[Review] Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack “Howard the Duck” (1986)

Voted the worst film of 1986, this got a better soundtrack than it deserved including new songs from Thomas Dolby.

Kronomyth 2.5: Mallardroit.

I was a fan of Howard the Duck (I bought the first issue as a kid when it came out), so the movie was extra disappointing for me. Not Daredevil disappointing, but pretty bad. It wasn’t just my impression; Howard the Duck ended up in a tie for the worst film of 1986 with Prince’s followup to Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon. But, where the soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon eventually went platinum, the soundtrack to Howard the Duck barely went platypus.

In fairness, the soundtrack deserved a better fate. Thomas Dolby wrote some solid material for actress Lea Thompson to sing, including a bonafide hit with Don’t Turn Away (sung here by Dolby himself). And the side of instrumental music from composer John Barry is unimpeachably good. Even Lea Thompson got shortchanged for what is otherwise a very good acting and singing performance. No, there was no getting around the fact that Howard the Duck sucked eggs and dragged everyone down with him.

The songs from Dolby and professional songsmithstress Allee Willis are mostly performed by Dolby’s Cube, which may or may not be the name of an actual band, I’ve never figured that out. A few notable guests drop by including Joe Walsh, George Clinton and, on harmonica, Stevie Wonder (!). Lea Thompson sings three of the songs on this soundtrack: Hunger City, Howard the Duck and It Don’t Come Cheap. Think Kim Wilde and you’re close. She also sang “Don’t Turn Away” in the film. A cover of the gospel song I’m on My Way is performed by Motown artist Tata Vega. All in all, the first side of music isn’t far removed from what you might have expected from Dolby’s third album.

The score from John Barry is professional and impeccable. You have the romantic song, the heroic flight song, the anxious song, the evil-over-good song, etc. Film music may be seen by some as classical music lite, but Barry is a composer of high order. In 2019, a three-disc set of original film music, the complete score, songs and more was assembled for whoever on the planet wanted to listen to three hours of music from a 90-minute movie that no one liked.

Original elpee version

A1. Hunger City (Thomas Dolby/Allee Willis) (4:12)
A2. Howard the Duck (Thomas Dolby/Allee Willis/George Clinton) (3:55)
A3. Don’t Turn Away (Thomas Dolby/Allee Willis) (5:05)
A4. It Don’t Come Cheap (Thomas Dolby/Allee Willis) (4:46)
A5. I’m on My Way (adapted & arranged by Thomas Dolby) (2:55)
B1. Lullaby of Duckland (2:28)
B2. Journey to Earth (2:42)
B3. You’re the Duckiest (2:09)
B4. Ultralight Flight (2:59)
B5. Beddy-Bye for Howard (2:46)
B6. Dark Overlord (5:30)*

Songs A1-A5 arranged by Thomas Dolby. B1-B6 composed and conducted by John Barry.
*Credited as “Dark Overload” on the elpee label.

The Players

Thomas Dolby/Dolby’s Cube, Dominique Davalos (backing vocals), Holly Robinson (backing vocals), Liz Sagal (backing vocals), Lea Thompson (lead vocals) with George Clinton (backing vocals on A2), Tata Vega (vocals on A5), Joe Walsh (guitar on A2/A4), Stevie Wonder (harmonica on A3). A1-A5 produced by Thomas Dolby; engineered by Cliff Brigden, Rick Sanchez, Jack Leahy, Dale Everingham, Gary O; mixed by Neil Dorfsman, E.T. Thorngren, Michael Schuman; B1-B5 produced by John Barry; engineered by Nicholas Basich; mixed by Dan Wallin.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in 1986 in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC-6173) and the UK (MCA, MCF 3342).

  1. Re-released on 3CD in 2019 in the US (Universal/Geffen, B0030290-02) with two bonus discs of material.

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