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Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album – One of the strangest soundtracks I’ve seen.

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The soundtrack album is a neat little thing. Music used in the film that you can listen to outside of the movie. I always liked soundtrack albums because sometimes you’d find cool songs on there you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It’s one of those things that I tend to grab when I find them in a thrift store because there’s some good songs on there.

Then there’s the “music inspired by the film” soundtracks. Usually made when there’s only a handful of songs that play in the film, yet they have to fill up a CD, so they get a bunch of songs that fit the film for padding. These are a bit less inspired, but can be still interesting based on the song selection. Not particularly my favorites, but if the song selection’s good I can forgive it.

I had recently acquired an “inspired by” soundtrack, and it’s kind of a wild one. It’s not of a hit movie, or a teen drama. It’s… a soundtrack inspired by a game show.

Ah, Regis Philbin in his element: smiling with a wad of bills.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album is one of those “music inspired by” albums. Released in 2000 during peak Millionaire mania in the United States, the album features a myriad of songs that are, as mentioned on the album cover featuring host Regis Philbin, “inspired by the hit ABC television show.”

Normally, there wouldn’t be a whole lot to say about this kind of album. Since it’s inspired by the TV show, it’s a bunch of licensed songs. But the album does put its own spin on the formula, with not only licensed songs, but two new songs, both themed after the big quiz show.

We start with a rather insipid Millionaire song homage called “I Want to Be a Millionaire,” performed by Jack & Jemma. Jack is one Jack D. Elliot, a remixer/producer of pop artists like The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Jemma is his wife, so they were probably trying to see if they could make success as a pop producer/singer duo. As far as I can tell, this didn’t get very far on the music charts anywhere. Even with having veteran music producer David Foster co-producing the record.

“I Want to Be a Millionaire” is a fairly unremarkable dance hit where Jack raps about the show: “Is it A or B or C or D / So I could win a million dollars on TV.” After the verses, Jemma sings the chorus: “I Want to Be a Millionaire / So I can buy anything, never work another day / Ask me nicely, I might share because / I’m gonna be a Millionaire.” That’s all she contributes to the track outside of an occasional “oh oh oh oh,” it’s more Jack than Jemma in this case.

Surprisingly, Regis Philbin appears in the song as well, asking Jack the toughest $1,000,000 question: “What is the name of controversial rapper Eminem?” with Jack making jabs at bands like Sugar Ray while name-dropping Eminem’s real name. I get it’s supposed to be a bit like conventional hip-hop sketches, but this is just… lame. (As far as I can tell, Jack did not got the opportunity to remix/produce something with Eminem. Probably for good reason!)

“I Want to be a Millionaire” is like when you hear a radio station’s morning zoo crew try to perform songs of their own, usually themed on the city or the sports team. It’s kitschy, yes, but it’s not good. Definitely a terrible god damn earworm, that’s for sure.

After this, we’re inundated with songs that either involve money and riches – The O’Jay’s “For the Love of Money,” Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” T-Bone Burnett’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” – or calling things, as a reference to the Phone-a-Friend lifeline from the show – Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line,” Blondie’s “Call Me,” and Manhattan Transfer’s “Operator.”

Regis in his other element: pointing! (I wish I was kidding.)

There’s two songs in here that don’t fit the above criteria: The first being Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going,” which I guess is meant to be a motivational song to persevere and go for the big bucks. After that, we get Roy Orbison’s “You Got It,” which presumably is referencing Regis saying that a few times throughout the show. They’re perfectly fine, but also suffer from covering so many genres that it feels rather incongruous.

A sampling of the transition, which goes from Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” to Blondie’s “Call Me.”

Normally I wouldn’t mind the sort of incongruousness of these tracks, because, hey, I could rip the tracks and at least have a few more songs to add to my MP3 collection. There’s one big problem with this album, though: Each track has audio from the TV show and some of the music from the show as bumpers in-between songs. This means that these songs can’t be listened to outside of the album, which ruins flow if you want to listen to a specific song from this album. Unless you like to hear Regis randomly ask if that’s your final answer, which hey, I’m not gonna judge. Good job to the producer who thought this was a genius idea.

The last official song on here is the most fitting, but also the most surprising. After T-Bone Burnett’s cover of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” we hear the audio of Joe Trela’s $1,000,000 question on the show, which then segues into “Pennies from Heaven”… by Regis Philbin.

“Pennies from Heaven” comes from It’s Time for Regis!, an album released in 1968 back when Philbin was second-banana to Joey Bishop on his talk show. After hearing it, it turns out Regis was a fairly alright singer for the time. Definitely a silly gimmick now, and probably was put in because somebody tipped off the producer that Regis had a brief singing career, which ties it in all together.

I bet the inclusion of this song threw some people back then (I bet even now!), but Regis, like many TV hosts around the 1950s and 1960s, tried to branch out beyond hosting talk and game shows, usually recording albums. Password’s Allen Ludden made one. Peter Marshall made a pretty solid career of being a singer beyond Hollywood Squares. Even game show host veteran Bill Cullen contributed to an album – the rather poorly aged Bill Cullen’s Minstrel Spectacular, something I swear I am not making up.

Honestly, though? I wish that “game show hosts sing an album of songs” made a comeback. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t wanna listen to Drew Carey or Wayne Brady belt out a bunch of songs.

I had to upload this track myself, as it was the only track not available on YouTube.

The final song is “Griff’s Millionaire Mix,” a remix of the famous Who Wants to be a Millionaire theme remixed by John Griffin. Sadly there’s not a lot of information about Griffin or his work outside of “Griff’s Millionaire Mix,” so I assume he was some intern at the record label who was trying to break into the techno business. But it’s just a rather uninspired dance tune that sounds like it was made in FruityLoops in a day.

That’s the album. None of the music from the show outside of occasional stings and bumpers in-between the songs, and two fairly unremarkable songs that interpolate the famous Millionaire theme.

“Syllaballistic” is a good way to describe Smush.

The only other thing interesting about this album is it promoting Jellyvision’s – now Jackbox Games – Who Wants to be a Millionaire? computer games, which were popular around this time. There’s also a teaser for a game called Smush by the same company. While the computer game never came to be, Smush eventually became a game show that aired briefly on USA Network around 2001, executive produced by current Jeopardy! executive producer Michael Davies with actor/comedian Ken Ober as host. It’s a pretty interesting little game show, one that might merit talking about here some day.

When you think about there being an album for the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, you’d think, “oh, the music from the show, right?” But somebody at Buena Vista Records thought otherwise, and made an album that is very much of its time and does not hold up.

Meanwhile, in the UK where the show originated, they actually put out a soundtrack album for Millionaire featuring all the music recorded by Matthew and Keith Strachan. Hell, they even put a remix on there as well, and it’s infinitely better than John Griffin’s dull remix!

This is honestly what they should’ve done for the US release instead of what we got. I get that game show music is very niche, but I think there would’ve been potential for it to be released here instead of what we got. Hell, Varese Sarabande and La-La Land Records pretty much make a killing off fairly niche soundtrack albums, and Varese Sarabande did release a soundtrack album for another ABC show a few years later: The Mole. So there is some precedent.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album isn’t really worth getting. It barely has any re-listening value, as the licensed songs can be easily heard online without Regis interjecting after each song. As for the original songs, they’re not worth the asking price. I paid only a few bucks for this on eBay, and while I was able to write an article out of this album, it’s definitely something I’m shoving into my CD collection, never to really touch again except maybe as a conversation piece with friends.

Now that this album introduced me to Regis Philbin’s singing career, I wonder how the rest of his work fares. From what I heard from “Pennies from Heaven,” I bet he had a good lounge singer vibe…

(This was available on Patreon a few days early. If you want to see my work before anyone else, no need to be a Millionaire, just check it out here for $1 or more. No lifelines required!)

Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album track listing:

  1. Jack and Jemma – I Want to Be a Millionaire (3:38)
  2. Barrett Strong – Money (That’s What I Want) (2:37)
  3. The O’Jays – For the Love of Money (7:26)
  4. Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line (4:32)
  5. Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger (3:01)
  6. Blondie – Call Me (3:29)
  7. Billy Ocean – When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going (4:17)
  8. Roy Orbison – You Got It (4:03)
  9. The Manhattan Transfer – Operator (3:27)
  10. T-Bone Burnett – Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend (5:04)
  11. Regis Philbin – Pennies from Heaven (3:13)
  12. John Griffin – Griff’s Millionaire Mix (2:38)

Listen to a recreation of the album (without the Millionaire audio clips) on YouTube here.

One comment Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album – One of the strangest soundtracks I’ve seen.

[…] that could potentially be article material. For instance, Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album, an article I wrote about back in April, was a random eBay purchase. But the hunt only works when it’s more spur-of-the-moment, not […]

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