Scoring: Music for Making Whoopee (NSFW)

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Great music offers a glimpse at the pinnacle of human potential. Other music, ephemeral and utilitarian, never makes it out of base camp–or perhaps the gutter. Adult film music likely fits this second description but its reputation may be on the rise.

I saw this article on “how sex got its soundtrack” from Salon and couldn’t help ruminate on this neglected subset of film music. The article is mostly fluff and click bait, however, it does mention some notable scores that piqued my interest enough to delve deeper into the genre. According to the piece, Deep Throat (1972), the first widely distributed porn flick, and the Lynchian cult hit Café Flesh (1982) helped solidify the overblown funk and jazz we’ve come to associate with the genre. The “bom chicka wah wah” stuff, if you will. But the story goes back a bit further.

In the purple haze of free love known as the 1960s, Italian composer Piero Umiliani had one glorious crossover hit with the track “Mah na Mah na.” You might be unfamiliar with the original version written for Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968), a fake documentary featuring lesbian nightlife and swinging Swedes.

The song later found its way into such hardcore shows as “Sesame Street” and “The Muppets.” Yes, that’s correct, an M. Night Shyamalan-worthy plot twist. You could also swap themes from Requiem for a Dream and Yo Gabba Gabba and see if anyone notices…

Since the films I’ve mentioned are fairly old–at least by media standards–you might wonder, what’s it like to be an adult film composer working today? Enter James Lynch. His CV includes scoring the meta-meta-parody Not Another Porn Movie (2008) and managing outsider musical groups like The Uncluded and Night Terrors of 1927. He sidestepped (or slipped) into this line of work by scoring horror films–not such a big gap I would imagine. He speaks of his work in amazingly prosaic terms: “I’d compare it to mainstream film… if it’s doing its job, you don’t notice it.”

To honor the great work of James and others, in 2009, the AVN Awards, the Oscars of porn, created the Best Original Song category. James was nominated but, unfortunately, lost to Van Halen. (He bemoans this fact since Van Halen likely had no idea they were up for the prestigious honor.) Nevertheless, this all bodes well for composers of the genre to finally receive recognition. Porn scores will probably never garner the respect currently bestowed on video game music. But at the very least I’m sure many inscrutable gender theory dissertations will be written on this subject in the passive voice as featured in this very sentence.

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