The French provincial brocade couches in Carmine and Dolly's Camden, New Jersey house in "American Hustle" tell you what you need to know about the characters' domestic life. But the "American Hustle" soundtrack goes far to define the movie's con artists' ethos; for example you hear The Jefferson Airplane's classic "White Rabbit," but it's not The Airplane. So what is it? Another put on? A leitmotif for a fake sheikh from the Emirates? Susan Jacobs, the "American Hustle"'s music supervisor, filled me in about the creation of "White Rabbit" -turns out, in Arabic, and other music backstories.
"I tried the original Jefferson Airplane version early in the editing process. David O. Russell liked what the song did for the scene's arc, but was always hoping that as it's a '60's song, we might come across a '70's song that worked equally well. That turned out to be a very tall order. As David likes to say, "Many have been there before, trying and failing to replace the song. It's tough to beat. The song has so much drama, but it's also very simple."
"I had invited writer and record producer Mark Batson to the edit room to show him some scenes that were still open for consideration for new music. I showed him "White Rabbit" to see if he had ideas for an alternative. He immediately replied, "I ain't touching that song; it's too good." He then suggested I look outside the English language. That was the "ah ha" moment, which evolved into covering the song in Arabic.
"Mark agreed on the spot to be the producer if I could find a singer. I searched for Arabic singers, finding many exciting voices but none in the US. Time was very short, already November 1st. One artist that I loved, based in Paris, Souad Massi, had a manager, Dawn Elder, based in Santa Barbara. Getting to know Dawn was the luckiest break. She threw her heart and soul into the translation and also managed a girl based in Boston. This is how we met the wonderful 23-year-old Mayssa Karaa, fluent in English and Arabic, among other languages, with a beautiful and strong voice. She sang a capella into her iPhone, from Lebanon where she was finishing up a tour. We knew immediately from her iPhone demo that she was going to be great. A week later she came to LA and cut the song. In the film, we stayed very true to the original. Mark also created a fun hip-hop version. We're going out to clubs later with re-mixes and various fun dance tracks.
"Jeff Lynne was also a huge part of our discovering new music. We'd used a track titled "10538 Overture." David felt the music had all the contrasting elements that embodied his film. Jeff Lynne sent more. We used "Long Back Road," a song that had only been released in Japan years ago. David says, "He's the musical soul of the film."
"Live and Let Die" came about from Jennifer and David chatting on set about fun things her character could do like singing around the house, which evolved into that great moment. Tom Jones' "Delilah" also came about on location. I got a call atmidnight, asking for a song to shoot the next day that Irving and Carmine could sing.
"Jack Jones' "I've Got Your Number" was one of the few script ideas that survived. David flipped when we mentioned Jack Jones to sing. Mike Renzi did an amazing arrangement of the song, and found great musicians. We recorded it in one afternoon and shot the scene the next day. David and I danced around the studio, acting out the scene of Irving and Sydney for Jack, so he could learn where to put the emphasis on the lyric. He did that version of the song in one take. What a pro!!"
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.