Summer 1980: The Blues Brothers Rock America with Movie Soundtrack
The origins of the Blues Brothers is the stuff of legend. Starting out as a wildly popular comedy sketch by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live, the duo honed the act during the weekly SNL after-show parties at the Holland Tunnel Blues bar. It was at that bar where the screenplay for the Blues Brothers movie was crafted. With the help of SNL musical director, Paul Shaffer, Aykroyd and Belushi built a band packed with major players, including Matt "Guitar" Murphy, as well as guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, both of whom had performed as members of Booker T. & the M.G.'s.
“The Blues Brothers came off as a genuine article because we had (Steve) Cropper and Dunn and Matt Murphy – those three magnificent Memphis guitar players," Aykroyd told Blues Blast in 2014. "Murphy played with James Cotton and Duck and Steve played on all those Stax/Volt records. That combination was a powerhouse that was not to be duplicated, a Chicago/Memphis fusion band. That’s what the Blues Brothers was and that’s what really made it work. They added legitimacy to our enterprise."
Opening for the likes of Steve Martin and the Grateful Dead in 1978, the Blues Brothers' debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, was a breakout hit, cruising all the way to #1 on the Billboard 200 in February 1979. It was during the summer of 1979 when cast and crew came together to start production on the Blues Brothers movie in Chicago, IL, giving director John Landis the opportunity to work with true music royalty: Aretha Franklin.
"You have to remember, we shot this in 1979. It was all disco, all the time — soul music was sort of out," Landis explained to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "Aretha’s career at that point was in a bit of a lull, so she was thrilled to be in the movie. Lucky for us because we had written that scene in the diner for her — we would have been in trouble if she said no. But she wanted to change the song. She wanted to sing Respect' instead of 'Think.' But we had written 'Think' into the script, with the dialogue leading into the song and the song actually furthering the plot of the film, so we didn’t want to change it.
"Aretha agreed and then she came in and she listened to the tracks and she said, 'I’d like to change the piano," Landis continued. "I said, 'Of course, who would you like?' She said, 'I’ll do it.' So she sat down at the piano with the mic and, with her back to us, started playing and singing. Her piano playing actually made a difference. It was more soulful."
The director also revealed that the only real issues Franklin had during production were the same as the ones that got to fellow music legend, James Brown: lip-syncing: "Like many great artists, she never sang a song the same way twice, so there were issues getting her to match her lips," Landis said. "But she pulled through. I knew she’d be a wonderful actress even though she ended up making only two movies in her whole career. Both Blues Brothers movies."
For the Blues Brothers soundtrack, Atlantic compiled the best of the movie's musical cues, placing Belushi-Aykroyd versions of "The Peter Gunn Theme" and "Theme from Rawhide" alongside Franklin's updated version of "Think," and Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." The lead single from the soundtrack, Jake and Elwood Blues' take on the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'," was a radio hit, cruising the Billboard charts to crash the top 20 and peak at #18 for the week of July 26, 1980.
"Really, back then when we started the whole Blues Brothers thing, and it became a band, we just wanted to get our record out," Aykroyd said to the Patriot Ledger in 2009. "We were just two kids thrilled to play the music we loved with some of the best musicians, and we never saw it evolving so far."