Various Artists – Wild in the Streets Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1968)

In 1968 “The Shape of Things to Come” was released on Capitol Records credited to the group Max Frost and the Troopers. A fictional band featured in the American International Pictures film “Wild in the Streets,” the group was portrayed in the movie by Richard Pryor, Diane Varsi, Larry Bishop and Christopher Jones as their hedonistic lead singer Max Frost.

The 1960’s rock anthem “The Shape of Things to Come,” has been on my mind an awful lot lately.  I’ve been listening and relistening to it being performed by various different artists for a few months now and pulling apart and thinking a lot about the lyrics.  A song about political revolution and the widening of the generation gap, it could just be one of the most timeless rock n’ roll songs ever recorded. Written in 1968 by the esteemed song writing team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Well, who wrote such hits as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and “Make Your Own King of Music,” “The Shape of Things to Come” was written with the social unrest of the mid-1960’s as the backdrop of the song, but managed to capture the continuous anxiety and chaos of society as it continues to grow and evolve from generation to generation.  As a result, the song is still applicable now as much as when it first came out.  The new ideas and voices of the youth will always want to be heard, the resistance to change by the patriarchy who find these new ideas alien or unwanted will continue to resist.  The cycle of the struggle between young and old continues through time, but ultimately, nothing can change the shape of things to come.

Just chew on these lyrics.  They are deeply profound and prophetic:

There’s a new sun.

Risin’ up angry in the sky

And there’s a new voice,

Sayin’ “We’re not afraid to die.”

Let the old world make believe

It’s blind and deaf and dumb,

But nothing can change the shape of things to come.

There are changes,

Lyin’ ahead in every road.

And there are new thoughts,

Ready and waiting to explode.

When tomorrow is today

The bells may toll for some.

But nothing can change the shape of things to come.

The future’s coming in now,

Sweet and strong

Ain’t no one gonna hold it back for long.

There are new dreams,

Crowdin’ out old realities.

There’s revolution,

Sweepin’ in like a fresh new breeze/

Let the old world make believe

It’s blind and deaf and dumb.

But nothing can change the shape of things,

Nothing can change the shape of things,

Nothing can change the shape of things to come.

I don’t care what generation you are from, but that’s some pretty heavy stuff there.

“Wild in the Streets” (1968) was based on a short story called “The Day It All Happened, Baby!” by Robert Thim, and directed by Barry Shears for American International Pictures.

A garage rock staple, “The Shape of Things to Come” has been a perennial favorite of music hipsters for decades, but its origins come from the controversial exploitation film “Wild in the Streets,” and its production and Its original production has been a subject of both debate and confusion. 

Based on a short story published in Esquire in 1967 called “The Day it All Happened, Baby!” by writer Robert Thim,  “Wild in the Streets” was written by the author, and directed by first time director Barry Shears for American International Pictures, which was best known during the era for its beach party films, Roger Corman horrors, biker films and counter culture drug flicks.  “Wild in the Streets” would take elements of all of these niche film genres and thrust into the social and political chaos of an era where America’s social fabric seemed to be burning in a napalm infused inferno.

“Wild in the Streets” centered around the real life debate to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 which was a hot topic during the Viet Nam era.  The idea that kids were old enough to fight in an unpopular war, but not old enough to vote for their elected leaders, was an obvious bone of contention during the 1960’s.  But what was also on the mind of Robert Thim was a statistic that estimated that 52% of the population was now under the age of 25.  Thus, in theory, by lowering the voting age, the youth of America would outnumber the establishment.  In the era of campus riots, political protests, civil unrest, race wars and the disintegration of the nuclear family, the generation gap seemed much wider than ever before.

A dark and uneasy watch, “Wild in the Streets” is parts political commentary, social satire and dystopian horror.  The film would be realised to mixed reviews, but find a cult status with film fans.

“Wild in the Streets,” tells the story of rock star Max Frost, played by cult film actor Christopher Jones, who is recruited by Republican politician Johnny Fergus (played by future “Dallas” co-star Hal Halbrook) to campaign for him in an attempt to attract young voters on his platform of lowering the voting age.  However, when Frost and his band made up of dropouts, hippies and groupies appear on live television at a Fergus rally, the singer pulls a fast one performing a song called “Fourteen or Fight,” demanding that the voting age is lowered to 14.  With America’s youth worked into a frenzy by Frost’s performance, mass demonstrations and riots break out across America, forcing the senate to make a compromise and lowering the vote to age 15, and Fergus is elected to the Senate. Hoping that this will end their affiliation with Max Frost, Fergus is horrified when Frost and his gang follow him to Washington and begin to meddle in the political system, corrupting it from the inside and putting the Washington system at the mercy of  their horde of young and angry followers who back Frost on anything he days.  In a series of bizarre and devious acts of what is essentially terrorism, Max Frost and his misfits push their way into the Oval Office, and soon President Frost, America’s youngest president at age 22, recreates America into a Kafkian hellscape.

An often disturbing and dark watch, “Wild in the Streets” is a strange and uneven film.  Creating anti-heroes out of its counterculture characters, rounded out in the film by acclaimed favorites such as Diane Varsi and Richard Pryor; while exploiting the fears of social traditionalists, in the forms of Shelly Winters, Ed Begley and Burt Freed; “Wild in the Streets” is parts political commentary, social satire and dystopian horror.   Released to mixed reviews, the film did manage to get one Oscar nomination for film editing and found a cult following with exploitation film fans.

Christopher Jones did not sing for his role of Max Frost in “Wild in the Streets,” but he did suggest that the single for “The Shape of Things to Come” be released under the name Max Frost and the Troopers.

But I’m going to be very honest.  I don’t like the film “Wild in the Streets.”  Although it falls within an era and subgenre of film I usually greatly enjoy, I find “Wild in the Streets” to be too uneasy of a watch.  I find the characters to be unsympathetic and unlikeable, the ending bleak and disturbing and I don’t like the way that the film depicts youth culture.  I like to believe that people, young and old, have a common desire for decency and freedom, although what that means often varies a great deal in the mind of the individual.  Furthermore, as we have seen in recent years, the greatest threat to America’s democracy hasn’t come from the voices of the young wanting change.  It has come from the resistance of the far right to accept new ideas such as science, racial and gender equality and technology, and their manipulation of an out of touch and power hungry narcissist well in his 70’s.  While” Wild in the Streets” may be a prophetic film in many ways in regard to America’s current divisive political climate, the movie seems to get the villains wrong in a story with no heroes.

“The Shape of Things to Come,” and the rest of the songs sung by Max Frost and the Troopers in “Wild in the Streets” were written by songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Well.

So, I don’t like the film “Wild in the Streets,” but the music is a whole other story.   A fictional rock singer and his band needs some songs to sing, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Well were one of the top songs writing team of the era.  Commissioned to write five songs for the film, Mann and Well wrote “Love to Be Your Man,” “Fourteen or Fight,” “Free Lovin’,” “Fifty Two Percent” and, what would be the center piece to the film, “The Shape of Things to Come.”

Future music mogul Mike Curb produced all the tracks for “Wild in the Streets.”

The music to “Wild in the Streets” was produced by Sidewalk Productions under the direction of future music mogul Mike Curb.  In spite of his own future far-left politics, at this time in his career Curb was the architect of the entire AiP sound and given the contracts to compose and release the music for the majority of their films, including the soundtracks for films like “The Born Losers,” “Easy Rider.”  “The Trip” and “Satan’s Sadists.”  Writing much of the original material himself on many of these projects, these film soundtracks have become highly collectable, and all include moments of groovy goodness, but rarely ever saw any sort of success on the Billboard charts.  But, by working with esteemed writers like Mann and Wells, the “Wild in the Streets” sound would be different.

The voice of Max Frost was singer Paul Wibier (center) from the obscure garage band “Mom’s Boys.”

For the recordings Curb wisely did not get Christopher Jones to sing.  I don’t know if Jones could hold a tune or not, but Curb had far too much foresight and looked to his own roster of studio musicians to create the sound for Max Frost and the Troopers.  But just who performed the songs on the album has become a subject of debate.

What has been agreed upon is that the vocals for all the tracks on the album were supplied by singer Paul Wibier whose band Mom’s Boys had worked with Mike Curb in the past for other soundtracks.  After much searching, I can find very little information on Wibier and Mom’s Boys, except for one music blog which had made attempts at contacting the singer and said he isn’t interested in being found.  The only other real info I have on Wibier is that beyond this project he also performed the song “Satan” for Curb’s “Satan’s Sadists,” released a year after “Wild in the Streets” hit record shelves.

Despite popular belief, the studio band on “The Shape of Things to Come” was not Davie Allan and the Arrows, although Allan has gone on record as saying he wishes it had been. Instead, they were the first band to release a cover of the song not long after its initial release.

As for the musicians, it was long believed that guitarist Davie Allan, and his band The Arrows, were the session musicians for the recording.  Playing guitar on many of Mike Curb’s soundtracks, Davies did work on the “Wild in the Streets” soundtrack, but he has gone on record saying that it wasn’t him or the Arrows on the “Shape of Things to Come” session, although he really wishes that it were.  A big part of the misconception may have came from the fact that Davie Allan and the Arrows were possibly the first band to release a cover version of the song after “Wild in the Streets” was released, and with his association to Mike Curb and Sidewalk Records, both fans and professionals assumed they had played the song with Paul Wibierr on vocals.  Still today it remains a mystery who played on the original track with nobody taking credit.

Released as a single after “The Shape of Things to Come” began to get national airplay, the track rose to #ss on the US Billboard charts and became a garage band staple.

In regard to a name for the band who produced the song, a fictional name was made up to represent the studio musicians.  This was common practice in the music industry at the time, and especially on Sidewalk Record releases.  For the release of the “Wild in the Streets” soundtrack, Mike Curb made up a fictional group called The Thirteenth Power for all the songs sung by Paul Wibier.  However, when “The Shape of Things to Come” started getting noticed by the audience and getting airplay on radio stations across the country, it was decided that the track would be released as a single.  It was apparently Christopher Jones himself who suggested that the name of the studio group be changed to Max Frost and the Troopers for the release of the single.  Although Frost’s band did not have a name in the film, the character would call his young followers “troops,” which thus translated to “The Troopers.”   The powers that made these decisions liked the idea, and suddenly the fictional Max Frost and the Troopers had crossed over to America’s real life musical landscape.

As a single “The Shape of Things to Come” was able to take a life of its own away from the film which spawned it.  The potency of the lyrics matched with the political upheaval which held America in its icy grip in 1968.  The song seemed to reflect the times which were in a state of chaos caused by the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, the escalation in Veit Nam, the increase of civil unrest and the murder of Robert Kennedy.  “The Shape of Things to Comer” seemed to match the mood of America’s youth and the cry for change.  Although it wasn’t a huge hit on the Billboard charts, it did rise to #22, which was extremely good for a single from an AiP film soundtrack (ironically it was a bigger hit in Canada, where it got all the way to #2 on the CHUM-FM chart).

After the unsuspected success of “The Shape of Things to Come,” Mike Curb recorded additional tracks with Paul Wibier to create a full Max Frost and the Troopers lp, but none of the new music had any chart success.

With the success of the single, Mike Curb got Wibier back in the studio to release a full Max Frost and the Troopers album, which included the original five tracks from the “Wild in the Streets” album, as well as a few additional recordings, including songs from Curb’s then current project for AiP, “3 in the Attic,” which also, incidentally, featured Christopher Jones.  Appropriately titled “The Shape of Things to Come,” the album did not produce any follow up hits.  But over the next few years, when looking to put fake band names on his various soundtracks, Curb would occasionally pull out Max Frost and the Troopers again and reuse the name for the contributing band.

As time marched on, “The Shape of Things to Come” would remain in the minds of the people who heard it and it’d be pulled out and rerecorded by a plethora of artists.  In 1969 Barbara Streisand’s 18 year old kid sister Roslyn Kind challenged the Sunday night establishment when she sang it on the Ed Sullivan Show, becoming the first woman to record it for her debut album “Give Me You. “In 1970 the song found its way to Europe with British hard rock group Slade turning it into an early heavy metal anthem on their album “Play it Loud.”  In 1971 Paul Revere and the Raiders released a pulsating cover of it on their album “Indian Reservation.”  Mark Lindsay nailed the song beautifully, which was little surprise as it had been rumored that the character Max Frost had been inspired by him when Robert Thim saw his hosting duties on a broadcast of “Happening.”  The role was even reportedly offered to Lindsay prior to Christopher Jones, but the Raiders front man wisely turned it down (one wonders how the role of a hedonistic tyrant would have ultimately soiled Lindsay’s likeable pop star image).  George Benson recorded an instrumental jazz version of it as the title track on his 1976 album.  The Ramones dusted it off and reintroduced it to a new breed of nihilistic disenfranchised generation on their 1993 album “Acid Eaters.”  Most recently, in 2010, R&B artist Janelle Monae took a highly original take on the track, bringing it soundly into the modern age.

And that is where the beauty of “The Shape of Things to Come” lays.  It embodies the changing of generations, the anxiety stemmed by the evolution of society and the eternal conflict between old and new.  The voices that cried for revolution in the 1960’s are now the world who make believe that they are deaf and blind and dumb.  Their grandchildren are the ones who are crying for change and revolution, and nobody in between can change the shape of things to come.  Where you sit within that spectrum depends on your feeling towards the message of the song.

A diverse group of artists have released “The Shape of Things to Come” including Roslyn Kind, Slade, Paul Revere and the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay, George Benson, The Ramones and Janelle Monae.

Unlike the film which spawned it, I feel that “The Shape of Things to Come” is a song of great optimism and hope for the future, but at the cost of those who resist change through fear and ignorance.  More and more, as our society falls deeper and deeper into chaos in our post pandemic world, I see a growing “war on the youth” on my social media feeds.  Perhaps it’s a case of my ethnicity and age, but I see a connection between a resistance to “woke culture” alongside a push back by an aging population who lament the loss of “traditional values” through their fear and/or rejection of science, technology, diversity, and inclusion.  Meanwhile, I see the youth movement who are concerned with gender politics, climate and environmental issues and embracing new technology and belief systems.  Those who push back against the advancement of our society risk their ideas becoming obsolete as new concepts become accepted realities, and the old ways become increasingly obsolete.  It might be uncomfortable for some people, especially as our modern world moves faster and faster, but it’s inevitable.  We can accept evolution, or we can become obsolete. 

Personally, I find the ways that concepts and changes that are introduced by young voices to be exciting and hopeful.  I gain inspiration from the young people I’ve watched grow up into incredible young adults, and I find far more comfort in leaving the world in their hands than giving it back to a generation that has had limited understanding or empathy.  If the world we live in seems to be burning because of global chaos, it was the establishment that did it.   We need changes, and new thoughts that are ready and waiting to explode.  I say bring on the things to come. 

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