Various Artists – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1970)

The Carrie Nations – Casey Anderson, Pet Danforth and Kelly MacNamara, played by Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBloom and Dolly Read in the 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

You ever seen that meme that says that nobody remembers their first music download, but they’ll never forget their first record?  Well, I can get behind the concept, but I can’t say it’s true.  I remember what my first download was.  It was “Find It” by The Carrie Nations.  Ever heard of them?    Dynamic, sexy and exciting, the Carrie Nations, made up of lead singer/guitarist Kelly MacNamara, bassist Casey Anderson and drummer Pet Danforth, live and play in the same universe as The Partridge Family, The Blues Brothers and Spinal Tao.  They were a fictional band, played by actors, in fabled exploitation director Russ Meyer’s 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”  However, unlike those other bands, and despite the strength of their music, The Carrie Nations have never made it into the mainstream.  Although their music has been part of my personal soundscape for decades, their music has been criminally overlooked and underappreciated beyond the cult movie film fans who know that the Carrie Nations are, without a doubt, the Queens of fictional rock.

Released in 1970 by 20th Century Fox, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” didn’t find its audience upon its initial release, but found a following amongst film fans when reexamined decades later making it a major cult success.

When I returned to record collecting after a hiatus in the mid 2000’s, the soundtrack to “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” was my original “white whale.” I owned the special deluxe CD which had been released in 2003 which I appropriately had purchased at the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard during a visit to Los Angeles in 2009, which would have been the Carrie Nations’ stomping grounds.   Eventually I treated myself by ordering my copy on Discogs at a very lucrative price.  To this day it is still the most money I have ever spent on a single album for my collection, and I still have never seen a copy of this album out in the wild at any music shop or record show.  Looking on Discogs Marketplace today only 12 dealers worldwide have this album for sale, with the lowest price being a fair quality copy from the Ukraine which is selling for just under $80 CND.  But despite the price I paid for it, I have no regrets as it is, without a doubt, one of the favorite albums in my collection.  I absolutely adore every single track on this thing.

Andre Previn – Valley of the Dolls Original Movie Soundtrack (1967)

But before you get excited when finding a copy of the album at your local Good Will or flea market, make sure that what you are holding in your hand isn’t a copy of the 1967 soundtrack to “Valley of the Dolls,” featuring the music of Andre Previn.  Thrift shops are full of these things, and I’ve had so many well-meaning friends gift me “Valley of the Dolls” stuff not knowing the difference.  Despite being a classic in its own right, “Valley of the Dolls” isn’t the mind-bending psychedelic smorgasbord of senses blasting goodness that is “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” and compared to the pulsating rock acid flavored power pop of the “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” soundtrack, “Valley of the Dolls” sounds like pure Lawrence Welk. 

But, before we get into the vinyl, let’s take a quick look at the film.  I’ll try to keep it brief, but it’ll be hard because “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is a film which I am extremely passionate about and I love talking about every aspect of it.  I’ve studied it for years, have talked to and interviewed the stars, and could literally write hundreds of pages about it if left to my own devices.

20th Century Fox hired rebel independent film maker to create the hedonistic world of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

After 20th Century Fox’s release of “Valley of the Dolls” in 1967, based on what was then considered to be a “controversial” book by author Jaqueline Susann, the studio was looking to make another film that would build on the film’s notorious reputation and box office success.  But how do you up the ante?  Obviously with more drugs, more addiction, more sex and more beautiful women!  To do this they decided to go way out on a limb and hired independent film director Russ Meyer, who had made a reputation in Hollywood’s underground scene as a sort of rebel who broke rules and pushed boundaries making films filled with sex, violence and beautiful women.  In a Hollywood which was just on the cusp of easing on the censors, Meyer’s films, such as “Faster Pussycat…Kill! Kill!”, “Mudhoney” and “Motorpshyco” were trashy sexploitation films at best.  But where Meyer differed from the other exploitation directors of the time is that he actually knew how to make a good-looking movie.  His movies were darkly whimsical, had memorable characters and a quality of cinematography which could compete head-to-head with other up-and-comers such as Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola and Friedkin.  The only difference between him and those directors is that instead of making movies that would captivate the imagination of cinephiles, Meyer wanted to make films about women with large breasts.

Tying down Meyer to the project, a horrified Jaqueline Susann filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox to attempt to have the film stopped, citing that the film would cheapen her original novel with sex, nudity and other exploitive subject matter.  Well, Susann wouldn’t be wrong, but she did lose the lawsuit and 20th Century Fox continued on.  But they made sure that it was clear to the audience that there was no connection between “Valley of the Dolls” and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”  The tagline of the film was “This is not a sequel.  You’ve never seen anything like ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,'” and, a disclaimer was rolled out in the first minutes of the film before the opening credits.  Meyer and his team delivered on the promise that this wasn’t a sequel, and the mood, tone and attitude of the film is different, and, in my opinion, it is fresher, sexier, hip and tons more fun.

For his co-writer and production partner, Russ Meyer picked an unlikely choice – film critic Roger Ebert!

As his creative partner on the project, Russ Meyer picked an unlikely writer and collaborator in Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.  That’s right!  The same as in “Siskel and Ebert!”  Despite Ebert never having written a screen play before, he and Meyer put their heads together and devised a fast and loose script that revolved around an all-girl rock band who goes to Hollywood and fall into a life of sex, drugs, hedonism and depravity.  For the film Ebert and Meyer threw in every single taboo subject that they could think of including lesbianism, gold diggers, porn stars, alcoholism, abortion, suicide, paraplegics, road rage, betrayal, bondage, gender benders and, of course, murder. 

“This is my happening and it FREAKS ME OU!” John LaZar and Dolly Read as “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ central characters Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell and Kelly McNamara.

To define what sort of film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is a tough one.  Part melodrama, part parody and part exploitation film, it seems to be a quirky commentary on Hollywood excess, and while the cast is playing it perfectly straight, Meyer seemed to have his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek.  There is a lot of comedy, but the cast isn’t playing it for laughs, giving it a surreal quality.  Meanwhile, Meyer and Ebert were writing the film as they went along, constantly adding new scenes and plot twists, giving the film a disorientating feel.  Finally, the rapid film editing, and surreal montages spliced into the film gave it a high-octane quality that assaults the senses.  It was a film that would confuse conventional audiences, especially in 1970, but the production values of the film were so stunning that it is difficult to not to find a certain brilliance in it.  As Russ Meyer’s most commercial and expensive film, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” could arguably be his masterpiece.

Russ Meyer on the “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” set with Erica Gavin, Phyllis Davis, Dolly Read and Edy Williams, who he married just after filming completed. Meyer hand picked an exciting and sexy cast of Hollywood unknowns for his film, where the women were hot, the guys were cool and the stakes were high.

For the cast they assembled a ridiculously good-looking group of Hollywood unknowns.  In the key roles of the Carrie Nations Meyer cast Playboy Playmates Dolly Read and Cynthia Myers as Kelly MacNamara and Casey Anderson, and model Marcia McBroom as Pet Danforth.  In the pivotal role of music producer Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell was actor John LaZar in a career defining role, who gives the film’s most memorable performance as the ringleader and the instigator of the film’s debauchery.  Meyer also cast Erica Gavin and Harrison Page, who had been in his previous film “Vixen!” in key supporting roles and rounded out the film with future cult film favorites Edy Williams, Michael Blodgett, Charles Napier and Phyllis Davis.  One actor, David Gurian, would give a likeable performance as the Carrie Nations original manager and Kelly’s scorned boyfriend Harris, but would never to be seen again in another film. Finally “Faster Pussycat” and “Motorpsycho” co-star Haji makes a cameo, and future cult film superstar Pam Grier and Bond Girl Tina Parks can be seen as extras in party scenes.  Meyer had created a world where the women were hot, the guys were cool, and the stakes were high.  But being a movie about a rock band, that meant the movie needed the perfect music which would reflect the time and the attitude of the film.

Legendary for his work writing music for television and film, writer Stu Phillips produced a sound for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” that reflected the music of Haight-Ashbury and the Sunset Strip.

For the Carrie Nation’s original music, the production team hired song writer Stu Phillips to create six original songs that reflected the musical trends of the moment.  One of Hollywood’s most durable composers, Phillips had done the scores for surf and biker films such as “Ride the Wild Surf,” “Hell’s Angels on Wheels,” “Angel’s from Hell” and “Venus in Furs,” as well as incidental music for “The Monkees” TV show.  He’d continue to go on to write some of the music and theme songs to the most iconic television shows of the 1970’s and 1980’s including “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Quincy,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “BJ and the Bear” and “Knight Rider.”

To gain inspiration for the Carrie Nations music, Philips looked to the sounds that were being heard in Haight-Ashbury and the Sunset Strip.  Groups like The Doors, The Seeds, The Electric Prunes, The Music Machine and, most obviously, Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin and The Jefferson Airplane featuring Grace Slick.  Joplin and Slick were the two biggest female rock singers of the moment, and their vocal power and style can clearly be recognized as major influences in the Carrie Nations’’ sound.

For the majority of the original songs written, Phillips worked with his long-time collaborator Bob Stone, who would pen a number of hits for a wide range of artists including The American Breed, Kenny Rogers and Cher.  Together they wrote a flower power drenched in sunshine pop tune called “Come With the Gentle People,” a sensitive ballad titled “In the Long Run,” and the raunchy blues rock number “Look On Up From the Bottom.”  But their tour de force was the film’s rock anthem “Sweet Talking Candy Man,” performed by the Carrie Nations in one of the film’s most important and pivotal scenes.  A should be earworm, the song is the highlight of the entire film, and it’s criminally insane that it has never become a rock n’ roll classic.

Future Mama Lion singer/songwriter Lynn Carey wrote “Find It” and “Once I Had Love” with Stu Phillips, and became the voice of The Carrie Nations for the film.

But there is another musical highlight in the film – the first song sung by the Carrie Nations preceding the spooky and confusing opening credits, titled “Find It.”  A pulsating and explosive rock banger, the lyrics are raw, provocative and dark.  For “Find It,” Phillips’ lyricist was singer/actress/model Lynn Carey, who in the early 1970’s would go on to be the lead vocalist and co-songwriter to the LA rock group Mama Lion.  Lyrically the strongest song of the film, “Find it” harnesses the raw and powerful tone of the moment with a dark cynicism and a hint of the foreboding doom to come:

I turn my eyes to lunatic skies of red destruction
Sunrise and morning empty out my head
I’ve got to find a direction to follow
Something that’s mine, not something I’ve borrowed
Each day I wait, heavy’s the weight on me.

Find it
I’ve got to find it
Get me behind it
Someplace for me, yeah
Find it, find it, find it
Find it in me, ooh.

I need release from wanting you
You don’t satisfy me enough today
Time is too near, when I will be gone away
Wearing a collar of bright crimson
Dressed in a long black wedding gown
I’ve got to find my answers on my own.

Find it
I’ve got to find it
Get me behind it
Someplace for me

Adding a real life authenticity to the music of The Carrie Nations via her real life experiences on the Hollywood entertainment scene, Lynn Carey’s vocals were unceremoniously cut from the soundtrack album.

Possibly the reason “Find It” fits so well into “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is that Lynn Carey was living the real-life that the film was trying to capitalize on. She really was living beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  The daughter of actor MacDonald Carey, Lynn had entered the Hollywood fast track as a teenager, working as both a model and an actress, before turning her attention to her true love, music.  A dynamic singer with a powerful voice, she was beautiful enough to have appeared in the film herself and had been part of Hollywood’s rock n’ roll culture for years.  While the writers, producers and actors on “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” could only guess what that world really looked like, Lynn Carey was living it.  A sixth song, a pulsating soulful ballad called “Once I Had Love,” was also written for the Carrie Nations by Phillips and Carey but, although recorded and eventually being released, it was not used in the final film.

Lynn Carey’s spirit and sound proved so essential that, when it came time to record the music for the film, she was hired to be the voice of The Carrie Nations as well.  Although the editing is seamless in the film, when Dolly Read, who was in real life British, opens her mouth to sing, it was actually Lynn Carey’s voice that was coming out of her.  Backing vocals, being lip synced by Cynthia Myers, were by Barbara Robison, who was the lead singer of LA based group The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.  With imaginative harmonies and Carey’s powerful lead vocals, the Carrie Nation’s music becomes not only one of the most important aspects of the film production, but some of the best original rock music ever recorded for a film.  I can’t even express how good these tracks are.  It is some of my favorite film music every produced.

LA’s Strawberry Alarmclock appeared as themselves in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” and contributed two original songs, “I’m Coming Home” and “Girl From the City.”

But they weren’t the only performers to provide music for the film.  In the film’s first pivotal party scene Meyer got a real life LA group to appear – The Strawberry Alarmclock (as Kelly excitedly says to Z-Man, “I’ve been to parties where they danced to the records by the Strawberry Alarmclock, but this is the first time The Strawberry Alarmclock has ever been to the party!”)  The Alarmclock played three songs in the film – “Girl from the City,” “I’m Comin’ Home” and, their biggest hit, “Incense and Peppermints.” Even groovier is that Meyer filmed them accompanying the Carrie Nations in the important “Sweet Talking Candy Man” sequence. “Incense and Peppermints” was left off of the soundtrack, but both “I’m Comin’ Home” and “Girl from the City” would be included in the soundtrack album and be standout tracks in the mix.

The Sandpipers make an unlikely appearance in the film soundtrack with “(The Theme to) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

One more prominent and important song appeared in the film but performed by an unlikely group.  “(The Theme From) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” would be featured during a lesbian love scene that defied censors in 1970, and is still actually pretty hot by today’s standards, and sung by AM radio favorites The Sandpipers.  Not at all like anything else on the album, the sound is soft and smooth, but despite its oddball juxtaposition with the rest of the material on the album, it oddly works.

Future contemporary Christian music musician Ami Rushes provided the lead vocals for The Carrie Nations on the soundtrack album released in 1970. Lynn Carey’s vocals wouldn’t be released until 2003 on a deluxe CD rerelease.

The soundtrack album for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” was released alongside the release of the film, but when playing back the track, something just didn’t sound right.  The Carrie Nations’ dynamic sound had been changed from the film to the vinyl.  Lynn Carey’s vocals had been replaced but another singer named Ami Rushes.  A quick google search shows that Rushes found her greatest fame as a Christian music performer decades after the release of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” but I can find little bio information on her. I am assuming she has tried hard to divorce herself from this project..  Now Rushes vocals are still strong, and the strength of the songs holds up under her.  It’s a fairly good representation, but it’s just different.  It’s a decent rerecord, but the raw dynamic power and sense of real-world sincerity by Lynn Carey was greatly missed.

Why was Carey left off the album?  I’ve reached out to a few experts, including Lynn Carey herself, and while attempts to explain have been made, I’ve never gotten a clear answer to this question.  It seems that part of it was budget and also contractual, and confusing statements about legal issues.  But, most of all, it smells of some underhanded mismanagement went down in which Lynn Carey got the short end of the stick. It’d be a shame as Carey’s versions wouldn’t be released to the public until the CD release of the soundtrack in 2003.

Having never hit the Billboard charts or finding mainstream success, the music of The Carrie Nations is still waiting to be rediscovered.

When the film was released in 1970 it proved to be a divisive film.  Getting an obvious X rating by the censors, the audience didn’t seem to get it and, despite making a profit for 20th Century Fox, the big wigs at the studio didn’t understand it and shunned the film.  Underpromoted and disregarded by the powers that be, Meyer was let go from Fox Studios and never worked for them again, and most of the cast, despite their good looks and screen magnetism, never turned into house hold names.  This leads me to believe that this is probably the reason that the songs from the film were not properly promoted for a life outside of the film.  Despite the fact that The Carrie Nations songs are as good, and sometimes even better, than the music on the Billboard charts when the film was released, not a single song from the film reached the Billboard charts.  Underproduced and undersold, I am guessing this is the reason the album is so difficult to find today.

Although a cult following for the film eventually emerged, the music of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” still shamelessly lives in obscurity, despite maintaining the punch that it had when unleashed on the movie screen and reflects the best sounds of the era.  Whether you’ve seen the film or not (and if you haven’t, I encourage you to see it because It’s an insane delight), check out the music of The Carrie Nations.  Male them you’re happening and get ready to be freaked out!

(Note: Thank you to Siouxzan Perry for valuable background information for this article. An insider to the world of Russ Meyer, and possibly the world’s greatest authority on everything “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” her input and support is one of the greatest gifts during my cultural journey. Check out her work at Girlwerks Media for more insights into the world of retro cult media.)

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