It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes.
—Agent Rogersz, Repo Man
Repo Man doesn’t owe its brilliance merely to infinitely quotable dialogue, perfect casting or the fact that it manages to skewer Reaganomics, Scientology, hippie culture, consumerism, mindless television and Christian conservatism in one fell swoop. No way. Director Alex Cox’s 1984 masterpiece also has a killer soundtrack. Led by the Chicano-surf instrumentals of The Plugz, the flick features songs from the cream of L.A.’s hardcore crop: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear, and Suicidal Tendencies—not to mention an indelible theme song by punk progenitor Iggy Pop. Truth is, the Repo Man soundtrack actually revived the film itself. Six months after yanking the movie out of theaters after a single week of “underperformance,” Universal was informed that the soundtrack had sold over 50,000 copies. The now-iconic flick was re-released to critical acclaim and subsequently turned a profit. So here’s to goddamn gypsy dildo punks, ’64 Malibus, and the lattice of coincidence…
IGGY POP – “Repo Man”
Lurching across the opening and closing credits like a cranked-up wino, Iggy Pop’s theme song features a woozy vocal concerning witch doctors, toadstools and desert hallucinations. The artist formerly known as James Osterberg was living in an unfurnished studio apartment near the Whiskey in Hollywood when Alex Cox approached him to write a song—whatever Iggy wanted—for the director’s upcoming film. “At the time, I’d had a hiccup in my career due to my wild lifestyle,” Pop recalled with a grin in the video interview he did for the bonus features included with the Criterion edition of Repo Man. “I was sort of on the ropes, not making much money. It’s very rare for something as finance-intensive as a film for someone to give you a carte blanche opportunity like that. It was like a gift from God to express myself.” Another gift: Iggy’s backing band on this song was no less than Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison from Blondie on drums and bass, respectively, alongside Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols on guitar.
CIRCLE JERKS – “Coup d’État”
Originally appearing on the Circle Jerks’ 1983 album Golden Shower Of Hits, this song inspires the slam-dance action outside the party at Kevin’s house. Kevin is of course played by Zander Schloss, who replaced Chris Penn in the role and would become the Circle Jerks new bassist before 1984 was out. (Schloss’ funk band, the Juicy Bananas, also contributed to the Repo Man soundtrack). Appropriately, “Coup d’État” marks the onscreen arrival of Dick Rude as Duke, a white suburban punk fresh out of the slammer and ready to “do some crimes.”
SUICIDAL TENDENCES – “Institutionalized”
Venice Beach’s gangland godfathers of crossover make their soundtrack debut as Otto (Emilio Estevez) neatly folds his jeans in anticipation of what he hopes will be a mid-party blowjob from punker slut Debbi, who instead sends him downstairs for a beer while Duke takes over for Otto in the sack. The scene ends with first Otto and then Kevin walking in on them, coitus interruptus-style. “Nobody’s supposed to be up here,” Kevin whines. “This is my parents’ room!” The line is essentially the equivalent of the most famous lyric from “Institutionalized”: “All I wanted was a Pepsi!”
BLACK FLAG – “TV Party”
Despondent after not getting that hummer at Kevin’s party, Otto walks home singing one of Black Flag’s most popular songs: “Don’t talk about anything else / We don’t wanna know / We’re just dedicated to our favorite show!” This satire of America’s holy trinity—watching TV, drinking, and being a lazy asshole—originally appeared on the Flag’s 1981 album, Damaged, which also marked the debut of their new frontman Henry Rollins. The Repo Man soundtrack boasts the third re-recording of the track—the second was for the band’s 1982 TV Party EP—each of which references different TV shows.
BURNING SENSATIONS – “Pablo Picasso”
Semi-fresh off their goofy calypso hit “Belly Of The Whale,” L.A. short-timers Burning Sensations cover the Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso” for a scene in which Otto repossesses some douchebag’s Caddy from a Laundromat and then spots Leila (Olivia Barash) running from a pair of government agents and pulls over to give her a ride. She calls him a fuckface when he laughs at her alien conspiracy theory but then ends up doing him in the backseat anyway. Given that the track’s opening line is, “Some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes,” this is pretty much the perfect synthesis of song and scene.
CIRCLE JERKS - “When The Shit Hits The Fan”
The unforgettable scene in which the Circle Jerks appear as a lounge act doing a hammy acoustic version of their 1983 classic provides a poignant commentary on punk’s slow slide into diluted banality when Otto says, “I can’t believe I used to like these guys.” It’s also ironic in that Chuck Biscuits, former heavy hitter for Black Flag and later for Danzig, was actually the drummer in the Circle Jerks at this point—and yet this rendition of the song was tracked with a drum machine.
FEAR – “Let’s Have a War”
By the time “Let’s Have a War” surfaced on the Repo Man soundtrack, LA punkers Fear were already notorious for the riot that kicked off during the band’s Halloween 1981 appearance on Saturday Night Live—and for being John Belushi’s favorite band. The hard-partying comedian died of an overdose in ’82, but it seems like Fear might live forever: This song is the leadoff track from the band’s debut album, The Record, which frontman Lee Ving and some ringers re-recorded in 2012 for reasons no one can explain.
J. Bennett plays guitar in Ides of Gemini and lives in the beautiful hellscape of Los Angeles.