Law breaking, music playing, and the corruption of an entire generation — it sounds like a solid foundation upon which to build a film. The 2009 film The Boat That Rocked or, in its edited and much leaner form, Pirate Radio, tries to weave together a coming of age story and a musical education. From the opening sequence, we can see the underlying theme of rebellion, expressed not only through picture, but through music. Images of Philip Seymour Hoffman juxtaposed with everyday citizens of Britain from all walks of life dance across the screen to the sounds of The Kinks singing All Day and All of the Night.
Music in the film isn’t simply background noise. It feels so intimately intertwined that one wonders if Curtis first wrote the screenplay or chose the music. From the campy moments, such as Elenore by The Turtles playing while one dj heads off to his honeymoon with the appropriately named Elenore, to the more ironic, such as Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys playing as the heroes of our film face what seems to be certain destruction, song plays a leading role. After all, it’s a song title that changes our protagonist’s life. Four little words, nights in white satin, lead Carl to the discovery of his father.
The two disc set, a sampling from the most predominant types of music of the 60’s and 70’s, from Motown to Britpop to classic rock, takes us on a nostalgic trip through music history. The film is an emotional journey, far more than one would expect from a film billed as good comedic fun, and the soundtrack reflects this. We start on top of the world, with tunes from The Kinks, Martha and the Vandellas, the Beach Boys, and The Who. But, before long, this gives way to a somber mood with the melancholy notes of A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum pulling us into a downward spiral, bottoming out with the Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin. But, as is often the case with Richard Curtis films, we’re brought in the end back to the optimistic, somewhat chaotic feelings with which we began.
My only qualm about the soundtrack would be the opening song on the first disc — a cover of Stay With Me Baby by Duffy. As the only modern singer, she feels out of place and, with the original version by Lorraine Ellison on disc two, we the listeners are left with the comparison that finds Duffy woefully lacking. Where Ellison’s version is yearning, lustful, and a vocal masterpiece full of both passion and restraint in equal measures, Duffy sounds inconstant, deficient in both the depth of emotion and the commitment that her counterpart showed.
The Boat That Rocked soundtrack is the sort like an old friend. There’s nothing revelational, but it’s the familiarity of the songs that wrap around us, giving us comfort as they pull us into a world that was both optimistic and chaotic, full of disobedience and revolt, but still carrying a message of hope and love. After all, the film is a love story of sorts, only it’s the love of music that stays with us.
Richard Curtis and The Boat That Rocked cast speak about the music in the film.
1. “Stay with Me Baby” – Duffy
2. “All Day and All of the Night” – The Kinks
3. “Elenore” – The Turtles
4. “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” – John Fred and His Playboy Band
5. “Dancing in the Street” – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
6. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys
7. “Ooo Baby Baby” – Smokey Robinson
8. “This Guy’s in Love with You” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
9. “Crimson and Clover” – Tommy James & The Shondells
10. “Hi Ho Silver Lining” – Jeff Beck
11. “I Can See for Miles” – The Who
12. “With a Girl Like You” – The Troggs
13. “The Letter” – The Box Tops
14. “I’m Alive” – The Hollies
15. “Yesterday Man” – Chris Andrews
16. “I’ve Been a Bad Bad Boy” – Paul Jones
17. “Silence Is Golden” – The Tremeloes
18. “The End of the World” – Skeeter Davis
1. “Friday on My Mind” – The Easybeats
2. “My Generation” – The Who
3. “I Feel Free” – Cream
4. “The Wind Cries Mary” – Jimi Hendrix
5. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” – Procol Harum
6. “These Arms of Mine” – Otis Redding
7. “Cleo’s Mood” – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
8. “The Happening” – The Supremes
9. “She’d Rather Be with Me” – The Turtles
10. “98.6” – The Bystanders
11. “Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks
12. “Father and Son” – Cat Stevens
13. “Nights in White Satin” – The Moody Blues
14. “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” – Dusty Springfield
15. “Stay with Me” – Lorraine Ellison
16. “Hang On Sloopy” – The McCoys
17. “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” – The Isley Brothers
18. “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie