This week’s MP3 has never been officially released, and I only recently became aware of its availability on the artist’s website: “Pennsylvania Turnpike” by Fred Wilhelm is a keynote song from the indie cult flick Scotland, PA that came out in 2001.
That movie blew my mind when I saw it the theater, mainly because it so unabashedly featured the music of Bad Company, a band that until that point, had escaped any of my 70s nostalgia binges. I liked Bad Company back then but never felt the urge to follow up. The songs were used expertly in this movie – as backing music for bar scenes and the subject of “rock blocks” on the radio (when the radio station played three songs by the same artist in a row). Something about the context of the songs in the movie, and the sound of them blasting from movie-house speakers, made the clouds part for me, and I immediately went out and nailed down that sweet two-disc Bad Company anthology. Which was overkill – I spent the next week calling every woman I met “mama” and encouraging her to “mellow down easy.” But the anthology contains all the great stuff by the band and reminded me of how hard this band kicked ass in its prime.
I gather Fred Wilhelm sat down for this movie and, when asked to come up with a song for one of the teenage kids to play in his garage band, forged “Pennsylvania Turnpike” from the molten lava of his hard-rock 70s childhood. There’s just a nice feel to this song, a good rock song, and one of the few songs I can find anywhere about Pennsylvania – there aren’t a lot. Billy Joel’s “Allentown” doesn’t count – besides which, that would be a rumba these days sung in Spanish.
The movie itself is great fun – crossing all sorts of weird lines, indulging in Shakespeare’s Macbeth story line, examining the birth of fast-food restaurants (I do remember life before them, vaguely), capturing that goofy 70s vibe perfectly and also acknowledging its darker side. It gets a bit morbid as it goes along, but there’s a nice feel to the movie and is somehow true to rural Pennsylvania (despite it being filmed in Canada, I think?). Of special note is great character actor Kevin Corrigan as a stoned, befuddled fast-food worker who gets sucked into the evil vortex of his friend and coworker’s greed. There’s always something pleasantly baked about that guy’s demeanor, and it works in all kinds of roles.
So, enjoy “Pennsylvania Turnpike.” For years, I couldn’t find the song anywhere, watched the DVD recently again, got curious, googled Fred Wilhelm’s site, lo and behold, someone had coaxed him into putting an MP3 of the song up there – and I, for one, am grateful he did.
A disclaimer: if the artist, record company or any other entity associated with a song has a legal issue with any MP3 appearing on this site, I will remove the link immediately. Not looking to pirate music here – just looking to spread the word.