One of the things that made director John Landis’s 1980 musical comedy The Blues Brothers a hit was its showcasing of great blues, rhythm and blues and soul music from across the twentieth century. Whether it be the Blues Brothers – in the person of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd – singing their versions of hits like “Gimme Some Lovin'” or “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” or greats like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway singing their own tunes, the soundtrack for The Blues Brothers is song for song a great curated history of mid-20th century music.
Except that the film and soundtrack album are missing one song that was recorded for the film – a cover of the 1960 country tune “Sink the Bismark.”
In a August 1980 appearance on the syndicated comedy music radio show The Dr. Demento Show , Landis played a recording of the cover and explained why “Sink the Bismark” was dropped from the film cut of the film.
This was in the sequence when the band takes a gig at Bob’s Country Bunker. For those of you who have seen the film you know that’s a roadhouse in Kokomo, Indiana where they play both kinds of music – country and western. And the band realizes that the better sing something to please the folks. So they sing a couple of tunes that are in the movie. This particular song was sung in the film much to the excite and glee of the truckers and the cowboys however for time we did have to cut it out. I just want to mention that the people singing in the background is the horn section – Al Rubin, Blue Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone.
To elaborate a bit more on Landis’s statement, when he and Aykroyd first conceived of the Blues Brothers film, the music was of course going to play an equal part to the comedy and slapstick action of the script. In fact, the two intended the film to be as big a cinema event as the roadshow pictures of the 1960s and early 70s. And as such, there was to be an intermission in the middle of the film that would fall in the middle of the Bob’s Country Bunker sequence. The performance of “Sink the Bismark” would be the end of part 1 and after the intermission the film would resume with the band at the end of their set with the reprise of “Theme From Rawhide.” But when it came time to bring the film into a more manageable length, the roadshow idea, as well as “Sink The Bismark” was dropped. To date, the footage has not appeared as a home media extra or in any other context and is considered to be lost.
“Sink the Bismark” was originally written by country music singer Johnny Horton and songwriter Tillman Franks and was a hit back in 1960. Horton was one of the chief artists in the brief explosion of historical-based country songs and won a Grammy for his 1959 song “The Battle of New Orleans.” “Sink the Bismark” was actually commissioned by Twentieth Century Fox, who had an upcoming movie about the naval battle memorialized in the song but were concerned that since it was a British-led engagement, not many Americans would be familiar with it. The song would be some stealth marketing explaining the story of the film. Although used in the trailer, it does not actually appear in the feature film. “Sink the Bismark” managed to reach as high as #6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart that year.
Several years back there was a movement to get a new two-disc soundtrack issued for the movie’s music which would have included “Sink The Bismark,” as well as Jake and Elwood’s cover “Stand By Your Man” also from the Bob’s Country Bunker scene and a favorite of the horn section, the two Murphy and the Magic Tones songs (“Quando Quando” and “Just The Way You Are”), John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” which is briefly seen being performed outside of Aretha Franklin’s Soul Food Cafe restaurant on Chicago’s Maxwell Street, alternate takes of “Minnie The Moocher” and “The Old Landmark” and Elmer Bernstein’s score. Sadly, in their infinite stupidity, the record label executives decided (most likely wrongly) that there would probably not be any interest in the release and cancelled the plans.
Landis stated that the playing of the song on The Dr. Demento Show would be the only time the song would ever be heard. Of course, Landis could not foresee that the rise of the internet and how just about everything would eventually digitally live forever. And here it is in the embedded player below –