So I’m adding a new feature to the Grain&Noise blog. It’s called Mistakes Were Made and it’ll function as a record of the worst things films have to offer. These can be individual scenes, performances, jokes, songs, sweaters, whatever. If I notice something and it makes me audibly groan, or put my palm to my forehead, then it’s going on the list. Now, I know that because there’s already so much vitriol on the internet you’re probably asking “Why do I feel the need to pile on?”. Quite frankly, because writing negative opinions is much easier than writing positive ones. And they’re a lot more fun to read. And some things are just asking for it, for instance, this week’s selection, the title song from the 1979 Ivan Reitman comedy Meatballs.
Oh man, this was a doozy. I assume not a lot of people know about this particular gem as evidenced by its slim 767 listens on its single youtube posting, twenty of those by me in order to write this post. The song was written by Oscar-winning composer Elmer Bernstein. The same guy who composed the themes for classics such as The Magnificent Seven, True Grit and To Kill a Mocking Bird. The song is performed by Rick Dees a radio DJ who voiced a character on The Flintstones cartoon named Rock Dees and had one other “hit” with Disco Duck.
Regardless of its unique pedigree, Meatballs (the song) is a cringe inducing mash up of uninspired disco instrumentals and bizarre meatball related lyrics. Including: You don’t want to be a meatball, with meatsauce on your face . The lyrics are particularly odd because never in the film do any characters eat meatballs, nor is anyone referred to as a meatball. Begging the question “Why meatballs?”. We’re given no explanation. In fact, the chorus/hook of the song is just a repetition of the word “meatballs” sung by a heavy baritone followed by a female harmony.
The horns are loud and repetitive. The strings keep jumping up and down. Then at about the 2:45 mark (yes, the song is inexplicably longer than three minutes) we get a weird breakdown with Rick Dees pseudo-sexually uttering phrases like “Lay a little of that team spirit on me”, and “Get in it and win it”. The song is also tonally off from the rest of the film. Meatballs takes place at an overnight summer camp and the rest of the soundtrack is composed of camp style sing-alongs but Meatballs (the song) sounds like warm up music at a roller-disco.
The film itself is not much better. It can only be described as “whacky”. It tells the story of a summer camp and its’ various counselors and campers. Bill Murray stars and has a couple funny scenes. It includes some trademark 70’s National Lampoon characters: the dweeb, the fat guy, the new guy, and the rivals. But the film is so sentimentalized and the script is so poorly written that the film comes across as little more than a string of hastily drawn sketches. There’s also one laughably bad subplot involving the New Guy who’s bummed out because he can’t play soccer and his parents are divorced or something. And they keep shooting the New Guy’s face in close up with warm lighting and shiny eyes. Anyway…
Meatballs (the song) is a great example of something that probably sounded okay at the time it was written but has aged like an apple in a hot car. It’s a mess. And even worse, a mess that I can’t get out of my head.