It isn’t easy to live in the continental United States and exist in your own bubble of sorts, but prior to 1990, that was essentially true of the region known as the Pacific Northwest. The most populated city in the area would have been Seattle, Washington. Seattle’s closest big city neighbour is actually Vancouver, British Columbia, across the border into Canada. Prior to 1990, the Pacific Northwest region of the US was known more for its wilderness and hiking trails and, oh yes, a volcano named Mount St. Helens! If you traveled there it was definitely a destination journey, meaning that you wanted to go specifically there. It was a boutique location, for sure. Consequently, if you happened to live there, you did so in a very tight knit community. Seattle, in particular, was insulated from much of what was happening elsewhere across the States. This sense of relative isolation allowed the local Arts scene to incubate, free of scrutiny from the outside world. Thus, when local band Nirvana released “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the outside world sat up and took notice. This song is credited with launching the Grunge music movement and creating what music journalists dubbed “The Seattle Scene”. But, truth be told, Seattle, Washington had been a hotbed for great music long before the region was “discovered” by the rest of the country. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and many more were all well established on the local music circuit by the time Nirvana came out with the Nevermind album. Once Nirvana went supernova, as it were, the world descended on Seattle and that quiet sense of purity that characterized the music scene there was gone forever. If you happen to ever hear someone being interviewed who was in Seattle prior to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, they always lament the loss of privacy that came with being discovered. To get a sense of what it was like to live in Seattle just before Grunge exploded isn’t easy. However, we are lucky that there was a movie made there in 1992 by director Cameron Crowe that did a pretty good job of capturing the fashion, the music, the club scene and the sense of community that existed in the Arts world in Seattle. That movie was called Singles. This is the story of that movie, the impactful soundtrack that accompanied it and the mega-hit TV show that was inspired because of it.
Singles was a movie that starred Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgewick and a host of characters from around Seattle such as the members of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell and the members of Soundgarden, director Tim Burton and many others. The movie is basically a romantic comedy of sorts that uses, as its setting, the world of Seattle’s Arts scene as it existed just before “Teen Spirit” took off. Throughout much of the movie, songs by Seattle bands can be heard playing in the background, or else whole scenes will take place in a club or at a concert with real bands on stage. One scene was even shot at the real gravesite of legendary rocker…and Seattle resident…Jimi Hendrix. As such, Singles was always more than a mere movie. It was a film that intentionally captured a moment in cultural history while it was all still relatively innocent and pure. To call Singles a time capsule would be very accurate.
What makes Singles such a memorable movie is the soundtrack. The movie is crammed with great tunes by a ton of artists and bands who, at the time, were only really known in Seattle or on the college radio circuit. The whole soundtrack is packed with hits and/or performances from Seattle artists/bands that we consider to be huge today such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Paul Westerberg (formerly of The Replacements), Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and The Smashing Pumpkins, along with familiar names such as Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart (who perform as The Lovemongers on this soundtrack, covering a Led Zeppelin tune called “The Battle of Evermore”) and Seattle’s most famous pre-Grunge son, Jimi Hendrix, too. What makes the Singles soundtrack unique in movie history is that at the time of its release, all of the tunes were original releases. Taking that one step further, all of these bands/artists would, in time, become big stars on the national stage, but for this soundtrack, they all submitted original work. It is almost as if some cool Seattle insider made a mixtape of the best music around at the time and released it for the world to discover. From everything I have read about this movie, I believe that those musicians who agreed to take part all did so because they believed in Cameron Crowe’s vision for how the Arts community was going to be portrayed. It was also important to them that the movie have a timelessness to it so that it wouldn’t appear dated a few years after release. The Singles soundtrack has achieved that aim. It is still one of the very best movie soundtracks that I have ever heard. I owned it back in my Columbia Record Club days and I still like all of the artists and bands who contributed to it to this very day. Don’t read too much into the fact that I chose “State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam to represent this movie. I could have chosen almost any of the songs in this soundtrack and it would have been a good choice. I picked “State of Love and Trust” simply because it is a good tune and I own it and like it. Simple.
As for the movie itself, Singles never won any awards for the quality of the story being told. However, when it was released, the story of young, single, attractive twenty-somethings living near each other, growing into adulthood together, searching for love and a life lived with purpose resonated with audiences. For me, I always thought that Bridget Fonda’s character was super cute. She had a “look” that Cameron Crowe insisted that she naturally had and that somehow managed to perfectly capture that sense of fashion that was popular in Seattle at the time. This is an important note because once the movie was released, many who saw it wanted the storylines from the movie to continue on in the form of a TV show. Cameron Crowe was offered the chance to take Singles and serialize it for television but he declined, stating that he felt he had captured the spirit of Seattle perfectly in the film and didn’t wish to dilute that by having to make the story fit a national perspective. However, not long after declining the chance to take Singles to TV, a new show debuted on NBC called Friends. That show involved a group of young, attractive single twenty-somethings who all lived near each other, growing into adulthood, searching for love and a life lived with purpose. One of the stars of the show was Jennifer Aniston who, like Bridget Fonda, became known for her sense of style. I felt that “Rachel” was pretty cute at times, too. The producers of Friends insist that their show had nothing to do with Singles, but their denials are more rooted in a desire to avoid ever being sued by Crowe for a share of the profits the show has accrued over the years.
In any case, Singles is a movie that may have not ever been an Oscar-calibre story, but the cultural impact it had on the world of music and television is unquestioned. If you have never watched Singles before, please feel free to do so. It will be like unearthing a cultural time capsule. The trailer I am enclosing is really corny and low-budget, but, at least, it will introduce you to the characters. When you see it, try and figure out who inspired the various Friends characters on TV. Overall, I love Singles for the music…and for Bridget Fonda’s character. The soundtrack is outstanding. I hope that you will give it a chance, too.
The link to the official movie trailer for Singles can be found here.
The link to a YouTube playlist for the entire movie soundtrack of Singles can be found here.
The link to the official website for Seattle, Washington can be found here.
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