"Empire Records" is a movie that not a ton of people saw, but many of us who came up in the late '90s/early aughts remember the 1995 film quite fondly. The movie was directed by Allan Moyle (who will always be my hero for giving us "Pump Up the Volume") from a screenplay by Carol Heikkinen. It centers on a day — Rex Manning Day! — in the life of a ragtag group of record store employees as they try to stop their shop, Empire Records, from becoming just another Music Town.
I worked at an independent music store in the early 2000s, one that was doomed to eventually be sold to a large chain. I have clear memories of all of us saying, "Damn the man. Save the Empire!" on more than one occasion. Sadly, there was no saving CD World and we were all soon out of a job when TransWorld turned the shop into an FYE — not that that place was long for this world either.
"Empire Records" has a much happier ending, which is great, since one can't help but root for this lovable crew, played by Anthony LaPaglia, Rory Cochrane, Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler, Robin Tunney, Johnny Whitworth, and Renée Zellweger. The movie may have become a cult classic over time, but in 1995 it was certainly a flop. There was one aspect of "Empire Records," however, that was surprisingly successful, and it couldn't possibly be more on brand for this particular film.
Til I Hear It From You
"Empire Records" was released to mostly negative reviews and made about $150,000 on its opening weekend against a $10 million budget. At the time, Variety called the film a "soundtrack in search of a movie," a sentiment music supervisor Mitchell Leib wouldn't actually find offensive. He told ABC, "My job was to have hit singles and a giant soundtrack that was supposed to not only enhance the playability of the movie, but also was supposed to act as a marketing asset and launch the film."
Leib did indeed have two #1 singles on his hands, with Gin Blossoms' "Til I Hear It From You" and "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins. A&M Records, who was releasing the soundtrack, was so confident in the early success of the songs that they decided to ship three million copies to record stores. That's a big number, considering this was a soundtrack. However, Leib was called into a marketing meeting three weeks before "Empire Records" was set to hit theaters, only to be told the movie was dead in the water. It would have a very limited release before going straight to VHS — a true death sentence for any film. Leib called this "the biggest nightmare possible" and said the boss of A&M never spoke to him again after Leib broke the bad news.
"Empire Records" may not have found success in theaters, but the soundtrack sold two million copies, which Leib told ABC "is f****** unbelievable for a movie that did $147,000 at the box office." His mind was completely blown when he saw his royalty check. Leib, who would go on to become the President of Music & Soundtracks for Walt Disney Studios, also mentioned that when people see the posters for all the films he's worked on in his office, it's not "Pretty Woman," "Good Morning, Vietnam," or even "Beauty and the Beast" that they get most excited about, but "Empire Records."
The film has so many memorable music scenes, and even an appearance from Gwar, but the most iconic tune is probably "Sugar High." The song was performed at a last-minute benefit to save the store, by Zellweger as Gina and real-life musician Coyote Shivers, who played Berko — and was actually Liv Tyler's stepfather at the time. Written by Shivers, the song had to be censored for the film due its rating. The line "They all said she's just another groupie slut, I said I thought you were anything but" was changed to "They all say life's just a bowl of cherries but sometimes it seems like anything but."
Also featured on the soundtrack were bands such as the Cranberries, Evan Dando (covering Big Star!), and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Honestly, I am physically incapable of changing "Til I Hear It From You" if it plays on the radio — or "Hey Jealousy" for that matter. Music is an important theme in Moyle's work that is evidenced by more than the songs of "Empire Records." "Pump Up the Volume" has an even better soundtrack that includes the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Richard Hell, and Leonard Cohen.
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The post Empire Records May Have Flopped But The Soundtrack Didn't appeared first on /Film.