16 January 1987
I’m not even going to apologize for this one. Bruce Willis, still cool to this day, was three decades cooler in 1987. Not that youth always equates to cool, but in this case…
I didn’t have HBO in 1987, and I’ve still never seen the TV special The Return Of Bruno. From the write-up on Wikipedia it sounds like something I’d find funny (if hokey) today, but which would have gone right over my head when I was fifteen years old. What I did have, in 1987, was a little transistor radio and a zealotry for Top 40 radio. I was only a passing fan of Willis’s cover of “Under The Boardwalk” but I fell in love with his version of “Respect Yourself” with the Pointer Sisters doing backup vocals. I bought the vinyl (instead of the cassette for some reason – I can’t remember why) and played it to death.
I’m sure I transferred the LP to a blank tape and played that in my Walkman. I played the record in my bedroom until my younger siblings were all sick of it. Thirty-three years later and I still love it. Apart from a couple originals written for the HBO special, it’s a covers album with Willis offering his – very legit – take on a bunch of soul and R&B numbers from the ’60s. In every case, it was Willis’s version that introduced me to the songs on this record.
Like I said, “Under The Boardwalk” was okay, and I’ve to appreciate it a lot more as I’ve gotten older. “Respect Yourself” was very good, and certainly gave me a reference point years later when I heard The Staple Singers’ original. The songs that really made an impact on my teenage mind, though, were the deeper album cuts like The Coasters’ cover “Young Blood” and the dirt and grit in the Ry Cooder cover “Down In Hollywood.” This album also served as the introduction to cuts like “Secret Agent Man” and Allen Toussaint’s “Fun Time.”
My favorite tune on the disc, though, is one that was written for Bruce Willis or, more specifically, Bruno in the television production. “Comin’ Right Up” introduces both the album and the character of Bruno. The narrator is a bartender and ends up going home with a customer he fancies. It’s not lascivious, but rather establishes Willis as smooth, in-control, and unflappable. It is layered with horns and produced with a cool Motown swing. The song does a perfect job of setting the stage for the rest of the album. There are a couple other originals on here, including the harmonica jam “Jackpot” and the closer “Flirting With Disaster,” both great in their own right. but without as much sheen as the opener.
I still come back to this record thirty-plus years later, and I still love it unreservedly. It’s just a ton of fun and Willis really sells it as an R&B singer. I’m not even embarrassed that it introduced me to some of my favorite songs and acts – The Coasters, Allen Toussaint, The Staple Singers. I remain grateful for that. Some day I’ll get around to watching The Return Of Bruno, but for the time being, I’m more than content to listen to its soundtrack again and again. It’s still cool as hell.