Film buffs won’t be shocked to hear that a love-song compilation from director John Waters (Cry-Baby, Hairspray) is heavy on ’50s camp and confused sexuality. Much more surprising is that a man infamous for his “bad taste” is such an able curator, spanning five decades in aid of his perverted whims. Waters’s stamp of approval makes old standards sound kind of unseemly. It’s impossible to hear ancient jazz number “I’d Love to Take Orders From You” without casting Mildred Bailey as a bedroom submissive. Even the culturally exhausted Ray Charles gem “(Night Time Is) The Right Time” benefits, for once evoking lust more than Cosby-episode nostalgia. I shudder to think about the deranged meanings he finds hidden in “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked a Cake.”
A few inclusions could be described as boring or awful (run screaming from any “singer” who’s appeared in the director’s films), A Date With John Waters offers more hits than misses. Most memorable are the tracks that deal explicitly with homosexuality. Elton Morello’s plodding 1978 punk song “Jet Boy Jet Girl” sounds like ’50s greaser rock but contains content (violence, blowjobs, and a fifteen-year-old narrator who’s “got a kink or two in bed”) that would be controversial if released today. Similarly, Josie Cotton’s 1982 girl-group pastiche, “Johnny Are You Queer?” articulates a kind of boy trouble that her idols just couldn’t touch. It isn’t such a radical notion to admit that even the dusty old days of yore were filled with blush-worthy kink. But it is rather amusing, and that explains this album’s charm.