We Watch It For The Music | The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Madison Reinhold, Writer/Volunteer

A movie that somehow combines horror, theater, rock music and an insane illogical plot is the absolute pinnacle of Halloween. The Rocky Horror Picture Show simply is the season. This box office flop from 47 years ago keeps returning year after year and with the characters, costumes, crazy theatrical numbers and overall glamorous rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic it leaves the audience wanting more (more, more, more). Except, we’re only here to talk about the music. 

I’m a recent convert to the cult of this 1975 film, and it has become nothing short of an obsession. In case you’re unfamiliar (BTW, it’s Halloween, do yourself a favor), the musical follows a crazy night where a young couple meet a few out-of-this-world characters on a very special night. A man named Rocky is brought to life, everyone has sex with everyone and then a few people die after some really, really great songs. 

Like many older movies, this one starts with the credits, played under the sound of “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” This song sets a couple important themes for the rest of the film. One, calling back to cheesy science fiction B-movies from the decades prior in the lyrics, such as “Flash Gordon” and “The Invisible Man.” Aside from the fact that the bold red lips having become a hallmark of the film in the last decades, the women’s lips with a man’s voice coming out them foreshadow how we should expect many shows of androgyny and gender fluidity throughout the film, as IMDb lists a fun fact about the lips being Patricia Quinn (Magenta) and the vocals being Richard O’Brian (Riff Raff). 

So, you’ve watched these credits and you’re under the impression that with the lips, the blood dripping font and the sly horror references don’t match with the first scene. A little white church, a happy young couple and a cheerful love song are not this bloody and sultry movie the opening implied. “Dammit Janet,” is the first song in the canon of the musical, which does an amazing job of illustrating the couple that Brad and Janet used to be. As the Criminologist, a kind of narrator and expert on their criminal case explains, they used to be normal. The song also pokes fun at the archetypes set up in these old science fiction movies. Janet is a naive ingénue with a high falsetto and Brad is assured and protective, but doesn’t have much going on other than that. 

We move from a cheerful and sickeningly sweet love song to an ominous warning from the Criminologist that things are about to go wrong, and a rainstorm and a castle that tells us something is about to go wrong now. So these two innocent young kids walk into a castle in the middle of nowhere, like any smart protagonists, to the tune of a fun contemporary rock song, “Over at the Frankenstein Place.” 

Even though the lyrics are hopeful, there’s still some anxiously pounding chords telling us otherwise. As Riff Raff lurks in the window, his verse changes the tone dramatically. In a hint of foreshadowing told through song, we know not to trust the handyman. On another note, his verse is the best part of the song. Very ‘70s. 

As they enter the castle, a confident and manly-man Brad assures frightened Janet that they’re probably at “some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos,” but when Magenta slides into frame with her wild hair and tattered maid outfit, and as Riff Raff starts sulking around the foyer, they know something’s off. 

So then we get the iconic. The legendary. The Time Warp

This nonsensical song and dance allows us to immerse ourselves in the world at the same time as Brad and Janet. Just flipping open the door to see the partying Translyvanians? No, swinging open doors to the chorus of singers telling us to “do the time warp again!” is the only way. In just over three minutes, this song accomplishes so much. It introduces some major characters and the setting for the rest of the movie. They’re at a Transylvanian convention, and all of them in their matching outfits are really into it. It introduces Magenta, the maid, and Columbia, a Frank-n-Furter groupie with a sick tap-dance solo. 

A drum beat underscores Brad and Janet’s argument about whether or not they should leave the castle. It announces what’s to come before Frank-n-Furter even comes on screen. This rock ‘n’ roll rhythm tells us that their night is about to get even stranger, but a lot more glamorous.

It’s hard to imagine something that was created as a musical without the music, but there is truly no way to be introduced to Dr. Frank-n-Furter without his song, “Sweet Transvestite.” Stinging guitar chords match his strut from the elevator, his confidence and sensuality exudes from the lyrics. The song includes backup from the other Transylvanians and some wicked saxophone. The doctor invites the couple to his lab at the end of his song. The music picks up into a more anticipatory rhythm, as the elevator takes everyone up to the lab where the creation is about to be revealed. 

With a rapid crescendo, the lights start to flicker and the music reaches its height; Rocky is completed. 

As Rocky is revealed with another guitar sting, a growing drumroll plays as he comes to life. This intense music makes you anxious for the reveal, to see if this experiment will actually work. 

Does it?

“The Sword of Damocles,” Rocky’s immediate lament to being brought to life, begs to differ. Rocky frantically running through the lab and Frank zealously chasing after him while shrieking is another great scene, set to a great song. Despite only having half a brain, Rocky sings quite eloquently about the curse of being alive and not understanding who or where he is, which is complemented by the juxtaposition of the doctor and the rest of the lab breaking into chaos. After the new creation settles down, Frank-n-Furter forgives him and presents him a set of weights. 

I Can Make You a Man” is another jazzy song that just brings a lot more fun to Frank-n-Further’s character. He made Rocky for his own pleasure and fulfillment, so he’s going to make him strong and virile.  Of course he’s a maniacal villain, but who cares when he looks and sounds this good?

All of the sudden, Meat Loaf. The doctor is interrupted by a rock tune more influenced by a ‘50s diner jukebox, “Hot Patootie- Bless My Soul.” Eddie comes out of nowhere and gets everyone on screen and in front of the screen dancing. A saxophone solo? Are you kidding me?


His entrance song rivals the doctor’s iconic entrance, this movie is one amazing song after another. Maybe that’s why Frank took an ax to him. In a strange tone shift, we slip into horror for a quick second, and then go back into making Rocky a man. The reprise slows down into a more punchy beat to which the doctor struts, the creation flexes and by which  Janet decides she’s into muscles now. This moment really shows why the movie falls into both horror and musical, because we’re shocked out of a full song and dance number to a grisly murder played under Columbia’s piercing scream, and then after a moment of silence, the music starts all over again, as if nothing happened. 

After gruesomely murdering a motorcyclist, you know what one needs? To sleep with both halves of a newly engaged couple. Frank-n-Furter seduces his new guests one by one that night. When Janet finds out Brad slept with Frank-n-Furter, having just slept with him before, she becomes devastated. But who is there to comfort her? A sad, confused, lonely and hurt Rocky.  

Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” is this amazing juxtaposition between Janet’s soft and innocent voice and the dirty lyrics punctuated with over exaggerated moaning and gasping, along with Columbia and Magenta’s color commentary. This number is just so absolutely wild. Everything to this point has been so over the top and this is no exception. 

Later on, at a terrible dinner party where everyone either hates or has slept with everyone else, we get another great song, where Meat Loaf is on our minds again. In our mouths too, as Columbia realizes with another mood-shifting and piercing scream. In a musical, I love a good song where every other character just describes one character for three minutes straight. We get another jazzy, ‘50s influenced song, “Eddie,” describing just how unfortunate Eddie was. This is one of the only songs without a dance component, but it sure could have one. There’s another swift transition to horror when Eddie’s dead body is revealed under the table. As the girls are screaming and running, we get one more glance into the absolute psychopathy inside Frank. There’s also more callbacks to  some classic horror, where Janet screams helplessly, Brad makes some cheesy leading man threats, and the doctor starts revealing his evil plan. 

The Criminologist’s warning of Brad and Janet being subjected to more horrors is set off by an unexpectedly cheerful show tune. Frank had turned his new enemies, Brad, Janet, Rocky and Columbia into stone statues and now has them dressed in glitzy stage outfits, taking after his style of garters and corsets. 

This floor show number, “Rose Tint My World,” is the number that sounds the most like a musical theater number. There are numerous musical themes throughout the long number, starting with a jazzy tune where the characters lament how their lives have changed since Frank-n-Furter came into their lives. After Columbia and Rocky sing about their lives being ruined and Brad and Janet moan about their sexual awakening, the doctor enters the stage for a melancholy solo where he reflects on the past, standing in front of an RKO radio display and singing of starlet Fay Wray. A hypnotic interlude follows, where the formerly straightlaced Brad and Janet join everyone else in Frank’s world of lust, pleasure and insanity.

We kick back into show tunes for a minute, where we get an upbeat kickline and fun dance routine, which is interrupted by gasp — Riff Raff and Magenta! The secret villains! This song fades into Frank’s final word, “I’m Going Home,” where he yearns for the planet of Transylvania, and seems to break away from his more outward character so far. Where he entered so boldly, he leaves worn down with sad triumph. Unfortunately, Riff Raff and Magenta were just planning on killing him. 

Song was the only way that his vulnerability, the breakdown of his character’s façade could have been shown. As grounded in reality as this movie can be, this song allows for the most drama that has been seen without losing the grandeur that has described the movie thus far. He sings with the wind blowing in his face, his arms spread wide. Though not nearly as extravagant as the previous songs, there was a need for a final note for the story of Dr. Frank-n-Furter. 

An evil twist gets put on “Time Warp” as they finish their evil plan and the humans barely get out with their lives. Concluding his story of how this night changed Brad and Janet’s life, the Criminologist monologues over some melancholy piano in “Super Heroes.” Lamenting on the nothingness of the human condition, the emptiness of life, these characters are unceremoniously thrown back into the bleak real world forever changed. We’re left to ponder this as well, reeling back from an hour and a half of camp, glitz and rock to just go about regular life. 

This is about the music, but it’s hard just to focus on that. There’s costume, character, romance(?), dance, Halloween spirit, a cult following and just an overall vibe and over-the-top camp aesthetic that could go on forever. This film is really indescribable, maybe you’re supposed to leave the theater or the television completely disillusioned like Brad and Janet, leaving this nonsensical world of glitz and hedonism as suddenly as they were thrust into it. 

It’s beautiful, it’s one-of-a-kind, it’s astounding; and we’ll still be watching it on Halloween or whenever, for the music or whatever you love it for. But before you go:

Let’s do the Time Warp again!