The story of the classic soundtrack to the iconic adult movie – and its mysterious singer.
If you’ve seen The Devil in Miss Jones, Gerard Damiano’s extraordinary slice of existential erotica that was his very unlikely follow-up to Deep Throat and one of several 1970s movies that should, in a better world, have catapulted him into the cinematic mainstream, then you will be familiar with its theme song. I’m Comin’ Home is a plaintive, soulful, agonisingly desperate number that fully captures the theme of the movie – the story of a virginal middle-aged spinster (Georgina Spelvin, giving a committed performance that puts all the 197s Oscar winners to shame) who we first see slitting her wrists in the bathtub and, upon awakening in purgatory, begs for the chance to experience all of the sexual pleasures lost to her in life, little realising that she is sowing the seeds of her own eternal damnation – for having lived out all of the passions lost to her in life, she is now damned for eternity to never experience them again, always on the brink of – but never quite achieving – sexual fulfillment. As adult movies go, it is up there with Cafe Flesh in the way it deliberately leaves its audience with a slap in the face.
We don’t tend to think of adult movies in terms of their soundtracks. This is especially true of those films made in the 1970s, which tended to either use library music (sometimes masterfully, as in the work of Radley Metzger) or simply stole tracks from mainstream movie soundtracks or rock albums. This was, after all, a renegade and legally questionable industry to begin with, and if you place something outside the law, there is little incentive for those involved to respect things like copyright. Nevertheless, there were some classic original soundtracks of the age, many of which appeared on LP – Lasse Braun’s Sensations and Body Love (the latter composed by Klaus Schulze), Tongue and a few others. Deep Throat itself had an original score and appeared as several LPs, though the music was nothing to shout about and the LP consisted of the entire soundtrack, dialogue, sound effects and everything. Still, it would be fair to say that there have been very few adult movie soundtrack LPs and CDs issued even to this day.
One of the first was the score to The Devil in Miss Jones, which appeared on Janus Records in 1973. It’s easy to imagine, from the distance of time, that this must have been an underground affair all around, perhaps issued on a label connected to the porn producers and full of pseudonyms, but nothing could be further from the truth. Porn in 1972 was still a legally questionable affair, it’s true – and the trials of Deep Throat over the next few years would prove that – but this was also the time of Porno Chic, an era when people genuinely pondered when the first mainstream film to cross over would appear featuring big-name Hollywood stars having explicit sex. Oh, don’t laugh – Marlon Brando appearing in a film like Last Tango in Paris or Russ Meyer working for 20th Century Fox would’ve been unthinkable just a few years earlier. The censorial rules had collapsed rapidly in the last decade and no one was sure just where this would end.
The album sleeve doesn’t pretend that the film is something that it isn’t, but it is nevertheless keen to establish the critical praise that the film had received, with lengthy quotes from the likes of Variety, Newsweek and New York Magazine‘s Judith Crist, who was then quite the big name at the time. This was the golden age of adult films being taken seriously by mainstream critics and would not last more than a year or two – the explosion of the genre and changing tastes put paid to that. At the time though, these glowing reviews emphasised the credibility of this LP.
Janus Records was a respectable indie that distributed Chess Records and had artists like Al Stewart, Johnny Winter, Shel Silverstein and Ray Stevens signed to it, as well as issuing extensive Everly Brothers compilations. Soundtrack composer Alden Shuman was a musician who spent most of his career as a writer and arranger – among his extensive work was arranging strings on Meat Loaf’s Dead Ringer album. He co-produced the Devil in Miss Jones soundtrack with his brother Earl. It’s a great score and a real shame that this was his only film soundtrack.
Of everyone involved, Linda November seemed the most likely to be a pseudonym. Surely it must’ve been a better-known name providing that sultry-yet-despairing voice that delivers the heartbreaking song that opens the movie? If ever a name sounded like a pseudonym, then ‘Linda November’ was it.
In fact, Linda November is a very big name in certain circles, though it is perhaps understandable that you may never have heard of her. She’s been dubbed ‘the queen of the jingles’ thanks to a 32-year career in which her voice was heard on some 22,000 – give or take the odd thousand – TV and radio commercials from the 1960s into the 1990s. You’re probably familiar with some of them, given how thoroughly these things enter the popular culture. Her best-known performances are as the voice of the singing cat in the Meow Mix commercial and one of the singers on a pair of iconic Coke ads – I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing and A Coke and a Smile. Let no one say that she wasn’t versatile. She was also a popular backing singer – in the early 1970s, she was half of Tony Orlando’s backing group Dawn (at least on record) and had a smash hit with Knock Three Times. A few years later, she had another chart hit as a member of the disco group Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps, with a disco version of the song Baby Face. She sang as a backing singer for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Barbra Streisand, Perry Como to Ray Charles and her voice appears in The World of Hans Christian Anderson and The Incredible Shrinking Woman (where she sings a fake ad jingle for ‘Galaxy Glue’). As of 2011, she was working as a piano accompanist in Las Vegas.
This is all the sort of work where no one outside of those who scrupulously study record sleeve credits will ever know your name. The live line-up of Dawn had an entirely different line-up, so anonymous were the original singers. Yet it’s also an extraordinary, hugely impressive career that won her numerous awards and made her a comfortable living through residuals (the Meow Mix ad alone probably earned her enough to retire on). You can see why, beyond any possible embarrassment about the film itself, her work on The Devil in Miss Jones just didn’t seem that important to her. I would ask her directly, but her website is no longer operational and she seems to have retired.
For those looking to explore more of her varied musical stylings, there’s a 1987 Las Vegas show special – not, I suspect, made for TV – available on YouTube. I’m Comin’ Home is not performed.
The original Devil in Miss Jones LP is now quite obscure; there was a 1998 CD edition that is also rather hard to find. The film itself, while issued as a special edition DVD some years ago, is yet to emerge on Blu-ray.
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