Original Soundtrack

Billy Jack

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The music to the first big independent film produced decades before The Blair Witch Project and My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a strange and striking combination of styles that somehow is effective. It is composed and conducted by jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe, and the veteran borrows heavily from Jerry Goldsmith and Planet of the Apes on "Hello Billy Jack," then mixes Native American music with a touch of psychedelia on "Old and the New" -- a quaint title considering the bizarre blend of sounds. The hit single, "One Tin Soldier," is a Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter tune first recorded by Original Caste, the Canadian band that got some activity with the song in 1969, hitting the Top 35 in the U.S. in February of 1970, and disbanding around the time Coven's remake got into this film soundtrack and onto the charts some 20 months later in October of 1971 (bubbling under the Top 25). The soundtrack contains a different mix and a different vocal than what composer/conductor Lowe released on Coven's eponymous MGM album -- that disc mostly put together by Frank Laughlin, son of the film's star, Tom Laughlin. Two of the other female vocalists don't fare as well as Coven's Jinx Dawson, though. Theresa Kelly is the minor-league version of Melanie Safka, while Lynne Baker's "When Will Billy Love Me" has her emulating the worst aspects of Joan Baez by way of Marianne Faithfull, the unholiest of marriages. Gwen Smith's gospel/campfire "Freedom Over Me" works much better, but at 35 seconds is unfortunately too short.

Lowe gets cute once again on "All Forked Tongue Talk Alike," its '60s cheesy charm coming off like some outtake from a mod TV show theme -- noodling guitars and stock keyboard making it another musical about-face. Lynne Baker redeems herself, kind of, with a little help from her friends on "Rainbow Made of Children" -- picture music from Rocky Horror trying to be serious -- while notable country-rock singer Katy Moffatt is serious, and is represented nicely with "Ring Song." But it is the relentlessly persistent Coven's golden moment in the sun that's the most memorable piece here, and for pop fans enamored of the Billy Jack signature tune (not "theme," as that distinction goes to another instrumental from the conductor), these two additional Jinx Dawson vocals on the remixed movie versions of her hit are worthwhile. The billyjack.com web page has a compilation of theme music from the various Billy Jack soundtracks, including the Coven hit as well as a new song sung by Delores Taylor. That it broke from the world of independent film makes it all the more appealing -- a listenable disc whose flaws only add to the warmth. Released with two different covers, a gatefold as well as a single sleeve with different artwork.

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