Music Article

Making ''Songs in the Key of X''

The new ''X-Files'' album combines everything from Rob Zombie to Sheryl Crowe

Even for an unprincipled rake like myself, the idea of producing a television soundtrack album always seemed, oh, you know, beneath one's station. Just what the world needs: another cynical, demographics-driven spin-off item, music as aural product placement. But let's face it, cross-breeding your media is, as my grandfather never said, heap good husbandry.

And so the compilations and soundtracks just keep flooding forth, each chockful of this week's wonder groups and pinup sociopaths. Woefully, this blood lust for music that might spawn a hit for some dodgy film leaves those in search of great songs at a decided loss. Bands are hip to the movie game. Cut three extra tracks for your album and hustle the rejects to those Hollywood stooges. They'll buy anything!

But then there was The X-Files. Contrary to custom and logic, nearly everybody remotely cool or consequential in the rock world actually vied to be on this soundtrack. So when I took the job of executive producer, I immediately called my masseuse and my golf instructor and figured on settling in for a leisurely autumn.

It was, alas, not to be...

The next six months would turn into one endless phone call. Alternately cajoling and wheedling and generally carrying on like a trader hawking urns at a bazaar, I and a staunch team of Fox and Warner Bros. Records execs cobbled together an ever-shifting wish list of the industry's mightiest and weirdest figures. Of course, everybody and their cousin sent a song that ''was perfect for the X-Files'' — and that inevitably featured equal doses of aliens and government conspiracies: you know, like ''Martians Killed the Kennedys,'' that sort of thing.

Then there was the litany of sure things that turned into near misses. Tom Petty's on tour and has a record coming out but remains a Major Fan; the Boss loves the show but is too tied to Sony to be loaned out like a library book. And Seal is snowboarding in South America or somewhere.

Little by little, though, things started falling into place. The Foo Fighters committed, as did Rob Zombie with Alice Cooper. Sheryl Crow checked in with a moody ballad that made believers out of those who didn't appreciate her first incarnation. And Glenn Danzig wrote an industrial ode to the Dark Forces that has the surface allure of an Andy Williams record but the heart of Edgar Allan Poe.

Elvis Costello confessed to being a devotee of the show, and I wondered aloud if he could do something ambientlike. ''You know,'' I said, ''as if you went into the studio with Brian Eno or something.''

''That's funny,'' Elvis said. ''I just ran into Brian at McCartney's. We were invited there for a screening.'' (Oh, yes, Elvis, weren't we all?)

''Really,'' I chirped. ''Could you call him up, do you think?''

A week later, E&E emerged from the studio after a 14-hour stretch with a record called ''My Dark Life,'' which their friend Bono dubbed ''lounge music from Venus.'' That might have served as an album title, except that I once joked at a meeting that we should call the offering Songs in the Key of X, and it somehow stuck.

Somehow, did I say? The album title and every other detail had to pass muster with the show's already put-upon creator, Chris Carter, he of the shadowy, cavernous soul. Carter started this whole rigmarole by using pop-music cues as diverse as Nick Cave and Screamin' Jay Hawkins in the series.

The rest is up to that great judge without a gavel — music fans everywhere — to determine whether this is yet another gratuitous collection of disparate songs or the perfect companion to a stormy night. Warning: Some frequencies embedded in the CD have been known to attract, shall we say, entities. So if you're not up for a midnight visitation, might I respectfully suggest wearing headphones? Just a thought.

Originally posted Mar 29, 1996 Published in issue #320 Mar 29, 1996 Order article reprints