Little shop of horrors OST --- Cast recording --- 1986 (Geffen)
Movie soundtracks are not something I review very often, but this one is pretty special. Not only is the film itself great, clever, funny and entertaining, the music forms a perfect backdrop to it, and every time I hear it I can see the movie running in my mind's eye. Possibly all the more surprising as it stars two people I really do not rate, they being Rick Moranis and Steve Martin (although the latter has something of a supporting role). Moranis annoys me because he always seems to play the stereotypical geek-become-hero figure, which for me reached an unacceptable peak with the “Ghostbusters” movies, and Martin I used to like but lost faith in him after he made “Roxanne”: for me, it's been a steady slide downwards for him from there, as far as my appreciation of him goes. Don't anyone even mention
But the movie is great, a remake of course of Roger Corman's 1960 B-movie, which was made into an off-Broadway musical and from thence to a movie. For any who hasn't seen it, the basic plot runs thus: Seymour Krelborn (Moranis) works in a flower shop as a dogsbody and unappreciated genius with plants, admiring from afar the beautiful but dizzy blonde who works in the shop with him, Audrey Fulquard, played by Ellen Greene. One day he brings in a “weird plant” he has bought, and when his boss sees it he decides to put it in the window, to attract interest, which it does. After a while, the shop, which had been struggling, is making lots of money and Seymour becomes famous as the owner of the plant, named Audrey II, in honour of his unattainable love.
However, things soon take a turn for the worse, when Seymour scratches himself on one of the plant's thorns and the Audrey II SPEAKS to him, demanding blood. Turns out it's an alien lifeform, and needs human blood and flesh to live. Cue black humour as Seymour first feeds Audrey's abusive boyfriend, dentist Dr. Orin Scrivello (Martin) to the plant, but this is not enough and once Audrey II has a taste of blood it wants more, leading to a comical trail of corpses making their way to the evil plant.
Along the way, Audrey (the girl) and Seymour declare their love for each other, and then Seymour has to take down the alien plant in a final showdown...
The plot isn't that important, but it does help to know it as the musical numbers basically narrate and advance the script. But it's the music that makes the movie, and this being a music forum, that's what we'll be concentrating on in this review. The above was just to give you a grounding in the film, so that what follows will make some kind of twisted sense.
It opens, as most musicals do, with an overture, or prologue, with narration to introduce the plot, behind dramatic music which suddenly breaks into bright, rock-and-roll piano to introduce the theme, sung by three girls who act as a kind of ongoing narrative device as the movie goes along. They're known as Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal, but I'll just refer to them as the Trio for handiness' sake. They only feature a little in the movie anyhow. What is essentially the title track is a rock/soul romp, very fifties in nature, with lots of piano and brass, but it's not one of the better tracks on the album.
It fades into one that is, that being “Skid Row (Downtown)”, a gospel-like opening that catalogues the horrors of living “downtown”, in the lowest of the low neighbourhoods, known colloquially as “Skid Row”. The song introduces the two main characters, Audrey and Seymour, the latter of whom bemoans his fate as he sings ”Poor, all my life/ I've always been poor/ I keep asking God what I'm for/ And he tells me gee, I'm not sure/ Sweep that floor kid!”
It's a real soul track, building in intensity as the characters (mainly Seymour and Audrey) declare their determination to get out of this place. It goes totally Hollywood, ending on a big finish. In the movie, it's really clever as after the big finish someone throws slop out on the sidewalk and a tramp shuffles past, somewhat ruining the atmosphere.
The arrival of the alien plant is introduced in “Da doo”, with Moranis as Seymour detailing how he came to buy the Audrey II from an old flower shop run by “a Chinese guy”, as the Trio rip off a perfectly-balanced ”To-tal-e-clipse-ofthe-sun!”
Ah, you have to hear it. It's very fifties again, like most of the music: lots of piano, doo-wop singing, close harmonies and the like. So with his plant bought, Seymour then begins to think he's been sold a lemon, as the plant refuses to grow, no matter what he does. In the next song, “Grow for me”, a parody of an old fifties love song, Moranis begs the plant to grow, detailing all he's done to try make it grow, and at the end snaps ”Whaddya want from me? Blood?”
Of course this is the spark, and when he discovers this is what's needed, he squeezes out a few drops, eyes closed, but this will never be enough. Still, the plant does begin to grow when he leaves in frustration, as the dramatic finale to the song denotes.
Another standout then in the lovely “Somewhere that's green”, as Ellen Greene in the role of Audrey sits and sings of her dream life, married to Seymour with kids in a house with a white picket fence. A beautiful fragile piano melody carries the song, about halfway getting more forceful and desperate as the strings come in, then fade away as Audrey realises this is just ”A picture out of / Better Homes and Gardens magazine”
, and the piano slowly leads the song to its sad conclusion. Greene's dizzy-blonde voice is a little hard to put up with, but she does have a lovely singing voice, and it's a really nice song.
“Some fun now” reintroduces the Trio, but I could live without it. It's a sort of caribbean styled/limbo song that really goes nowhere as far as I can see. But then we get “Dentist”, which introduces the mad character played by Steve Martin, Orin Scrivello, a dentist who gets off on pain. Not his, other people's. He's in the right business then, as he gleefully sings that his mother told him when he was a child ”You'll be a dentist/ You have a talent for causing pain/ You'll be a dentist/ People will pay you to be inhumane.”
It's a kind of a play on the old “Leader of the pack” song, with lots of echoey drum and guitar, and to be fair, Martin makes the song with his insane persona of the sadistic dentist.
Then it's time to hear Audrey II sing, and her voice (his
voice: the plant is male, despite Seymour's having given it a female name) is provided by Four Tops legend Levi Stubbs. “Feed me” is a real rock/soul tour-de-force
, as the plant promises to give his owner anything he wants if he will feed him some human flesh. Seymour comes in on the song, unsure: ”I don't know/ I have so many strong reservations/ Should I go and perform mutiliations?”
and the rock vibe goes up and the two join as Seymour realises that Audrey's dentist boyfriend could be a victim: ”The guy sure looks like/ Plant food to me!”
And so the stage is set, and the plant has the first of many victims. With the abusive dentist gone from her life, Audrey is free to fall in love with Seymour, and they duet on the lovesong “Suddenly Seymour”, with nice piano and strings which, like “Somewhere that's green”, starts off quietly and gentle but gets more operatic and powerful as it heads towards its, ahem, climax. On this song Greene really shows off her singing prowess, and to be fair, Moranis can carry a tune, but the girl is without question the star of this song. Reminds me of Sam Brown at her best.
That's the end of the lovey-dovey stuff though, as “Suppertime” brings back in Levi Stubbs and encourages Seymour to kill his boss, who has discovered what he's been doing back late at the shop. A great funky number, it also features the Trio, who function in this song as a backing group for the Audrey II,
Seymour's life starts to spiral out of control as his fame rises, as “The meek shall inherit” tells us, with the Trio and Seymour singing as Moranis tries to make up his mind whether he should allow Audrey II to live, or finish it off and so kiss goodbye to his new fame and riches. Almost a tango in style, it slows down near the end as gentle strings and piano sway his mind back as Seymour reasons that without the Audrey II and the fame it brings his own Audrey might not love him, and the song ends on a somewhat confused crescendo.
then is “Mean green mother from outer space”, where he rocks and funks it out like there's no tomorrow, laughing in Seymour's face: ”I'm just a mean green mother/ From outer space/ And I'm bad!/ Just a mean green mother/ From outer space/ And it looks like/ You been had!”
The climax both of the film and of the soundtrack, it rocks along and gets really frenetic near the end as the plant is destroyed --- great guitars and brass, excellent percussion and rollicking piano all mesh to make a fine almost-closer, but the last word is reserved for “Finale (Don't feed the plants)”, a rocker with great backing vocals, kind of a reprise of the opening theme which brings the curtain down really well.
Like most soundtracks, it helps if you've seen the movie, but even if you haven't, you can still enjoy this album on its own merits. There's some great music on it, some fine vocal performances, and hey! Levi Stubbs! I mean, come on: what are you waiting for?
1. Prologue (Little shop of horrors)
2. Skid Row (Downtown)
4. Grow for me
5. Somewhere that's green
6. Some fun now
8. Feed me
9. Suddenly Seymour
11. The meek shall inherit
12. Mean green mother from outer space
13. Finale (Don't feed the plants)