Adryan Russ is a prolific singer/songwriter who has written music and lyrics for an off-Broadway musical and even films, such as the lyric for “White Lies” for The Check Is in the Mail… (1986), starring Brian Dennehy and Anne Archer. Her career writing songs for films dates back to the early ‘70s when she co-wrote and sang the song “Save the Earth” for the AIP version of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971). In 2002, LML Music (www.lmlmusic.com) released Everyone Has A Story: The Songs of Adryan Russ, produced by Bruce Kimmel and arranged by Grant Geissman, which features “Save the Earth” as a bonus track. In 2007, Ms. Russ spoke with Brett Homenick about her memories writing and singing one of the most popular songs featured in a Godzilla film.
Brett Homenick: How did you get involved with AIP (American International Pictures)?
Adryan Russ: That was a long time ago. I was a secretary at the time, and I wanted more than anything to work in the music division. But at the time, they were looking for somebody to work in the legal department. I interviewed with Bill Immerman, who was head of the legal department at the time. I liked him and decided to take the job. While I was working there, I made it my business to get to know who was working in the music division and to find out how they were doing things there.
That’s how I met Guy Hemric, who is my co-lyricist on the song. I got to know him, and he was very involved, not only in working with the music division there with a man named Al Simms, who headed up the music department, but he was also writing some of the lyrics for a lot of the AIP beach party movies.
I told him that I love to sing, and I love to song-write, and he asked to hear some material sometime. So I showed him some of the things I had been working on, and he heard me singing on my own demos, and that’s when he suggested that maybe we could try and write something together.
BH: How did you get involved with writing and singing the theme song to Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster?
AR: Guy was in charge of things. He was also working with a guy named Don Ciminelli who was running Radio Recorders, and he had heard me sing as well, and so he invited me to participate. This is true any time that if you’re in the right place at the right time, things can happen. They just invited me to sing, and when Don and I were working on the song, we watched the clip of the movie on the screen at Radio Recorders, and we tried our best to write in English and match the mouth movement of the girl who was singing in Japanese, so we’d come as close as possible to what we thought she was singing. It’s not perfect, but we came as close as we could.
BH: Now were you given a translated version of the original Japanese song, or was it just completely from scratch that you wrote it?
AR: Oh, it was translated. We saw the translation, and we knew what the movie was about. We had seen the movie, and their interpretation of it was that the earth needed to be saved from the Smog Monster. So we came up with “Save the Earth,” and it seemed to match what this girl’s mouth was saying in terms of syllables. So that’s how that happened.
BH: Now did you find that it was more difficult to come up with lyrics that expressed the “save the earth” theme or to match the mouth movements? Which did you find more difficult?
AR: That’s a good question! I guess it was more difficult to try and catch the mouth movement because you want to say what’s most important without being concerned with mouth movement. Although the Japanese performer seemed to have a lot of open — what I would call vowel movement — mouth movements so that whenever she would open her mouth, if you just used a vowel sound in there, it would work pretty well. But I would say that was definitely more difficult than writing the lyric.
BH: This is probably too (much of) an obscure question for you to remember, but do you recall any lyrics that you were thinking about writing that you decided to scrap because they just didn’t work, or they didn’t match the mouth movements?
AR: In all honesty, I usually do remember that kind of thing, but I don’t remember that case because it was a long time ago. I do remember that Guy and I did two or three drafts of it. We would just sit in a room and go back and forth, trying to find the right line that would work, never knowing, of course, that this movie was going to be a classic.
I have to tell you, I spent many years not telling people that I had written the lyric and sung the theme song for this movie. (laughs) Something about it was embarrassing to me, and every time I would mention it to somebody, they thought it was incredible that I had this opportunity. Eventually, I thought, “Well, what’s wrong with my thinking? I need to change that point of view.”
The producer of my CD (Everyone Has a Story, which features the “Save the Earth” song as a bonus track), Bruce Kimmel, loves movies. He probably knows old movies better than anybody else I know. He knew that I had done this one because I had revealed it to him. He said, “Let’s find the old track and put it on as a bonus track.” I said, “No, absolutely not.” He said, “You’re going to be surprised at the interest in that track.” I said, “Well, bonus track, huh? Nobody knows it’s there unless you leave your CD on too long. Okay, I’ll do it!” (laughs) So I’m still amazed that you and I are talking now and that people are still interested in this song and this movie.
BH: That also segues into another question I wanted to ask. You have kind of answered it with what you just said, but do you remember anything from the recording session, maybe any interesting stories that might have happened?
AR: I have to tell you: I do remember in the recording studio, both Guy Hemric and Don Ciminelli, the producer, and whoever else was around, came in and did the male voices. They were not singers per se, and all they would do is echo what I was singing. I’d sing “Save the Earth,” and they’d echo in deep voices, “Save the Earth.” I thought, “What kind of chorus is this?!” But it was all in good fun.
BH: Now you also recorded, I think, a different version of the song for when it appears later on in the movie, during the nightclub scene. Is that correct, or is that the same version that you recorded for the intro?
AR: It’s either the same version, or it’s very, very close. We may have done two versions to fit both scenes. I know we recorded it more than once, so I suspect the producer used one version over the opening credits and another in the bar scene.
BH: I seem to remember that they were a little bit different. But that’s just my impression.
AR: It could be that we did a couple of versions, knowing that the song was going to be over the titles and that it was also going to be in that bar scene where the girl is dancing on the table. I’m not remembering specifically, but there’s a good chance of that.
BH: What did you think of the bar scene, actually, when the guy’s (drunk), and he sees the people with the fish heads, and all that psychedelic stuff was going on. Do you remember what you thought when you were seeing that for the first time?
AR: I was thrilled to be a part of it! (laughs) That’s all I’m going to say about that! (laughs)
BH: Is there anything else you’d like to say, about Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster or anything else in general?
AR: Just that I really feel privileged that you’re inviting me to talk about it. I think the movie came out in ‘72, so we know how long ago that was. I am amazed that there’s still such interest in it. I’m just excited that I was a part of it, and I can’t thank you enough for contacting me.
Donald J. Ciminelli adds: “With the U.S. release of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster happening in ’72, we were working on it probably a year before in early 1971. Keep in mind that at that time there were no computer-controlled ADR systems. Everybody used click tracks to cue either dialogue replacement actors or (in our case) singers. What we did was post-synchronization of lyrics while American International Pictures used other resources to rewrite the story and replace the dialogue.
“At the time we (my editor Marty Roth, our Sound Engineer Jay Antista, and me) were part of EMC Corporation. This St. Paul-based company owned Radio Recorders and Film Designers in Hollywood and had an education products division in Minnesota.
“OK, on with the story. AIP would give us M&E (music and sound effects) tracks recorded on 35mm mag stripe film. As long as we went from one sprocketed medium to another, we wouldn’t lose sync. Those tracks were without lyrics, so we used the release print to see where the vocals fit in the final film. We’d make a video cassette of the release print for Adryan Russ and Guy Hemric to work with along with an audiotape cassette of the music-only track. Adryan and Guy were masters at developing new lyrics designed to fit existing scenes and new story lines. That is to say nothing of Adryan’s great voice for all occasions. Incidentally, if you want an example of her range, get a copy of Jack and the Witch (1967) or Little Norse Prince (1968) to experience Adryan’s ability to go from sweet and romantic to the hard-driving Haight-Ashbury sound of “Save the Earth.”
“Anyway, my editor made huge loops of the scenes to be rerecorded, and we used our largest studio so we could project the loops from the control room to the studio for Adryan and Guy to see. Then if we needed a chorus of voices, our staff knew no one was safe. I simply patrolled the halls with a hook and recruited volunteers. Then we overdubbed to match the crowd scenes. That’s essentially how it was done back in the stone age. Hope this helps.”