MY FAVORITE SOUNDTRACK: 'UP THE ACADEMY'
The 1980 motion picture released as Mad Magazine Presents Up the Academy represents one of the great tragedies of cinema and soundtracks. Not only was the film a financial failure that lost us all the chance to have a bona fide Mad magazine movie, its soundtrack was even more of a flop—sentencing a good music collection to bargain bin obscurity.
First, some background on the whole Up the Academy debacle: after National Lampoon begat the 1978 blockbuster Animal House, Warner Brothers sought to make a proper Mad magazine movie and commissioned a script that would have brought Mad’s pages to life in a sketch-comedy format.
Before that, though, Warner wanted to test the brand’s drawing power, so they slapped Mad Magazine Presents above the title of Up the Academy, a pre-existing military school romp directed by iconoclast Robert Downey Sr. (creator of Putney Swope, father of Iron Man). Downey’s coarse and ill-paced satire was rated R for foul language and thus inaccessible to Mad’s preteen audience. It bombed atrociously and, as a result, Mad Magazine: The Movie suffered a permanent kibosh.
In the meantime, though, Warners’ music department assembled a sprawling, 22-song Up the Academy soundtrack that functions as a perfect snapshot of what major labels briefly banked on in the wake of punk. Spiky hair, skinny ties, and sugar-rush guitar riffs seemed a natural extension of the unwashed ass-length manes, skin-tight bellbottoms, and smoking grooves that moved zillions of units in the years immediately prior to #1 hits by the Cars and Gary Numan.
Alas, the actual vinyl Up the Academy soundtrack album winnowed that astonishing array down to a mere ten numbers. It still delivers plenty of potent wallop but devotees spent decades assembling and trading their own complete UTA collections on cassettes and CDs. A similar phenomenon occurred with 1982’s Valley Girl, prompting Rhino to issue a secondary soundtrack album consisting of excised songs in 1995. Nobody’s holding their breath, however, for Warners to unleash More Music From Up the Academy.
In short order, Michael Jackson, Madonna, New Wave’s synth-y Euro fops, and a 24-hour music video channel, MTV, would bury this final outburst of hard-rock-as-sweet-pop embodied by Up the Academy. Take a taste.
Teenage LA punk pioneers Blow Up didn't get a real album out until the 1984 Bomp release Easy Living, but they do contribute three songs to Up the Academy, including “Kickin’ Up a Fuss,” the movie’s official main title theme. An upward charging guitar lead ushers in a mid-tempo, fist-tossing anti-authority anthem with an irresistible sing-along chorus. The lyrics liken the school year to a nine-month exile that’s “like workin’ on a rock pile” before repeatedly proclaiming solidarity by chanting, “Yeah, man, that’s us! Kickin’ up a fuss!” And, hey, that is us!
Jody Worth: Vocals, guitar
Bruce Nicholson: Guitar
Patrick DiPuccio: Guitar, harmonica
Christian Super: Piano, organ
Don Walton: Bass
Art Arroyo: Drums
with Daniel Lazarus: Additional keyboards
Produced by Jody Worth & Bill Evans.
Engineered and mixed by Bill Evans.
Recorded at RCA Studios, Hollywood, 3/80.
Full Album Track List
Kicking Up A Fuss (Main Title Theme) -- Blow-Up
X Offender -- Blondie
Roadrunner -- Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
We Gotta Get Out Of Here -- Ian Hunter
Coquette -- Cheeks
Boney Moronie -- Cheeks
We Live For Love -- Pat Benatar
Bad Reputation -- Sammy Hagar
Midnight Rendezvous -- The Babys
Beat The Devil -- Blow-Up
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