Writing parody songs is easy. Writing great parody songs isn't.
Of the movie soundtracks that have attempted to skewer a musical genre, only a few came up aces: The Rutles, This Is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind are still the best. That Thing You Do is another memorable one (though it was more straight-on homage). And you can't forget Paul Williams' so-bad-they're-good songs from Ishtar.
The exclusive club has a new member. Walk Hard is the rise-and-fall-and-rise story of Dewey Cox, a rocker who's like Johnny Cash meets Jim Morrison. To outfit Cox (played and sung by actor John C. Reilly) in his musical wardrobe, producer Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan drafted in some heavyweight talents as co-writers.
Marshall Crenshaw brings his deep understanding of American roots rock to "Walk Hard," nailing a riff and melody that sounds like it could've come from the Man in Black himself. On "A Life Without You (Is No Life At All)," Candybutchers' Mike Viola catches the operatic swell of a Roy Orbison tune then pushes the self-pitying melodrama to ridiculous lengths with couplets such as "So sharpen up your knife and stab me in the eyes / I want to cry rivers of blood / I want to drown myself in your love."
Viola and Dan Bern write "Dear Mr. President," a so-earnest-it-hurts protest song that has Cox crooning how he "stands for the midget, the Negro and the Injun all hopped up on booze." Bern also captures a spot-on Dylan in the laugh-out-loud "Royal Jelly," with cryptic couplets such as "Stuffed cabbage is the darling of the laundromat / And the sorority mascot sat with the lumberjack."
Van Dyke Parks brings back the lysergic late '60s with "Black Sheep," complete with sitar squiggles, tempo gear changes and Pepper-esque production.
Listening to this soundtrack whets my appetite for the film, which I'm sure I'm going to love. If the songs can stand up on their own, as these do, the visuals can only take them to the next level. Walk Hard is rock parody at its smartest and funniest. • Bill DeMain