“When no one can tempt you with heaven or hell, you’ll be a lucky man…” so proclaim the first and last tracks on Alan Price’s “O Lucky Man!,” soundtrack to the Lindsay Anderson film of the same name. Not quite rock, definitely not pop, Price incorporates elements of both, as well as blues, music hall standards and jazz into these songs. But for most listeners, the memorable part of this album is not the music, but the lyrics, whose wit and cynicism belie the mostly pleasant, upbeat nature of the songs.
In the film, Price’s songs served as a Greek chorus to the often surreal, or hyperreal, action happening on screen. Price also briefly appears in the movie, reluctantly giving Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) a lift to London. David Sherwin, who co-wrote the screenplay with McDowell, called Price “the only pure character” in the film, i.e. the only one not corrupted by money, power or circumstance. The idea, according to Price, was to “describe, and just in general illuminate the subject matter.” When Travis goes to trial, for example, Price sings a song called Justice, which begins like this:
We all want justice but you got to have the money to buy it
You’d have to be a fool to close your eyes and deny it
In another scene, while Travis enjoys the high life, Price reminds us:
When everything in life seems just as it should be
at last success seems just around the door
don’t forget boy, look over your shoulder
’cause things don’t stay the same forever more, la la la la
Both of these songs are upbeat, major-key songs with a jaunty percussive beat. If you didn’t speak English, you’d think they were happy songs.
Price gained fame in Britain as the keyboardist for The Animals, an R&B group contemporaneous with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Originally from Fatfield, Price grew up in desperate poverty; his father died in a coal-mining accident when he was six, and his mother worked three jobs, sometimes more, to support him and his brother. After fame at age 21, Price saw “how the other half lived” in Britain and America, especially Los Angeles. His autobiographical album Between Today and Yesterday, published shortly after this one, reflected this experience much more directly; however, the more universal themes of “O Lucky Man!” may appeal to a wider audience.
This soundtrack works well as a standalone album. At 25 minutes, it’s extremely short, especially as the soundtrack to a 3-hour-long epic. Of the 10 songs, two are instrumental, two are different takes of the titular song. Well, much better this than some bloated, beached whale of an album, with about 20 tracks of “Remixes” and music “Inspired by the Motion Picture.” It’s also all music by one artist with a unified sound and theme, a welcome break from the mixtape-itis of recent films. And fans of the film will love this soundtrack for the memories it brings back of the film.
Despite its brevity, “O Lucky Man!” is a wonderful album, one of Price’s best. Anyone interested in well-written, witty music would do well to listen to it.