CD: Hell’s Belles (1969)

November 18, 2010 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: La-La Land Records / Released: September 14, 2010

Tracks & Album Length: 17 tracks / (41:22)

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Special Notes: 16-page colour booklet with liner notes by Randall D. Larson / Limited to 1200 copies

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Composer: Les Baxter

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Review:

Loosely riffing the James Stewart western Winchester ’73 (1950), Hell’s Belles provided Les Baxter a diversion from the Poe and Beach Party franchise he was obliged to score for AIP during the better part of the sixties.

Baxter’s skills encompassed writing a solid theme, great orchestrations, and a knack for bouncing between genres. The Dunwich Horror (1970) was a balanced fusion of rock and orchestra, but Hell’s Belles is really instrumental rock with zero orchestral elements. Working with drums, guitar, harmonica, tambourine, and a really fat electric bass, Baxter’s score is based primarily around a tight title main theme (“Wheels”) that’s filled with bravado, and divided by a semi-melancholic tangent that foreshadows gang members’ viying for a specific cool bike, and the bickering between rival busty factions wanting a particular guy.

The secondary theme is the vocal cut “Travellin’ Man” with a repeated groove, elliptical lyrics, and sha-la-la background vocals heard in the theme’s instrumental variants, (or on harmonica in the formal vocal versions). The score also has a melodic/less instrumentally aggressive theme – “Take it from Me” – with trumpet at the centre, giving the score some needed balance when Baxter’s theme variations recap the funky bass line, or are goosed with long organ solos.

Thematically, Hell’s Belles is a bit repetitive, but it’s nevertheless one of Baxter’s most addictive scores. The backbeat is constant, the rich, electric bass frequently gets a stretch of bars to groove (as in “Hogin’ Machine”), and even the airhead lyrics of “Scoobee Doo” are worked into a weird tune that’s part rock, country, and trippy lounge (with an organ bridge that comes out of nowhere).

La-La Land’s CD presents the remastered soundtrack album that Curb reissued in 2000, plus adds 5 extra tracks, all previously unreleased. The album master is in stereo, but it’s less warm than the bonus cuts (which are in mono). One suspects the album master consisted of multiple tracks that were bounced between tape to create a true stereo mix, whereas the bonus cues are the un-tweaked and original music stems. (And even if they’re just mono mix-downs from missing stereo masters, their fidelity is superior to the stereo album cuts.)

Most of the bonus tracks are edited suites of shorter cues, but they’re score instead of the length vocal versions used for the album, and spun-off as singles. The extra material offers a variation of stripped down instrumentals (harmonica, bass, drums, and a slower tempo in some) or brief versions of the main vocal tracks, and there’s an oddball comedic closer “Snake or Rope” in track 15 reminiscent of his Beach Party films, like Beach Blanket Bingo (1965).

La-La Land’s CD is blessed with the film’s amazing campaign art, and the CD booklet sports plenty of stills. Randall D. Larson’s liner notes are excellent, and provide great background material on this forgotten MGM film, its cast, and its place in Baxter’s extensive filmography.

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© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

CD:  Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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