Anyone who watched the 1988 Calgary Winter Games on TV remembers ski jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards. Bespectacled and determined and … not exactly a world-class competitor, Eddie nonetheless became Great Britain’s first ever Olympic ski jumper and an unlikely hero back home. The new movie Eddie the Eagle tells Edwards’ story as one of an underdog’s perseverance and triumph over adversity. In other words, it’s the kind of movie that cries out for the sort of inspirational soundtrack that was popular in the days when Eddie became an Olympian.
The film’s producer, Matthew Vaughn didn’t want to score the film with Eighties hits, which he says “have all been so overused in movies already.” Instead he entrusted this project to Gary Barlow, a former member of Take That and an accomplished songwriter and producer. For Fly (Songs Inspired by the Film ‘Eddie The Eagle’) Barlow rounded up some of the biggest names in Eighties U.K. pop, including Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Marc Almond of Soft Cell, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Paul Young, Kim Wilde, Andy Bell of Erasure, Midge Ure of Ultravox, Nik Kershaw, ABC, Go West, Howard Jones and Heaven 17.
“The way I always saw this is, we’re making brand new music and we’re writing brand new songs,” Barton explains, “but to be sympathetic to the movie and the decade it’s in, we need to produce it in a way that sounds like it was made in that decade.”
Barton and Vaughn told Rolling Stone about their journey back to an imaginary 1988 and the vintage gear that made it possible.
What is it about Eddie’s story that still appeals to you, and to the British?
Vaughn: I remember being at school watching Eddie the Eagle jump. He had a real impact on my generation. He’s what I think of as the first not-very-talented celebrity — and of course we have so many of those now.
Barton: It was one of the most British things. We love the underdogs. We love the losers. We don’t care much for the winners. But Eddie Edwards encapsulates Britain – we love being downtrodden as a nation, and the loser is our winner. It absolutely struck an enormous chord with the whole of the country. And he was a hero for that 15 minutes.
What is about these new recordings that makes them sound like ‘music from the Eighties’?
Barton: There’s a real, specific style of singing from that decade that those singers have never lost: It’s a very manly sound. I actually worked out by the end of the project that it’s not really the drum machines or the synthesizers that give us that fluffy feeling. It’s actually the voices. When Tony Hadley sings, I’m just transformed into a teenager. When I hear Holly Johnson’s first line in “Ascension,” I’m back to being 13 years old. We spent all this time messing around with technology, when it actually it wasn’t until we got the singers in that we really captured the moment.
Vaughn: When the first demos came in, and we were hearing the electronic programming they were using, Gary and I started freaking out. There’s no way we could have created those sounds now on modern gear. We’d have to use samples. But guys like Howard Jones, Midge Ure — they’ve got the old equipment still.
Barton: My only regret has been that I didn’t get to make records in the Eighties, and of course here I am. I spent the whole of last year in that decade, wrestling around with old tape machines and vintage synthesizers: Jupiter-8s, SH-101s, Juno-106s. It’s a very different process of music making. Just to make a bassline, to hook up sequencers on the synth and then get the sound you want … we’re talking about hours. As an artist back then, you could only make a record every one or two years. There was no way you could possibly have the time to make any more.
What do you think younger listeners, who didn’t live through the Eighties, will make of this music?
Vaughn: I don’t know how it is in America, but in England right now a lot of popular music is heavily influenced by Eighties sounds. I played the music [from Fly] to my kids and some of it they thought was new. We’re going through a similar time as the Eighties in a lot of ways. The world then was a scary place, with the Cold War and with economic uncertainty, and movies and music and culture became as much fun as possible to distract us from that. I think the same thing is happening in music and movies today.