Soundtracking is a regular column that looks at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil looks at the soundtrack to REALITY BITES on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Lisa Loeb at Number One.
It’s funny how certain songs and certain artists have a way of resurfacing after years of relative silence.
A prime example right now would be Lisa Loeb. The bespectacled 1990s icon has flown under the radar since that decade came to a close, releasing six LPs in the 21st Century amid little fanfare and featuring in a couple reality TV shows. Then, this summer, she jumped back into the zeitgeist thanks to a singalong on Netflix’s smash series “Orange is the New Black”. Curious timing, since this year happens to mark the 20th anniversary of Loeb becoming the first unsigned artist to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
More precisely, this moment marks 20 years exactly since her signature song – “Stay (I Missed You)” –perched itself at number one, entering its second of three weeks at the top. The song, officially credited to Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories (because backing bands are people, too) became the anchor to the success of the soundtrack to Reality Bites, although that was likely never part of the plan.
First, the song itself:
So, the story goes that Loeb and Ethan Hawke were friends and that Hawke gave her song to the film’s director Ben Stiller. This story comes out of press from the time and is probably legit. We do know that Hawke directed the video for the song in all its minimalist glory: Lisa Loeb, an apartment, a cat and one seemingly continuous take.
The song taking off, however, was the added bonus of an otherwise expertly crafted soundtrack.
Put together by Karyn Rachtman – who had another huge success in 1994 by acting as music supervisor on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack – the film’s companion album initially took off thanks to a rediscovery and popularization of The Knack’s “My Sharona”. A number one song of its own in 1979 for the unfairly-dubbed one-hit wonders, the track re-entered the Hot 100 upon the film’s release.
(Author’s Note: The Knack’s debut album “Get the Knack” is one of the greatest power pop records ever recorded and is widely available at most music and salvage stores for about $1. Everyone should own a copy.)
The track was one of several used to show the nostalgic side to the angsty Gen-Xers that drive the plot, famously scoring Winona Ryder, Steve Zahn and Janeane Garofalo throwing an impromptu dance party in a gas station.
The success of “My Sharona” points to the genius of the Reality Bites soundtrack. It was unlike Rachtman’s formula for the Quentin Tarantino features that relied almost exclusively on hidden gems and retro classics. Instead it carefully dug into the recent past, grabbing hits that went beyond The Knack to include “Tempted” by Squeeze – which was overdubbed for the soundtrack and retitled “Tempted ’94” – and U2’s “All I Want Is You”.
But there was another co-branding opportunity to be had on the soundtrack, thanks to UK new wavers Crowded House, whose song “Locked Out” had been released as a single in late 1993. When the soundtrack hit, the song was re-launched offering a boost to both the track and the film.
The soundtrack’s success was such that even a needless Peter Frampton reggae cover, courtesy of San Diego’s Big Mountain became a number-one hit in multiple countries.
Though the film was aimed at Generation X, the success of its soundtrack has helped form the childhood and early adult years of its follow-up, Generation Y or the “Millennial Generation”. To that set, a one-take video of Lisa Loeb in an apartment was formative during childhood. Maybe not as huge a deal as the concerns the target demographic of Reality Bites had about post-college opportunity when the film was released, but important and memorable nonetheless.
Let’s leave this off with one of the underappreciated tracks from the film, The Juliana Hatfield Three’s “Spin The Bottle.” Enjoy the song and the very 1994 intro prior to the video itself.