Update: Since this post was made, Michael Sena left some great comments (see below); Anthology Records listened to the dub I shared here, and contacted me to see if I can share Michael’s contact info (I did); and then they remastered and released the album on CD and vinyl! GET IT HERE. It’s way better than the recording in this post. Here’s my post about the release.
This is the soundtrack to one of the most awesome surf videos ever made. Bali High came out in 1983 or so. It was written, directed, and shot by Stephen Spaulding (he later made a bunch of snowboard vids, and wedding videos…). A friend of mine had this while I was in high school, and it was in our top rotation (we tended to watch a surf video or two every day). So I’ve watched this video like 50 times at least.
A few years ago I tracked it down on dvd. But it had the “original soundtrack.” Originally when it was released and played in little theatres on the coast the soundtrack was an underground soundtrack, featuring tracks by the Rolling Stones and many other bands who would likely never agree to release their songs for this movie (or if they did, the cost would be prohibitively expensive). So for the VHS release (in 1984), Spaulding had a new soundtrack made. This VHS version is the one I’d grown to love. Hearing the Rolling Stones doing the intro, rather than the wild jungle rhythms in the theme song, was disconcerting. Despite what Spaulding was into at the time, I do not think that classic rock fits this vid at all.
The new soundtrack is sort of mysterious. At the end of the video it says recorded by Mantra Sound, with all songs written and performed by Michael Sena. However, if I had guessed I would have guessed the soundtrack contained a number of distinct bands. There is a fairly wide array of styles here. It’s very possible that he had a bunch of session musicians and singers at his disposal. The styles are all kind of in a psychedelic-70s genre: bongo jams, ballads, dubbish rock, soft folk, instrumental guitar rock, synthy-disco rock, etc.
After the disappointment of the DVD, I tracked down a VHS copy. Then I transferred it to DVD, then zapped the audio off of it. So, the audio quality is not the most pristine. On top of that, the quality on the original VHS is not even that great – it’s sort of warbly, and some songs peak at points. However, I still love it!
It’s probably a much different experience to listen to this without having watched the video. But, to help set the mood for you, the narration is included (it’s interjected into the songs, so I couldn’t remove it)! Spaulding’s narration is golden. He speaks in a pretty monotone, west coastal accent, and tells us about the mysterious places we’re scoping, and the surfer’s who’re braving the odds. Example: “From the human perspective, the going is a bit rougher. But you can get there just the same if you keep your mind set upon the goal.” (There’s a video from the ’90s – I think it was Above and Beyond – that had Spaulding narrate one section in his trademark style… it was funny!)
Back in the late ’70s/early ’80s, when this was filmed, Bali was obscure and difficult to access (for surfers). It was first gaining exposure at this time (and I’m sure this film went a long way in getting people pumped about it). Bali High is the definitive take on this region.
All the track titles are made up by me!
Sample track (the theme song):
1 hour 27 minutes.
p.s. hardcore punkrockers – I was just at my parents’ house, and picked a little stack of 7″s I had in their garage – a lot of stuff that I had received for review for HaC, and kept because it was good. I’ll get cracking on posting it. Hopefully there’s some stuff in there you haven’t heard.