Great Rock Movies of the 70s & 80s: That’ll Be The Day & Stardust

Great Rock Movies of the 70s & 80s: That’ll Be The Day & Stardust

stardust promo
(L-R) David Essex, Karl Howman, Keith Moon, Dave Edmunds & Peter Duncan in a promotional still for Stardust, 1974. Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images.

Introducing a new regular feature here on ILYOS in which we take a look back at some of the great rock movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s –  starting with the classic 1973 British coming of age film, That’ll Be The Day, and its over-the-top 1974 sequel, Stardust, both starring David Essex.

Box office hits in the 70s, and regularly screened on late night TV here in Australia in the ‘80s, both That’ll Be The Day and Stardust left a mark on any rock fan who saw them. Both are powerful and gritty rock movies that get it right, even if the actors – as is usual in these things – are all too old to be playing teenagers.

That’ll Be The Day harks back to the early days of England's rock scene, and, whilst incorporating greatly different story details, knowingly recreates the milieu out of which the Quarrymen – later the Beatles – formed in 1956. Essex plays an English schoolboy Jim Maclaine, who comes from a broken home (as John Lennon had), and who loves rock’n’roll with a passion. Jim ditches school, leaves home, and ends up working at a holiday camp with his older friend Mike. Mike is played by Ringo Starr, who sports the Teddy Boy look just right  (as he had 15 years prior to the film being made), and obviously makes the Beatles connection more apparent. At the holiday camp, as Jim grows up quickly amongst the girls and booze, he meets rocker, Stormy Tempest. Stormy is obviously based on the real-life Rory Storm; Rory Storm & the Hurricanes were the Beatles’ rivals in their early Liverpool and Hamburg days, and the band that the Beatles poached Ringo from after they ditched Pete Best. The character of Stormy Tempest is played by another genuine old rocker, Billy Fury, a major figure and hitmaker in pre-Beatles British rock. Stormy’s drummer is played by a particularly crazed Keith Moon of the Who.

After a couple of years running wild – his escapades with his new mates, which clearly are meant to represent both the freedom and the open invite to irresponsibility that rock’n’roll offers, make up the main part of the film until Jim decides he has to settle down. He returns home, marries and has a kid. But he still can’t resist the lure of rock’n’roll. The film ends with him buying a guitar.

That’ll Be The Day  

Stardust, the sequel, picks up right where That’ll Be The Day left off. Jim leaves home again, and this time forms a band, the Stray Cats. Stormy Tempest’s old drummer, as played by Keith Moon, is on board, as is a character played by guitarist Dave Edmunds. Edmunds had recently released an acclaimed album called Rockpile and was becoming known for his authentic recreations of classic 50s rock’n’roll. He would produce a host of original recordings for the film’s soundtrack, and, coincidently, go onto produce the real Stray Cats some 5 or 6 years later.

From Stardust  

Jim Maclaine & the Stray Cats (actually, Dave Edmunds!) 

From Stardust  

So, Jim Maclaine and The Stray Cats become a new sensation. At one point they share a bill with a girl-group who mime to an Edmunds-recorded version of  “Da Do Ron Ron”; the girls are backed by a bored looking bunch of muso’s portrayed by English pub-rock outfit Brinsley Schwarz, who Edmunds had recently produced, and whose bass playing singer Nick Lowe would become Edmund’s music partner a few years later.

“Da Doo Ron Ron”  

Jim’s old friend Mike – played this time by another early ‘60s British pop star, Adam Faith, instead of Ringo – is the Stray Cats’ manager,  and Larry Hagman makes a hilarious appearance – some years before J.R. Ewing and Dallas – as an American mogul. The charismatic Jim eventually ditches the band for a solo career and soon becomes a rock opera-making, drugged demi-God figure, and the biggest star in the world. He eventually disappears, becoming a shattered recluse after his final performance is broadcast around the world. There are echoes here of the 1967 film Privilege, which has Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones as a similarly messianic rock star, and perhaps of the 1970 Nicholas Roeg film Performance, which has Mick Jagger as a similarly decadent and reclusive star. There is also perhaps a nod to Elvis Presley’s seeming removal from reality – Jim’s worldwide broadcast followed Elvis Presley’s  1973 Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite concert – and to post-Beatles deification of John Lennon.  

That’ll Be The Day and Stardust were both written by Ray Connolly, a novelist and scriptwriter who also wrote a John Lennon biography following the Beatles death. Fantastic soundtrack albums were released for both films; as mentioned, the Stardust one also features a number of great Dave Edmunds recordings of songs from the era. Those Dave Edmunds tunes are available to stream on Spotify:

Listen to Dave Edmunds on Apple Music:

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