35 Years Ago: Eddie Van Halen Scores Film ‘The Wild Life’
The year 1984 brought tumultuous time for Van Halen. While their album 1984 was a massive success, its release and ensuing tour caused increased tensions within the group. With artistic differences splintering the musicians, guitarist Eddie Van Halen turned his attention to projects outside the band. One such endeavor was the feature film score for The Wild Life.
The movie’s script was penned by Cameron Crowe, then best-known for his work on Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The Wild Life would venture down a similar storyline, focusing its plot on the exploits of a group of teenage characters. Christopher Penn, Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson and Rick Moranis were among the film’s stars.
Eddie would align with music producer and engineer Donn Landee to work on the project. Initially, their contributions to the film were expected to be small. "Donn and I saw the script for The Wild Life and said we'd do something for it,” the guitarist recalled during an interview with Guitar World. "We ended up doing just about the whole film."
Eddie would play all the instruments on the score, recording searing guitar riffs over drum machine tracks. He quickly found that managing the demands of Hollywood with the responsibilities of rock life can be difficult. "It was fun, but we were kind of under pressure because of the deadlines,” the rocker admitted. “I had to leave on tour again, so I sort of left Donn to finish the mixing and everything.”
The Wild Life hit theaters Sept. 28, 1984 and was met with a lukewarm response. The flick was second at the box office its opening weekend, bested only by the Steve Martin-Lily Tomlin comedy All of Me. The Wild Life would go on to earn $11 million domestically, a modest return on its reported $6 million budget.
Meanwhile, the film’s soundtrack was surprisingly devoid of Van Halen material. Instead, the album featured an original song by Bananarama alongside tracks by Andy Summers, Peter Case and the Three O’ Clock. "We didn't really want anything on (the soundtrack)," Eddie later revealed. "The songs on the record aren't even in the movie.” The guitarist did contribute a single track to the LP, the instrumental "Donut City." “We were concerned about doing stuff for the film, not selling a record," the rocker declared.
Aside from “Donut City,” the compositions comprising The Wild Life’s score have never been released. Still, elements of the tunes cropped up in later material. The Van Halen Encyclopedia notes that, “Sharp-eared listeners will recognize portions of early versions of ‘Right Now,’ ‘Good Enough,’ ‘Feels So Good,’ ‘A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)’ and ‘Strung Out’ interspersed throughout the film.”
More recently, the Van Halen News Desk has done a superb job of unearthing many of the songs from The Wild Life, making them available for fans to listen to online.
While The Wild Life remains Eddie’s only foray into the world of feature film scoring, it’s not the only time his work has hit the silver screen. In 1985, the musician’s screeching guitar was featured in Back to the Future, while Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” soundtracked a key dream sequence in Better Off Dead. More than two decades later, Eddie made one of the more unusual choices of his career, contributing a pair of tracks to the adult film Sacred Sin.