The year is 1978. You and a bunch of your pals are at the drive-in theater for an all-night movie marathon. You’ve sneaked a case of beer in with you (or a few bottles of wine, or liquor, or weed, or whatever your taste requires). In the wee hours of the morning, another movie starts. It’s the third one, or maybe the fourth one—because you have consumed a lot of whatever by then, you’re a little shaky on things like counting. It’s called Record City.
Record City is an American International picture, released toward the end of that company’s existence as a separate entity in 1978. There’s no good way to trace its box-office history, if it had one. I suspect very few people saw it in 1978, or have seen it since. It’s never been released on video or DVD, although it has turned up on TV, usually on the kind of channels most people either don’t watch or don’t get.
Record City is a pretty clear steal from the 1976 film Car Wash—part workday comedy, part streetside spectacle, with a plotline about a couple of inept thieves grafted on. Like Car Wash, it features a mix of unknown actors and famous faces, including Ed Begley Jr., Sorrell Booke, Ted Lange, Larry Storch, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Carter, and Frank Gorshin. For some reason, Kinky Friedman and Gallagher turn up in it too, as does Wendy Schaal. You may not know her name, but you might remember her face as one of the underrated TV babes of the 1970s and 1980s. Record City was apparently her first film.
Record City also features what is probably the worst performance I have ever witnessed in any medium: Rick Dees as disc jockey Gordon Kong. It’s pretty clear that veteran TV writer Ron Friedman, who wrote Record City, wanted Kong to be a broad caricature of the fast-talkin’ Top 40 DJ, but Dees hams it up so badly that he becomes unwatchable pretty quickly. In all seriousness, I am unable to effectively describe how awful he is, although in his defense, what he’s given to say is far more stupid than clever. Gordon Kong’s radio persona (on station KAKA—get it?) has something to do with a gorilla (King Kong–get it?), and he makes his big entrance early in the film to a song about a gorilla in a disco, although I am pretty sure it’s not the “Disco Duck” ripoff “Dis-gorilla” that Dees managed to chart in a few benighted places in 1977. Which is weird.
Most of the time, I found myself ignoring the action in the foreground of Record City in favor of checking out the set design, which is a pretty good reproduction of what a record store looked like at the height of the vinyl age. Also worthy of attention: the original music in the film, written by Freddie Perren, who was part of the Motown production team the Corporation, and who later produced Tavares, the Sylvers, Gloria Gaynor, and Peaches and Herb, among others. As far as Perrin’s style is distinctive, the film score is pretty easy to recognize as his work.
Back there in 1978, it’s possible that you and your pals would have decided to go home before Record City was over. Here in 2012, I didn’t make it through the whole movie, either—it’s noisy and frantic and not particularly good, and it wore me out after a while. But for as long as you can stand to watch, Record City opens a window into the way the world looked and sounded in the late 70s. The trailer for the movie is below. If you want to watch the whole thing, click here.
You should also stop by this blog on Sunday for a special weekend post commemorating Vinyl Record Day. It only seems like we’ve forgotten about it.