Graded on a Curve:
Bill Loose,
Russ Meyer’s Vixen
OST
and Cherry & Harry & Raquel OST

Bill Loose isn’t a household name, though in the late 1960s he was heard in many houses as the musical director of The Doris Day Show. Simultaneously and far less reputably, he was scoring films by that sultan of the salacious, Russ Meyer, with the results combining Loose’s thorough understanding of contemporary musical vernacular with a freewheeling spirit reflective of his background as a composer of library music. Thusly, his compositions were inviting and even comforting to the viewer while accentuating that they were indeed stepping out onto the wild side. Loose’s scores for Russ Meyer’s Vixen and Cherry & Harry & Raquel are out now on colored vinyl through Real Gone Music.

Once wonderfully described by film critic Dave Kehr as the “supreme poet of the Rotary Club smoker,” the late Russ Meyer stands as a foundational director in the pantheon of the cult-movie. Flourishing in the period after the demise of the Hays Code but before the explosion of hardcore pornography, Meyer largely specialized in the “skin flick” (often garnering the single X rating in the days prior to HC porno), working unsurprisingly as an indie operator but with a brief dalliance with Hollywood, though he thankfully never garnered mainstream respectability.

As his titles Mudhoney and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! make clear, Meyer’s filmography fits much more comfortably into the rock & roll scene. Driving home the rock connection is Meyer’s hiring by Malcolm McLaren to direct the unfinished Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi? But before this, Meyer’s first of two films for 20th Century Fox, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (scripted by the late film critic Roger Ebert, who also worked on Who Killed Bambi?) is a thoroughly oddball, vivid to the point of gaudy, and yet smooth experience that plays at times like a feverish counterpart to the youth-centered films of Roger Corman.

As the 1960s progressed, Meyer evolved in a manner that was distinct from but complementary to R&R’s growth, first making what were essentially stag movies, then fleet psychotronic extravaganzas and next low-budget bawdiness with a surprising level of social commentary, which is where Vixen and Cherry & Harry & Raquel fit into the scheme (Meyer’s auteurist through line, along with a wild approach to editing, was an increasingly lowbrow fixation on women breasts, the bigger the gazongas the better).

Released in ’68 and ’69, the profitability of Vixen and Cherry & Harry & Raquel helped land him on the 20th Century Fox backlot. Furthermore, the success of those films with audiences is directly related to how they offered viewers a dose of the risqué, the dirty, and even the borderline transgressive, all without stirring up any sense of embarrassment, and the scores of Bill Loose are a big part of why.

Please understand that as the ’60s progressed, Meyer wasn’t alone in pushing the envelope of acceptable content, it’s just that nearly all of his contemporaries landed nearer to proto-grindhouse territory, mostly falling into the genres of “nudie cuties” and “roughies.” Meyer certainly straddled these categories as well, but what helped set him apart was a dedication to quality. Pertinent here:  the theme for Vixen combined baroque harpsichord (very ’60s) with sweeping strings more appropriate for a movie palace melodrama than a film about the hijinks and the hang-ups of a nymphomaniac.

There is also vaguely Mancini-esque suspense (“Niles Threatens Vixen”), sophisto smoldering jazziness (“Janet’s Theme,” “In a Blue Mood”), slices of baroque pop that end far too quickly (“O’Banion’s Theme,” “Conversation Piece”), and a little big band action evocative of TV variety shows of the era, which was definitely Loose’s bag (“Canadian Romp”).

That Loose’s level of engagement resulted in variations on the Vixen character’s theme, with the same true for the music associated with the O’Banion and Niles, is of no small significance. It surely impacted viewers at the time, who were absorbing, if not openly acknowledging, the film’s level of quality. It’s also no small part of why Meyer’s filmography has stood the test of time.

Loose was just as invested in Cherry & Harry & Raquel’s contents, though a few things do set it apart, the biggest being “Toys of Our Time,” a surprisingly likeable slab of folky garage pop action written by Stu Phillips and credited to The Jacks & Balls, that is sequenced twice, early after the lounge-infused opening “Prologue,” and also as the set’s finale.

Easy Listening-infused wordless vocals also figure in “Cherry & Raquel,” as the film’s dual emphasis on action and softcore titillation finds Loose pulling out all the stops: “Harry’s Theme” combines harmonica, harpsichord, and a zesty big band fanfare in a little over a minute. As the Cherry character is an Englishwoman, her tracks tend to the regal, especially “Cherry’s Theme,” as those of Harry, a crooked southern border sheriff, utilize the harmonica as a recurring motif.

“Raquel’s Theme” is the sauciest bit of bump-and grind on the album, but the standout track is “Franklin’s Theme,” which reminds me of something Mancini or Quincy Jones might’ve cooked up for a mid-’70s Black action caper. As a soundtrack, Cherry & Harry & Raquel features ingredients that might insinuate it as a lesser affair, but hard driving rhythms and sheer chutzpah raise it to the same plateau as Vixen. And that’s pretty damned high.

Bill Loose went on to score additional Russ Meyer films including Supervixens and Up!, plus a couple by drive-in auteur Jack Hill, The Big Doll House and The Swinging Cheerleaders, and even the biker flick The Rebel Rousers, which featured Jack Nicholson, Diane Ladd, Bruce Dern, and Harry Dean Stanton. Loose’s music is undoubtedly dated and occasionally over the top, but the sheer craftsmanship and inventiveness stands out, especially as nobody’s done it this way for a long time.

For the curious, there is really no better place to soak up Bill Loose’s talent than the soundtracks to Vixen and Cherry & Harry & Raquel.

Vixen
A-

Cherry & Harry & Raquel
A-

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