Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) is a poorly understood film. I’m not going to call it a masterpiece, but it has more merits than people give it credit for. Its reputation has now been marred by the belly flop it did at the box-office (though Altman claims it never lost money), and the scandalous amounts of blow on the set. Robin Williams singing in Popeye’s voice and Shelley Duvall singing in Olive Oyl’s may have something to do with the lackluster response to the album. But if you look beyond the vocals, there’s something very special going on. As far as I’m aware, this is the only collaboration between Harry Nilsson & Van Dyke Parks. Which is a shame because they seem to be kindred spirits. If only Parks had produced a Nilsson album in his 60s prime. Nilsson’s career was already seriously on the fritz at the release of this soundtrack, but coupled with the murder of his close friend John Lennon, he stopped recording almost altogether after 1980. He laid down one track for a Disney tribute, singing an interpretation of “Zip-a-dee-do-dah,” which has a strange connection to VDP, considering he is a fan, and intepreter himself of the Uncle Remus stories (not necessarily Song of the South), but he also recorded for Disney, doing the arrangements on The Jungle Book. P.T. Anderson and Jon Brion did a nice job saluting and adapting the Popeye soundtrack in Punch Drunk Love. The songs below are posted because they are not available on the official soundtrack, nor on the Punch Drunk Love soundtrack, which has Shelley Duvall singing “He Needs Me.”
As a bonus, here is the underappreciated Harper’s Bizarre interpretation of Nilsson’s score for THE POINT, which is one of my favorite soundtracks of all time (but readily available) AND an interpretation of a very early Van Dyke Park’s single.