I have yet to see the film CBGB (2013), but the reviews I have read have so far been a mixed bag. There is no question about the soundtrack though, it is terrific. Over the years, there has been a lot of debate as to what the contents of the perfect punk rock mix-tape would be. There is plenty of room for debate among the 20 songs chosen for the CBGB soundtrack. Please note, this collection is (almost) "All-American," no Saints or Clash, the only "foreigners" present are The Police with "Roxanne." Go figure, there are odd choices galore here.
The great punk debate generally centers around the question of who the first punk bands were. The Velvet Underground get a lot of votes, and are represented with "I Can't Stand It." It is an interesting choice, as the song is from their 1985 VU album, which was an odds and sods compilation. I would have chosen something from one of their "real" albums, but the Velvets have to be included no matter what the song is.
At roughly the same time as the VU were turning heads in New York City, The MC5 and The Stooges were making serious noise in Detroit. Both of those bands were signed to Elektra Records, who were primarily a folk label. Sure, they had The Doors, but the Detroit groups took things to a whole new level. The uncensored version of The MC5's "Kick Out the Jams," and The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" are two perfect, and practically mandatory inclusions.
In the "Who came first?" punk rock debate, there is plenty of support for the one-hit wonder garage bands of the '60s. The Lenny Kaye-collated Nuggets compilation came out in 1973, and featured two LPs of great, "lost" garage classics. "Psychotic Reaction" by The Count Five is included here, and is perhaps the finest example of the genre. Great choice. After Nuggets, Lenny Kaye became famous as the guitarist of the Patti Smith Group. Strangely enough, there is not a single Patti Smith track on this set. I believe this is the most glaring omission of the CBGB soundtrack. Not including a single PSG track makes no sense to me at all.
The New York Dolls were definitely part of the proto-punk scene, and created a classic with their self-titled 1973 debut. I really have to question the inclusion of "Chatterbox" from their vastly inferior second album Too Much Too Soon though. It is a good song, without question, but my choice would have been "Personality Crisis" from their first.
There is one band who I have heard about forever, but have never actually heard before. The cross-dressing Wayne County was apparently a big deal in downtown NYC during these years, but never moved beyond cult status. "Out of Control" is by Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, and is pretty great. The Laughing Dogs are the one group on the set that I had never even heard of before, and their "Get Outta My Way" is not too bad.
As I discovered a while back, "Handsome" Dick Manitoba is probably the most deluded living proto-punk. I once wrote a piece mentioning that his band The Dictators should have gotten much more credit than they did, and he and his fans nearly shut down the site with their onslaught of denials. Well I'm sorry, but outside of the Big Apple, nobody really knew about them. My point was that the Dolls and Iggy get all the credit, and this did not go over at all. I am sure that the inclusion of the original demo for "California Sun" warms their collective hearts. A demo of a cover song sure seems an odd choice though.
Getting into the "classic" CBGB bands, we have offerings from the Talking Heads, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Blondie, Television, Dead Boys, and Joey Ramone. Yup solo Joey, doing "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," from his posthumously released Don't Worry About Me, released in 2002. Cool, and appropriately sentimental as this song is, there are no full-on Ramones tunes included at all. Not even "Blitzkrieg Bop."
Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime" opens the set, undoubtedly because of the line "This ain't no Mudd Club, no CBGBs, this ain't no foolin' around." Hell's classic "Blank Generation" is one I cannot argue with, as is "Sonic Reducer" from the Dead Boys. Stiv Bators' band is the only one who merit two tunes, with the Dead Boys "Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth" also included. Questions, questions, questions. Sorry, but why is there a "2013 version" of Blondie's "Sunday Girls" here? And why "Careful" from Television's vastly inferior sophomore effort Adventure over anything from Marquee Moon?
Finally we get "Birds and the Bees" by Hilly Kristal. Now this is one that I think merits inclusion, just because without Hilly, there would have been no CBGBs. It is not the greatest song I have ever heard by a long shot, and a world away from anything remotely resembling punk. As with Joey Ramone, sentiment wins out though, and that is fine.
A nice little touch on the CD appears right underneath the UPC code on the back cover. It reads "Also available on 8-track tape and cassette formats" in partially crossed out words. I kind of wish they had made up a few 8-tracks just for fun, I would have bought one. There is also a limited edition, two-LP translucent pink vinyl version of the CBGB soundtrack available, which fits right in with the colored-vinyl craze of the era.
Despite my wishes that more of the classics had been included, maybe I am missing the point. It is certainly possible that someone wanted to expose us to many lesser known cuts from these bands. The song selection for this soundtrack is confusing, but I have to say that when you listen to it, it does sound great. Now all I need to do is see the movie.