“Look under your bed—it’ll set you free.”
With those enticingly enigmatic words, an empathetic, hip older sister bequeaths to her hyper-smart but nerdy 11-year-old brother her Rosetta Stone to life in the late-’60s: a prized trove of expertly curated rock, pop, and folk albums that set into chaotic motion young William Miller’s eye- ear- and mind-opening journey in director Cameron Crowe’s quasi-autobiographical 2000 ode to rock ‘n’ roll fandom, Almost Famous.
Two decades later, the Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globe Award-winning film remains one of the sweetest love letters to the genre, one that deftly captured the look, the sound, the feel, the attitude of what rock ‘n’ roll meant to its creators, its most fervent adherents, its hangers-on and its worried parents during a golden era of pop music. The movie’s legacy is celebrated with the first-ever release of all the music that so powerfully fueled Crowe’s story, based on his own power chord-driven odyssey from wide-eyed music-loving kid to respected rock journalist to celebrated filmmaker.
Universal Music Enterprises has compiled multiple iterations of the film’s Grammy Award-winning soundtrack, augmented comprehensively in the limited-edition Uber Box set that encompasses an expanded soundtrack with five CDs, seven 180-gram black vinyl discs, and a brand new 7-inch for Stillwater’s “Fever Dog.” The expanded soundtrack includes songs from The Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, The Who, and Yes, plus all the songs created for the film’s fictional aspiring rock group Stillwater, most written for the movie by Cameron Crowe, Heart’s Nancy Wilson and Grammy Award-winning guitarist, Peter Frampton. The Uber Box includes bonus items such as a 40-page photo book and memoir housed in a film-prop-replica of William Miller’s high-school notebook complete with writings by Cameron Crowe, Nancy Wilson, along with cast and crew members; the first-ever complete William Miller cover story on Stillwater as a 1973 Rolling Stone newsprint; two replica ticket stubs from Stillwater’s San Diego and Cleveland concerts; and a Stillwater tour poster. Exclusively available only in the Uber Boxset is a Stillwater Cleveland concert poster and a backstage poster; six film-prop-replica backstage passes (some seen throughout the film); three film-prop-replica business cards for Dick Roswell (Stillwater road manager), Lester Bangs (Creem magazine), and Ben Fong-Torres (Rolling Stone magazine); and three photo prints of cast members.
Among the 103 audio tracks are numerous clips of dialogue released for the first time: including the promise from William’s sister Anita that “One day you’ll be cool,” and crackling exchanges between William and vaunted Creem magazine rock critic Lester Bangs, the real-life mentor who offered early encouragement to then-teenaged rock fan Crowe to pursue his desire to write about the music he loved.
The box set points out how exceptional the Almost Famous soundtrack was and remains. Crowe arranged for a dedicated remix & edit of the Who’s “Amazing Journey/Sparks” instrumental from their rock opera “Tommy” and live album “Live at Leeds.” For another scene, Crowe had grabbed a bootleg live recording out of his stash for Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” from a 1999 show, which Young recently unearthed from his extensive archive and newly mixed from the original multi-track analog tape for this release. The set is also highlighted with the inclusion of Elton John’s iconic “Tiny Dancer,” newly mixed with the cast members singing alongside the song as featured in the film.
Crowe found supremely qualified collaborators by drafting Wilson to compose the score and to team with Frampton to help write credible rock songs for Stillwater. For the new release of the soundtrack music, all of Wilson’s brilliant score music is included, along with 14 score outtakes that didn’t make the final film.
Along with the thirteen-disc Uber Deluxe box, Universal is issuing two six-LP editions—one on black vinyl, the other with colored vinyl discs; a five-CD Super Deluxe set including 102 tracks, 36 of them previously unreleased songs; a separate 12-inch vinyl EP with all 6 of Stillwater’s songs; a Record Store Day exclusive with the 7 original demos of the Stillwater songs, five performed by Wilson the other two by Frampton; a two-LP vinyl version of the original soundtrack album; a two-CD Deluxe Edition of the original soundtrack.
Throughout this rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut, William Miller, Stillwater, and the film’s other players soak in the music of the day, all curated by Crowe using his knowledge of and connections to many of the biggest and most influential rock acts of the era. This manifests onscreen perhaps most memorably in the full-band bus singalong with Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Tiny Dancer,” the duo’s tribute to their own groupies—or as William is quickly corrected by Stillwater’s female fans when he uses the term, “We’re Band-Aids!”—emphasizing the distinction between those who crassly latch on to rock stars simply for their celebrity versus those who try to get closer because of their love for the music.
“In the late sixties, adventuresome and modern directors like Mike Nichols began moving away from traditional orchestral score in their movies,” Crowe writes in an essay accompanying the new project. “The Graduate, with its deft and emotional use of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence,’ changed the landscape.”
It surely did in Almost Famous: Led Zeppelin approved the use of five songs for the film—unprecedented at the time. When Crowe showed the film to Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page during his pitch to persuade them to grant use of the songs he wanted, Plant raised a question: “Was your mother really like that?” after taking in Frances McDormand’s endearingly taut performance as William’s over-anxious, over-protective college professor mom, Elaine. Cameron told him, “That and more.”
The original release of the film’s soundtrack included only Zeppelin’s “That’s the Way,” while the new set adds in “Misty Mountain Hop,” “The Rain Song,” “Bron-Yr-Aur” and “Tangerine,” the latter employed so effectively during the film’s finale as Stillwater’s tour bus trundles off into the sunset.
Actor Jason Lee, whose performance as Stillwater vocalist Jeff Bebe nailed a combination of bravado and underlying insecurity, says, “Every time I watch the movie…every time the bus is pulling away as Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tangerine’ plays at the end…it kind of crushes me a little bit. That song is a … killer. And with the dust kicking up as the bus is driving away…that moment for me, watching it as an audience member? Perfect. Watching it as a cast member and an audience member? It’s bittersweet.”
As Crowe puts it about finding the right music for each scene in a film, “Something magical happened when the actor and the scene and the music worked together. Often it’s a shotgun marriage, but every once in a while, everything clicks. That’s when a movie can sear your soul.”
He had experienced that power while directing his debut film, Say Anything…, and again in his 1992 romantic comedy Singles as well as in 1996’s Jerry Maguire. “By the time we got to the next one,” he said of approaching Almost Famous, “I was ready to put the music at the center of the movie.”
For any Almost Famous fan, this is the ultimate collection, a vibrant, reverberating reminder of the ways rock ‘n’ roll can break your heart and bust your chops–but also the music’s power to set you free.