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Once in a While: The Lost Rocky Horror Picture Show Song

Hi! My name’s Brad Majors! OK, well, not really, but I played him on—er rather, under—the silver screen. I started out my shadow cast career (if there can be said to be such as thing) as a Riff Raff, but I found my true Rocky calling in my third cast. Yes, I’m an asshole, and proud of it.

This was all some time ago, mind you. My “career” spanned something like 1988 to 1997, in five different casts nationwide (I moved around a lot during this time). Back then, we didn’t have online scripts, YouTube clips, and whatever else modern technology has undoubtedly blessed modern shadow casts with. Oh, I can only dream.

When I started out, all we had was a severely over-photo copied, hand-typed (yes, as in a typewriter) script and a bootleg VHS copy of the movie that had likewise been passed around and copied so many times it was literally wearing thin. In the fall of 1990, we finally got the legit US VHS release for the 15th anniversary. Slight improvement in quality, but nothing too earth shattering.

The Audio Release

However, The Rocky Horror Picture Show 15th Anniversary Box Set was also released around that time, and one of the four CDs included had the most amazing treasure. It was Barry Bostwick performing “Once in a While” from the legendary cut scene from the movie. I say “legendary” now, but I’m not even sure that at that time I knew, or cared probably, about the cut scene prior to that release. This was all just about a month before my transition to playing Brad Majors.

The Original Roxy Cast recording of the play version, The Rocky Horror Show (no “Picture”), of course had a track of “Once in a While”, and that had been around forever. It starts out a little country sounding and ends in a trailing off shoop-de-doop chorus that just never quite appealed. Overall, it just comes off too peppy for me. It’s very Broadway-ish, if you know what I mean.

RockyMusic.org lists several dozen more cast recordings of “Once In A While”, all from the play version naturally, and in several different languages even. None of those compare, in my admittedly biased view, to Barry Bostwick’s performance. I think sometimes people forget that he was a legitimate Broadway actor at the time, having earned a Tony nomination in 1972 for his role in the original production of Grease, and then winning a Tony in 1977 for The Robber Bridegroom.

Barry’s version had real emotion to it, and the music actually matched that emotion. I found myself singing “Once in a While” all the time—at home, in the car, before the show. I felt a connection to the song, like it gave me just a little bit more insight into the character of Brad Majors. I just wished somehow it could be part of our show.

Once in a While - Brad in his blue bedchambers, singing.
Brad sings “Once in a While.”

The Video Release

The 1995 Laserdisc release for the 20th anniversary, finally, at long last, gave us some decent extras that included a handful of deleted scenes and alternate takes. One of those was a full scene of “Once in a While” that could be, with a little effort, spliced into the movie at the right place. Question #22 in the Rocky Horror Purity Test even asks “Have you seen a Rocky Horror print with the ‘Once in a While’ footage somehow spliced in?” Rumor has it that additional footage transitioning into and out of the scene was also filmed but truly lost this time. Thus in the “Deleted Scene” version, the first verse is overlaid with a montage of scenes between Brad and Janet from the first half of the movie, that may or may not have been the original intent.

The scene would be made more readily available in 2000 with the 20th anniversary two-disc DVD release. On the DVD’s commentary track, Richard O’Brien can’t recall why the song was cut from the movie. I imagine it was probably because in a movie full of action and chaos, this song was the eye of the storm. It admittedly kills the momentum to take a break to reflect and assess what has happened. If they were looking to trim a little fat to get the running time down to 1:41, this would be an obvious target.

The Premise of the Song

So now we could *see* the power of Barry’s performance. It’s important to remember that before arriving at the castle, Brad was having the best day of his life. He just saw his best friend get married. He proposed to his own girl and she said yes. And now they were driving to his friend and mentor’s place to share the good news.

As things start to go badly, Brad tries so hard to hold on to that and stay optimistic. When his car breaks down, maybe that castle they passed back down the road a few miles might have a telephone he can use. The place is probably just some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos. They’re probably foreigners with ways different than our own, and that was just folk dancing. When Janet is scared, there’s nothing to worry about, because Brad’s here and Brad can handle anything, whatever it is.

But now he is at a low point. His calm manly veneer cracked when he blew up at Frank. And then of course, he gave in to pleasure. He betrayed Janet, and himself. Now, not yet knowing that she has also betrayed him, he’s coming to terms with what he has done and re-asserting his optimism.

So all of this is to say that there is a real story arc built into the song “Once in a While”. Brad is down, but not out. He made Frank promise not to tell, but in the aftermath, he realizes that he has to confess to Janet. It’s the right thing to do. He’s going to do this knowing full well that she will leave him. But he’s also confident that she’ll come back. They have to get through the night to get to the brand new day.

Once in a While - Janet lies in her bed, head propped up on her hands, crying.
Janet cries in her bedroom chambers.

Analyzing the Song

Let’s take a look at the lyrics:

Once in a while, she don’t want to call you
Speaking on the telephone
And once in your life, she won’t want to know you
You look around
The one you’ve found, she is gone

Hey, ya know, this is just how it is in a relationship. Once in a while, you’re gonna screw up and she’s gonna be gone. She won’t even call you on the phone.

And that’s all the time that it takes
For a heart to turn to stone

An instant in time is all it takes to destroy a relationship. You slip up and turn her heart to stone.

The sweeter the wine
The harder to make the break

What they had was sweet, so it will be hard on her to make the break.

You hear something about someone
You’d thought you’d known

She will hear his confession and be disappointed because she thought she knew him.

So baby don’t cry like there’s no tomorrow
After the night there’s a brand new day

This doesn’t have to be the end of their relationship. They can begin anew.

And there’ll be no pain, and no more sorrow
So wash your face
And phone my place, it’ll be OK

She can stop crying because he’ll never hurt her again.

And that’s all the time that it takes
For a heart to beat again

An instant in time is also all it takes to forgive him and give their relationship a second chance.

So give me a sign
That a lover makes
You look around
The one you’ve found is back again

He’ll turn over a new leaf and find her by his side again.

You can watch the full clip here on YouTube. As powerful as the words are, the visuals are more so. The entire song is just Brad sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking a cigarette and reflecting on the day’s events. Nothing else happens. Frank literally sleeps through the entire thing, for crying out loud. There are two brief flashes of Janet interspersed, crying in her separate pink bed chamber (at 1:30 and 2:13 in the clip). It seems like these are Brad envisioning what will happen when she finds out, because the scene begins and ends with Janet at the control panel in the laboratory.

And then there’s that sigh at the end. That soul-crushing sigh. It’s just perfect.

The Rocky Horror Show Version

All of that plays out very differently in the play version of The Rocky Horror Show. In the play, “Once In A While” is sung by Brad *after* he has found out about Janet’s betrayal. Specifically, Frank, Riff, and Brad come out of the elevator and Frank directs Riff to find Rocky on the monitor. In the movie, this is where he finds out they have a visitor, i.e. Dr. Scott. In the play however, Riff first finds Rocky “in the female’s quarters.” Brad is staggered by this revelation, saying “Janet! How could she? That’s it–it’s over.” Before Brad then shifts into his big solo number, the Narrator steps in with the following observation:

“Over! What was over? Not the night that was certain. Brad and Janet’s engagement? Their love for one another? Who could say – for questions such as these are not to be answered by the academic they must be left for the heart to solve and Brad you may be sure, had plenty of heart.”

This is so interesting to me. Just by moving the song forward a bit, Richard O’Brien completely changed its meaning when he re-wrote the movie screenplay. In the play, Janet is the betrayer and Brad the betrayed. Brad is the one whose heart has turned to stone and then beats again as he forgives her. In the movie, he knows nothing of Janet’s betrayal yet, only his own. It’s a song of remorse and regret for what he’s done, and his faith that they can overcome it. Same song, two wildly different meanings.

Once in a While - A white triangular flag with a black circle and a white lightning bolt through it, flying on a flag pole in the darkness
“I can see the flag fly.”

Over at the Frankenstein Place

“Once in a While” is not the only instance where Brad got shorted on a musical number. In the original play version of “Over at the Frankenstein Place”, Brad has a solo verse between Janet and Riff’s two verses. This was cut for the movie—otherwise it would appear right when Brad and Janet dodge out of the way of the motorcyclists. According to Wikipedia, the karaoke version of the track found on the Rocky Horror Picture Show: Sing It album has space for this extra verse, despite sticking to the movie’s music for the rest of the album.

Here are the lyrics:

I can see the flag fly
I can see the rain
Just the same – there has got to be
Something better here – for, you and me

Once again, the lyrics reflect Brad’s eternal optimism. Janet’s verse was wildly optimistic, looking upon the light at the castle as their “guiding star,” leading them out of their current dark situation. Brad’s verse starts out a little more skeptical, noting the wind and the rain. But heck, despite all of that, there’s got to be something good ahead. He just knows it.

In this case, rumor has it that footage for this missing musical moment was never filmed. All we can do is listen to it on the Original Roxy Cast recording of the play and imagine what it would have sounded like with Barry singing it instead.

Once in a While - Brad and Frank on the Monitor
Brad and Frank on the monitor screen.

Conclusion

At a reunion panel at the 2016 Magic City Comic Con (with Barry, Patricia and Nell), Bostwick says that “Once is a While” was his favorite song from the movie. In fact, this is kind of a stock answer he’s given at many, many such events during the Q&A. Usually taking that as his cue to belt out as much of the song as time permits. He’s still got it. Patricia Quinn further elaborates that the song is “truly stunning” and so strong that it “stands alone.” She remembers it as one of the highlights when Stephen Gately sang it at The Rocky Horror Tribute Show in 2006.

I’m certainly not going to argue with the original Brad and Magenta. It’s my favorite song too. It’s a powerful song that really showcases Barry Bostwick’s talent. For me, it packs every bit as much of an emotional punch as Tim Curry’s “I’m Going Home” at the end of the film. But all the things that make it so powerful are exactly the reasons why it’s probably a good thing that it was cut from the movie. As much as I love it, I can see that the midnight movie crowd would probably go bananas at the forced stillness. The momentum is better served by keeping the hits coming on Brad and not giving him this uplifting moment.

But I can still dream it.


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Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.

2 Comments

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  1. so thats what its about??? funny i never put that kind of thought or weight into it….but now i will if i ever get the chance to actually sing it somewhere for real…what an inciteful and wonderful commentary on the song and i truly appreciate the ‘ATTABOY’ when it comes to my performance…barry bostwick

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