Back in 1997 when I first saw the Paul Thomas Anderson flick Boogie Nights I felt like my brain was going to melt. It wasn’t just that the film was amazing, it was and is still one of my favorite Anderson films, but it was one of the first times I experienced the weird pangs of childhood nostalgia in a situation that made zero sense to me. When Mark Whalberg’s Dirk Diggler holes up in a studio to record a cover of Stan Bush’s The Touch from the 1986 animated Transformers: The Movie soundtrack my jaw dropped. It’s like a pop culture Thunderdome. Two pop culture properties enter, one new amazing property leaves…
This was pre-internet (for me at least) and a good four or five years before there was even a murmur of an 80s nostalgia wave about to hit pop culture. At the time I felt like I was the only person on the planet who adored the Transformers movie, let alone owned a copy of the soundtrack on CD and cassette. So the thought of Anderson (or whoever was helping to arrange the soundtrack for Boogie Nights) was aware of that song seemed weirdly impossible to me. Fast forward a decade and with a wide new world of internet chat rooms, message boards, podcasts and blogs I realized that the fandom for Bush’s The Touch was much larger than I ever would have guessed. Still, that cross-pollination of musical pop culture fun has remained a fascinating moment for me.
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Well, a couple weeks ago while on vacation with my girlfriend Jaime in Myrtle Beach, we stumbled on another instance of pop culture musical worlds colliding that again left me in a state of shock and awe. While digging through Spotify for some fun 80s era anthems to serve as our soundtrack as we made our final approach to the beach house, Jaime queued up one of my favorite songs, John Farnham’s Thunder in Your Heart from the Rad soundtrack. I’m pretty sure the whole Rad soundtrack is up on Spotify, but for once she was looking for that specific song and when it popped up in the search something amazing happened. It popped up with multiple results, two of which had me doing a double take. Right under John Farnham were versions of the song performed by two other 80s anthem powerhouses, Stan Bush and Joe Esposito! I’ve already mentioned Bush’s The Touch from Transformers, but for those unfamiliar with Esposito’s work, he worked on a little song you might have heard from the Karate Kid soundtrack called You’re The Best. Now there are a lot of great 80s anthems, and most folks will quickly point to bands like Huey Lewis and the News or Journey as some of the best at the craft. But for me, it’s all about the triumvirate of soundtracks from Rad, Transformers, and the Karate Kid when it comes to super motivational, montage rock.
I know Rad has a very rabid fan base, but for all that love, the film has still yet to make the transition to the modern home video age. It has never been officially released on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray or HD streaming, and the VHS release was only aimed at video stores and not the general public. Though I’ve heard through the grapevine that this is finally about to change next year, Rad is for all intents and purposes a pretty obscure cult flick. I’ve talked Ad nauseam about my love for the film (just take a look at the trading cards I designed for the flick, the episodes of the Cult Film club where we discussed the flick and interviewed star Bill “Cru” Allen, or my review of Mr. Allen’s memoir), but I’ve never really written all that much about the soundtrack. It’s an album that I love dearly. I own it on vinyl, on a bootleg, semi-official CD pressing that came out in the mid-2000’s, and even the official digital release that came out a couple of years ago. The whole album is great (Sparks is probably in my top five favorite bands), but the handful of John Farnham songs, specifically Break the Ice and Thunder in Your Heart, are some of my all time favorite anthems. So when I found out that not just one, but both of my other favorite anthem singers covered Farnham’s song from Rad I was gobsmacked.
As soon as we got back from vacation I had to figure out more about these Esposito and Bush TiYH covers, as well as the origins of the Farnham song. I never really stopped to think about who actually wrote the song. Honestly, I figured that it was a Farnham original, especially since he provided three songs for the Rad soundtrack. I was under the impression that he was contracted out by the production to provide some original music for the film. As it turns out though, not only did Farnham not write the song, I think it may have even predated Rad. In fact there is a possibility that the song was actually written with the intention of debuting on a completely different soundtrack. Before I dig into that I wanted to take a second and look at the duo who is actually responsible for writing Thunder in Your Heart, Gloria Sklerov & Lenny Macaluso.
Left: Lenny Macaluso & Tina Turner. Right: Gloria Sklerov & Stan Bush
Lenny Macaluso and Gloria Sklerov are a couple of the unsung heroes of 80s era anthems. Macaluso was the main composer on the show My Two Dads, co-wrote “The Touch” with Stan Bush and the duo wrote and composed the romance theme “Let the Love Begin” from Thrashin’ and more importantly “Thunder in Your Heart”. Sklerov also co-wrote with Stan Bush. The duo won an Emmy for their work on the song “Until I was Loved By You” for the soap opera Guiding Light. Sklerov has also written songs for The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield and the song “Ain’t Love Good Tonight” for the film Clint Eastwood flick Every Which Way But Loose. It’s rare that the composers ever get much of the spotlight, but the duo are definitely an important in bringing us some iconic 80s music for sure.
So let’s take a look at the actual versions of the song. From what I can tell there are four versions that I know of, two are from Rad (performed by John Farnham), one that made it into the film and on the soundtrack which is 3 minutes and 38 seconds long, and a second, alternate extended version that was released when the soundtrack was released digitally which clocks in at 4 minutes, 38 seconds. Then there is a cover of the song performed by Joe Espositio that I’m having a little bit of trouble nailing down release information for. That track clocks in at 3 minutes, 18 seconds and is the shortest version of the four. Lastly, there’s a version by Stan Bush that was released this past year with his latest album, The Ultimate. That version clocks in at 3 minutes, 30 seconds. All four versions feature the same basic overall structure with slight differences in pace and timing, and in Esposito’s case some alternate lyrics.
In my mind, the Farnham version from the film and Soundtrack is the definitive version. It’s the one I heard first and the version that just…sounds right, for lack of a better description. The second that song plays I see the qualifying race from Rad in my mind’s eye, without fail. I know for a lot of people “You’re the Best” is the go to 80s anthem, and I do love it, but whenever I’m out running and need to finish that last mile or something like that, it’s TiYH for me. As far as the difference between the original and extended versions of the song, the longer one is pretty much the same (though the guitar solo comes in a few seconds earlier) and at the 3:38 mark the song slows down with a more groovy feel to the beat in the background as it plays out the chorus one more time.
Here are the lyrics for those not familiar…
Thunder in Your Heart – John Farnham Version
You’re taking a chance, risking it allFor the thrill of the momentTaking a stand, you ain’t gonna fallAnd you’ve always known itThey’re dying to shake you,Trying their best to break youAnd though the going is rough, you’re going home as a hero
‘Cause there’s thunder in your heartEvery move is like lightningIt’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the gloryThere’s a fire gonna startAnd you know they’re going underYou can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.
Cry of the wind, spirit of fireThe heart of a lionTaking control, burning desireYour flame never dying
Don’t lose that feelingDon’t ever stop believingThere’s one more moment of truth and you’re gonna face it
‘Cause there’s thunder in your heartEvery move is like lightningIt’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the gloryThere’s a fire gonna startand you know they’re going underyou can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.
When they hear your heart of thunder.
‘Cause there’s thunder in your heartAnd you know they’re going underYou can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.
There is thunder in your heartAnd you know they’re going underYou can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.
Powerful stuff. So, as I mentioned above, as far as I knew up until a couple weeks ago the song was a John Farnham original, but now that I’ve heard the Joe Esposito version there are a few context clues that are making me wonder if it might pre-date the version from Rad. First off, Esposito’s version is a little cleaner or stripped down, not as heavily layered with instrumentation. Again, I haven’t been able to find any concrete release information for his version of the song, so I have no idea if it’s modern (like the Bush cover) or if it was released in the 80s when he was in his heyday.
Left: Joe Esposito
Another clue that makes me wonder is that there are some variations with the lyrics in the Esposito version. Maybe it’s just me but it seems weird to think that Esposito would bother changing the lyrics if he were covering the song. The differences between the two versions is also not stark, there really seems to be no obvious reason as to why the lyrics would have been changed. It’s mainly the line “It’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the glory”, which Esposito changes to, “And you hit the mark with your hand on the wall you’ve been striking”.
Again, to me this feels like a slight shift in how the song was conceived and how it was potentially changed to fit in a bit better with the placement in the movie Rad. Overall, the song is all about pushing through and kicking butt when the going gets tough. But the line “It’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the glory” feels like it’s pointing towards winning in a competition, not just pushing through a tough point. Esposito’s variation just reads a little more broad to me, and that feels like a first draft. The theory that I have is that Esposito was the first to perform the song, very likely for inclusion in the Karate Kid soundtrack, but for some reason it was pulled. Maybe Allee Willis was working on “You’re The Best” in tandem with Macaluso & Sklerov working on “Thunder in Your Heart”. Maybe they were both in consideration for the final karate tournament montage. Who knows. But that’s the theory I’m going with as it’s all just conjecture on my part. In an effort to be thorough I’ve reached out to both Macaluso and Sklerov (both are on Facebook), but have yet to hear back.
As for his version itself, I dig it, but I’m not nearly as fond of it as I am of Farnham & Bush’s versions. His voice is raspier and his guitar solo isn’t nearly as fun as the other two. That being said, there are some fun aspects to this version. For one it’s much heavier on backing keyboards which I do enjoy, and at around the 2 minute 10 second mark there are some over the top thunderstorm sound effect overlays that are so goofy and spot on that you have to love them (like the Door’s Rider’s on the Storm…)
Last, but certainly not least, sees the reteaming of Lenny Macaluso & Stan Bush for a modern cover of Thunder in Your Heart that is in many ways similar to the Farnham performance of the song. It was included on Bush’s most recent album, The Ultimate, and I hope that there are a bunch of Bush fans that will be exposed to the wonder that is TiYH. Maybe, just maybe someone will dig a little deeper into the song and it’ll lead them to discovering the Rad soundtrack and eventually the film itself. That’s what I hope at least.
So how is Bush’s cover? Again, I enjoy it, but not as much as Farnham’s. Bush has a much more tremble-y voice than Farnham, and he plays the song at a quicker pace. Because of this he doesn;t pause on the beats quite as much and to me it loses some of the power of the anthem. There’s an art to performing a heart pounding song that really grabs you by the metaphorical balls and gets you pumped. I think a big part of that is knowing when to be fast with a lot of intensity and energy, and when to pull back and let the audience soak in what they’re hearing. Bush misses a lot of those dramatic beats in the song in my opinion. On the other hand his solo is probably the best of the three, and like Esposito, Bush layers on thunderstorm effects and amps up the keyboards. So it’s not a total loss.
Before I sat down to write this article I was chatting with my girlfriend Jaime about it and she had a brilliantly silly idea that I totally fell in love with. She suggested we create the audio equivalent all three versions of these songs battling it out for supremacy, in an environment like Thunderdome (from the 3rd Mad Max film.) So she set to work to merging all three tracks into one, realigning them so that they all play basically at the same pace. We call this the Thunder in Your Heart: The Thunderdome Remix. It’s a cacophony of insanity, but it’s also probably the first time that John Farnham, Stan Bush, and Joe Esposito have every all played together at once (virtually that is!)