Top Ten Musical Moments From The Bill & Ted Movies
here have been many movies made about rock‘n’roll, some better than others, but the one I always return to is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and, to a lesser degree, Bogus Journey). Sure, High Fidelity was uneasily familiar in its anorakish ode to a love of music, Almost Famous was bittersweet in its nostalgia, The Girl Can’t Help It was bombastic and formative, Spinal Tap was probably funnier and more true. Hell, if you wanna get finicky, Bill & Ted wasn’t even about rock‘n’roll! But as a paean to that all-consuming love of rock‘n’roll that makes people get bad tattoos, cut their t-shirts off at the waist, swill bourbon, dance like fools, get married, have children and worship at the altar of blisteringly ridiculous riffola—and as a love letter and reassurance to those to whom rock is still something sacred, something that can change the world…well, you won’t find a better example.
Rock‘n’roll—to Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan as much as it should be to us—is not something you simply switch on and off on the stereo or enjoy live for fleeting moments one or two nights a month. It’s a lifeblood, absorbed into your very being to the extent that you don’t even need to talk about it. Just talking about anything reveals how deeply five power-chords, walking bass and thunderous drums are entwined with your sinew and gristle. Looking at a vista of ancient Greece, of course your first—and only—point of reference is the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy. Of course the only obvious, all-purpose pseudonym to use is “[Somebody] Van Halen”. Of course a soundtrack of entirely appropriate rock accompanies the inner narrative of your life; a song for every occasion—‘cause rock‘n’roll can be deep too, man.
The recent School Of Rock, which used a collection of classic (and I mean now-that’s-wot-oi-call-classick classic) tracks to illustrate the majesty and all-saving power of rock, but the choices were too obvious—there are some songs you just take for granted, like, duh, of course “The Immigrant Song” and “Substitute” feature heavily. Cleverly, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure used a swag of songs by lesser-known rock outfits, thereby capturing that inexplicable way rock‘n’roll chooses you—not the other way around—when you hear a song that just connects. It also avoided the baggage, personal and critical, that comes attached to Greatest Rock Songs EVER! and allowed the songs to perfectly evoke a particular mood or emotion, therefore also letting you create your own meaning for them. Now, on the (very) odd occasion that I hear these songs when I’m out and about, they remind me of Bill & Ted and, in doing so, remind me to give thanks for rock‘n’roll.
10. “Break Away” – Big Pig
This is probably the least ‘rock’ of all the songs from Excellent Adventure, but it still sends shivers of excitement up my all-too malleable spine. Why? For all intents and purposes it’s a dodgy, quasi-deep (see: made up language) throwaway hit from an Australian combo who wore matching dresses and who’ve since sunk back into obscurity—yet doesn’t that line, “All my life I’ve wanted to fly/Like the birds that you see way up in the sky”, set to that pulsating proto-industrial clang, tap into that universal wish for freedom, for super-human powers, for that which we cannot have? The answer is, of course, yes.
9. “Fur Elise” – Beethoven
Ludwig Van Beethoven was cannily included in the rollcall for Bill and Ted’s history report, because the great composers were the first rock stars; one look at the rapturous expressions on the faces of Beethoven’s admirers in this scene will tell you this superficially. Sure, “Fur Elise” was Beethoven’s “Rain Song” or “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, but listen to his “Fifth Symphony”, or Mozart’s “Magic Flute”—especially Mozart—or Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and you’re hearing stadium rock.
8. “Dangerous” – Shark Island
Ahh, Missy. A shining icon for all those who’ve ever lusted after their best friends’ “Mom” or regarded their Phys Ed teacher with barely contained teenage lust. As Bill’s step-mom-who’s-young-enough-to-be-his-girlfriend, Missy taunts our heroes with a vision of forbidden sexuality (as Bill later astutely tells Sigmund Frood, “I’ve just got a minor Oedipal complex”); the obvious route would have been for the musical director to choose Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” or some such shagtastic anthem, instead we have the oozingly lusty “Dangerous”. What better song to accompany Missy bending over to serve her nuked cheese sandwiches in that Lurex sweater. “Now your Dad’s going for it, in your own room!” “Shut up, Ted!”
7. “In Time” – Robbie Robb
Any idiot knows that rock has its quiet moments, but—in the general consciousness, at least—rock’s softer side has been given a bad name by dreck like Gunners’ “November Rain” or JBJ’s “Always”. “In Time”, playing when our heroes first visit the future and later when Rufus returns with the babes, is that rare breed: lighters-in-the-air rock in excelsis—think Mark Knopfler’s theme from Local Hero—that actually is moving.
6. “Two Heads Are Better Than One” – Power Tool
Possibly the best ever closing credits song, “Two Heads” perfectly encapsulated Bill and Ted’s synchronicity. It was irrepressible, infectious and arguably the only rock song other than “Honky Tonk Woman” to feature a cowbell line through its entirety. Now that’s dedication to your art.
5. “Do you know how to play, Rufus?”
Ted’s innocent query to Rufus upon his request of a jam with “the great ones” is answered in true we’re-not-worthy style courtesy of the hands of Stevie Salas, a talented session muso and solo artiste of the Vail/Satriani/Bettencourt league who worked with George Clinton, Was (Not Was), Mick Jagger and The Tubes during the late-‘80s and early ‘90s; this is perhaps his best known creation. In his hands, Rufus’ solo is a blistering masterwork featuring all the trappings—or should that be tappings? —of the best Eddie Van Halen fretwank ever, distilled into one all-too-brief axe-borne lightning strike. Or, as B&T; would say, whoa.
4. “Play With Me” – Extreme
Ask most rock fans about this fret-melting behemoth and they’ll probably tell you something to the tune of “likeawmahgawdit’sthebestsoloEVER!” It’s also the perfect accompaniment to the scenes of chaos as Socrates Johnson & Co. are introduced to the San Dimas Mall, as “played” by Beethoven on the display keyboards in the mall’s music emporium. For the uninitiated, guitarist Nuno Bettencourt goes absolutely fucking mental on a pastiche of Mozart—the outro solo at 2:26 is the most brilliantly ridiculous thing you’ll ever hear, ever.
When Steven Spielberg and John Williams were attempting to compose the now famous five-note signal from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (five notes because Williams considered anything more to be a melody rather than a signal), they asked a mathematician how many combinations of the type were possible within a twelve-note scale. His answer: 134,000. Luckily for them, they stumbled upon the “eureka!” moment on about the 300th assemblage. Much like Williams and Spielberg, you can imagine reams of tab paper being used up in the search to find exactly the right hammered clarion calls. Bill and Ted’s international sign language of rock—played by Stevie Salas in Excellent Adventure and by Steve Vai in Bogus Journey—needed to be simple yet explanatory, ephemeral yet emotionally clear. Hence, the exclamatory “excellent!” is followed by a trilling Van Halen-esque filigree, where “bogus” is tailed with a tremolo-barred bend into the depths of minor chord sorrow. Many’s the person who’s attempted to translate these cues into speech and ended up sounding like Xena on acid, but that’s just testament to the all-involving power of rock‘n’roll—you want to be a part of it, even if it means squealing like a lunatic while pulling air-guitar poses at inappropriate times.
2. “All’s we can say is… LET’S ROCK!”
Bogus Journey lacked Excellent Adventure’s good-natured innocence, but also made the mistake of roping in big name bands to contribute to the soundtrack, losing that marvellous way in which the songs became “your own”. It was like reading the book before seeing the movie; suddenly the songs didn’t match your own memories or what you’d imagined would be playing, they were just crass common-denominator clichés (Winger’s “Battle Stations”? Puh-lease!)—most heinous. HOWEVER, there are two exceptions, the first being the Wyld Stallyns’ “Triumphant Guitar Solo” they rip into at Battle Of The Bands following a “fast sixteen months of intensive guitar training, dude”. Played by Steve Vai, and probably the best thing he’s ever done, it’s a heartbreaking work of stadium rock genius up there with the best: EVH’s solo from “Jump!”, Neil Giraldo’s axeplay in Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and Justin and Dan Hawkins’ harmonised “The Best Of Me” refrain, amongst others. It’s a reminder to all who forget that rock‘n’roll can be a beautiful, moving and entertaining beast. And, it leads into…
1. “God Gave Rock And Roll To You II” – Kiss
Is there no more appropriate anthem for the denouement of the Journey of our two heroes, for whom rock‘n’roll is life and music is love? This song is bemoaned by the humourless few as the death knell of Kiss’ “credibility” (er, what cred?), but they don’t deserve to know the true power of its might. When quizzed about the song, The Darkness’ Dan Hawkins said, “There’s something about it where, on paper it’s going to make you sick, but when you’re listening to it, there’s a positive message there”, and he’s not wrong. It’s easy to forget, in these days of listless indie rock and bland acoustic dribble, that rock’n’roll was ever something you could believe in. But as the song’s spiraling climax accompanies headlines like “Air Guitar Found To Eliminate Smog” and “Wyld Stallyns Tour Mid-East, Peace Achieved”, gradually it all comes flooding back.
It took two dim-witted Valley boys from 1988 to finally drill it into our heads, but what Pete Townsend once said was true: “whatever happens in the future, rock and roll will save the world”. Excellent!
By: Clem Bastow
Published on: 2004-02-11