GUEST COLUMN: Soundtracking (That Thing You Do!)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Neil Reyes

When Fountains of Wayne broke out in 2003 with “Stacy’s Mom,” few people had heard of them, despite them making music since the latter part of the ‘90s. Even fewer were aware that bassist Adam Schlesinger had been writing and producing music for movies and television, including for The Dana Carvey Show, Josie and the Pussycats, and, most notably, 1996’s That Thing You Do.

That Thing You Do follows Guy (Tom Everett Scott), who finds himself drumming behind Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), Lenny (Steve Zahn), and an unnamed bass player (Ethan Embry) as part of The Wonders. The fictional band transforms from garage noisemakers to national stars under the management of Mr. White, played by the movie’s writer/director, Tom Hanks.

The soundtrack for Hanks’s film remains one of the finest collections of real music from fictional bands and one of the best original soundtracks assembled. While the film only reveals bits and pieces of most of the original tracks, full versions are included on the soundtrack.

Not only is the soundtrack a lot of fun, but the packaging even references artists and labels from the film. If you look closely at the soundtrack’s liner notes, it features short blurbs about the Playtone roster, the movie’s fictional record label, written by Mr. White. The soundtrack itself was even released under the Playtone Records label. According to Wikipedia, Hanks used the release of That Thing You Do’s soundtrack to found an actual record label to release the soundtracks for numerous films of his to follow, like The Polar Express, Where the Wild Things Are, and Cloud Atlas.

Many genres of American pop music from the 1960s are expertly reproduced by the soundtrack’s “fake” artists, from Del Paxton (cool jazz) to The Chantrellines (Ronettes-style R&B) to The Saturn 5 (surf rock). Even Cap’n Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters, characters The Wonders play in a campy teen beach movie, make the cut on the soundtrack.

If there’s one true gem on the soundtrack, though, it’s the title track. “That Thing You Do” earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. One of the biggest and best things a song can do is transcend its boundaries, be they genre, era, audience, or even medium, and Adam Schlesinger manages to capture the feel and energy of early Beatles and ‘60s pop music.

It wouldn’t be too farfetched to say its title track is more popular than the movie itself, at this point. The song would feel at home alongside actual ‘60s pop tunes, even though its production is very much influenced by ‘90s alt-rock. From the clean lead guitar to the McCartney-style bass line to the unmistakable opening drum beat, the song is a perfectly fabricated classic.

Good luck getting it out of your head this week.

Neil Reyes is passionate about music. He graduated from the University of Guelph and Mohawk College and spends his time writing about music from Hamilton. He’s also pretty good at taking concert photos. Don’t be surprised if you catch a Simpsons or This Is Spinal Tap reference in his writing.