Simon lyricist Jacob Brackman, who also wrote the screenplay -- thought the soundtrack needed a new song that could be released as a single, leading to the involvement of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, who were also on RSO. Gibb ended up writing (with Blue Weaver) and performing "Help Me!" with Marcy Levy, who at the time was best known as one of Eric Clapton's singers. (A dozen years later as half of Shakespears Sister, the renamed Marcella Detroit would hit No. 1 on the charts with "Stay.") 

Although "Help Me!" is an infectious gem, it did not fit with the other music on the soundtrack, and stalled at No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. Surprisingly, the article doesn't mention that D.L. Byron had expressly written the song "Shadows of the Night" for the film, but it wasn't used having been deemed "not commercial enough." But watching the infamous closing scene now (down at the bottom), it seems obvious that the future Pat Benatar smash was the perfect song for the moment. Instead, the track was released as a single by Helen Schneider the following year, going five times platinum in Germany and the Benelux countries, and again that year with slightly different lyrics by the great Rachel Sweet (on her album "...And Then He Kissed Me"), which would have been my pick for the film.

Rare footage of Robin and a nearly unrecognizable Marcy singing their ill-fated single

"Shadows of the Night" gets spun on its Axis

A Sweeter take

Marquee act


Bill said...

I used to have the Times Square album. I forgot about it.

JimmyD said...

I had the album on vinyl and cassette. Years later I landed a German CD! Loved the movie and the soundtrack. The movie hasn't aged well... but... so many haven't.

Blobby said...

Sweet's "Shadows of the Night" will ALWAYS be the ultimate version. Love Benatar, but her version just isn't great.

Michael Conklin said...

OMG I love this film and soundtrack — I saw it when I was attending Penn State in the 1980s. And ‘Help Me’ is still one of favorite songs from it! I still own the album and have it framed and hanging in my condo. Great memories 😊😊