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Crowe hails ‘Harold’s’ hit soundtrack

Director celebrates Cat Stevens' 'Maude' music

Soundtracks to 37-year-old movies on LP are generally relegated to the dollar bins if not a box in the attic.

But the soundtrack to “Harold & Maude” –only recently released for the first time — has become one of the hottest collector’s items on Internet auction sites.

Cameron Crowe, an aficionado of Hal Ashby’s 1971 film and the Cat Stevens songs that form its soundtrack, issued a vinyl-only compilation in December through his Vinyl Films imprint, quickly selling out the limited-edition run of 2,500 through the Internet and mail order. Copies could be found recently for between $100 and $150.

“It’s all about celebrating the film’s legacy quietly — just kind of luxuriating in a tribute to Hal Ashby,” Crowe says of the labor of love that took two years to assemble. “It’s a bouquet for fans of the movie, which was a pure, simple statement about love.”

There is a logical explanation as to why no soundtrack album existed when the film came out.

At the time, less than a week before Christmas Day in 1971, Stevens had a top 10 single in “Peace Train,” the first hit from his third A&M album, “Teaser and the Firecat.” His star was ascending.

Seven months earlier Stevens’ “Wild World” helped push his 1970 release, “Tea for the Tillerman,” into the top 10 and generated a pinch of interest in his debut for the label, “Mona Bone Jakon.” For A&M, there was no reason to release nor license the songs for a soundtrack to “Harold & Maude,” which contained only two new tracks in addition to songs from “Tillerman” and “Mona Bone.” It would have been Cat clutter.

“Over the years it’s just taken on so much importance,” writes Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, on Crowe’s blog. “Other things disappear or assume smaller proportions. ‘Harold & Maude’ just gets better and means more and more. It’s the rarest thing. A film that gets better with age.”

Contacting Islam was Crowe’s first gambit on the project, and the singer’s brother proved instrumental in bringing together alternate takes and other goodies for the album. The result is a gatefold album that contains a colored vinyl LP, a piece of celluloid from the film, a 45 of the single “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” backed with “Don’t Be Shy,” a poster and a booklet.

“You’ve really got to tip your hat to Ashby. The guy knew how to use music,” Crowe says. “Look at ‘Coming Home’ — a crazy list of songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dylan (as well as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens and Simon & Garfunkel) and for some reason it doesn’t come off like a K-Tel sampler.”

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