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Karate Kid Soundtrack Brings Back Memories

Some film soundtracks have a way of defining a moment in modern times. Recently, Larry Gates of Curb Service showed us this truth by honoring one of the best soundtracks to a film at this Sunday’s edition of The Great Cover Up: Pulp Fiction.

Others to consider are A Hard Day’s Night; Superfly; Easy Rider; The Graduate; Saturday NIght Fever; Fast Times at Ridgemont High; Top Gun; Dazed and Confused; Resevoir Dogs; Magnolia — the list could seriously go on and on.

One overlooked but often hummed soundtrack comes directly from the heart of the 1980s, when American nationalism and optimism were at there peak. It was a time when the video game revolution was just underway, hairspray wasn’t just an ironic musical and an acceptable option for dates included going to “funplexes,” offering patrons a variety of activities, from mini-golf to waterslides.

These types of date scenes were shot in many movies during this era, but no such scenes were as ubiquitous as those from Golf ‘n Stuff (which actually existed — and still does!) in the 1984 blockbuster, Karate Kid. In the film, our unlikely hero — a Jersey transplant from the wrong side of Reseda — Daniel LaRusso, courts Alli played by Elisabeth Shue, whose family has a bit more bread than his. After a few bumps in the road to a relationship, a classic “Capulet and Montague” moment occurs for the couple. Daniel receives a brand new car from his best friend and sensei, Mr. Miyagi, and drives off to make amends with Alli at the funplex, the site of their first date together. As he creeps through the parking lot, looking for redemption before he prepares to take on the his nemesis — Johnny and the rest of the Cobra Kai dojo at the All-Valley Karate Tournament — this deep cut on the soundtrack from a relatively unknown band sets the tone. It’s perfect.

The lyrics, in this case, define the moment and actually foreshadow his fate. Young hearts truly do die young, as Daniel LaRusso will surely find out in the days and months to come. He loses Alli to a UCLA football player in the film’s sequel (i.e. they didn’t offer her enough money to stay on as his main squeeze), and travels to Japan to tend to Mr. Miyagi’s father, who has fallen ill, where he comes to understand what love truly means.

The obvious choice, when picking a song from the Karate Kid soundtrack, would be Joe Esposito’s anthemic closer, “You’re the Best Around,” which is played prominently through the montage during the tournament. It’s a song that most any child from the ’80s knows, and potentially loves. In fact, it brought me and one of my closest friends together when we had first met. But that’s a different story.

For me, the Commuter song was always the best track on the album. And the fact that I can’t find out anything else about the group makes it even more worthwhile, to a degree. Commuter is a band with almost nothing on record. A Google search comes up dry, aside from links to the video above and some lyric sites. I can’t even find a full length LP to discuss. With nothing on Wikipedia and nothing further in the ether, I am forced to believe that this artist was a blip in LA, given an opportunity such as this based on connections and luck.

It’s too bad, though, that there isn’t more to hear, as I put this song up there with some of my absolute favorites from the ’80s. It’s been playing in my head ever since I saw the movie for the first time as a five-year old at Market Place Cinemas. Thanks to YouTube, I can now hear it in full whenever I want.

That Will Smith is remaking this film as a way to propel his son, Jayden, to stardom is a testament to the film’s staying power. The Fresh Prince is arguably the most successful multi-faceted artist in recent history, and despite the fact that the film will be, without question, a horrible remake (as are most films of this nature — just ask Daniel LaRusso himself), the legend of Karate Kid will continue to inspire a new generation. And all truth be told, it makes sense: kids these days wouldn’t know what to do with a hero who rides a BMX to school while “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama plays in the background.

Those days, unfortunately, are gone.

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