'Big Chill' Soundtrack: A Baby-Boomer Nostalgia Overdose

By | March 8, 2019

test article image
The soundtrack to 'The Big Chill' was excellent driving music for Baby Boomers. Source: (eBay.com)

What's more memorable for you -- The Big Chill, or the Big Chill soundtrack? 

In 1983, several famous (or now-famous) movie stars got together for an ensemble comedy-drama called The Big Chill. The consensus critical and audience opinion on the movie was: It's okay. Pretty good. It has its moments. But The Big Chill's soundtrack was something else -- a collection of beloved hits from the late '60s and very early '70s, the 10-track collection seemed to capture perfectly a nostalgia that was bubbling beneath the surface. It had been 15 or so years since the late '60s (a period we often confuse with the whole of the '60s), and those who recalled so vividly and fondly the Woodstock era (even if they weren't full-on Woodstock types) were looking around at the '80s and wondering what happened.

They were, like the characters in the film, Baby Boomers. Many of them were old-ish yuppies, participating in the materialism of the '80s that seemed at odds with the ideals of their youth. The Big Chill soundtrack seemed to be just what they needed to take them back to a simpler time when, perhaps, they felt better about themselves. Well, that's true of the characters in the movie (who, in the movie, also listen to the songs on the soundtrack), if not every individual listener. Ten tracks of soul-soothing soul, buy it on cassette and pop it into the tape deck in your Saab or Volvo, turn it up louder after you've dropped the kids off at school -- that was a good time.

In fact, The Big Chill soundtrack was so popular and inspired so much nostalgia that it sparked a marketing trend. After the movie came out, more and more companies used 1960s songs in their advertising commercials and used nostalgia as a sales tactic. The producers of The Big Chill not only evoked that feeling of nostalgia with the sixties songs they included in the film, but they did so is such a masterful way that the songs blended into each scene. Let’s look at some of the best hits from the Big Chill soundtrack. 

Marvin Gaye, 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'

test article image
Sleeve art for the German 45 rpm single release of 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine.' Source: (discogs.com)

The montage opening of The Big Chill features Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” a hit from 1968. This opening scene, in which the credits roll, is used to gather old college buddies from their different lives after receiving the news of their friend’s death. The catchy tune immediately sets the mood of The Big Chill snags the attention of its baby boomer audience. 

Marvin Gaye wasn't the only Motown artist to record "I Heard It Through The Grapevine;" in fact, in 1967, the version by Gladys Knight & The Pips had been a #2 hit on the Billboard pop chart. Motown founder Berry Gordy didn't think Gaye's version was strong enough to be a single, but included it as a track on Gaye's 1968 album Special Occasion. Radio DJs discovered the song and began playing it anyway, pushing Motown to release it as a single. The song spent seven weeks at the top of the chart.

Within a few years, we would see advertisers latch on to this hit for marketing purposes, notably Levi's jeans and the California Raisin Advisory Board. A re-recorded version by the "California Raisins" (singing raisins with arms and legs, depicted using claymation) made for one of the most popular ads of the 1980s.