Those distinctive hand claps and that “Beep-beep”! You’re at the Car Wash, baby! Yes, “Car Wash” was that annoyingly catchy tune from the movie of the same name that came out in the late 70s. Even if you didn’t particularly like the song, it was hard to get it out of your head. Perhaps because of that factor, I never bothered to listen to the rest the soundtrack from the movie, thinking there wouldn’t be much of interest. But after reading about Norman Whitfield’s involvement in the project, curiosity got the best of me, and when I found a copy of the soundtrack to Car Wash at a store in Bangkok last month, I finally broke down and bought it. Now that I have heard the entire album, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good it sounds.
The music for the film was composed and produced by Norman Whitfield, the legendary Motown producer who worked with the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and other acts. Car Wash ended up being one of the more unique projects that Whitfield ever created; it has the distinction of being the first motion picture that was developed entirely around the music. In other words, Whitfield created the music first, and then a film was made based on a “day in the life of a Los Angeles car wash.” Another odd factor was that the soundtrack came out almost two months prior to the film’s release.
Besides the popular title track by Rose Royce, the Car Wash soundtrack also contains the hit singles — and to my ears, much better songs — “I Wanna Get Next To You” and “I’m Going Down” — both also performed by Rose Royce. Other highlights include ‘You Gotta Believe” by the Pointer Sisters” and the 10-minute instrumental opus “Sunrise.” Whitfield’s other instrumental passages on the soundtrack are also notable, possessing much more depth and variety than the typical movie score.
I saw the film in a theatre back in 1976. At that time I was a big fan of comedian Richard Pryor, one of the film’s stars. Those were the days when comedians like Pryor could release albums (your choice of vinyl records or 8-track tapes!) and they sold millions of copies. Anyway, I thought the movie was a bit of a disappointment, not living up to all the hype. But the soundtrack is a different story. Norman Whitfield’s music from the film has aged very well over the decades and still sounds fresh. He was one of those behind the scenes geniuses that never got as much praise as he deserved.