There's no film version yet, but "50 Shades of Grey" - the S&M romance trilogy that has titillated the nation, and is Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the New York Times Best Seller list - is getting a soundtrack.
"Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album" (EMI Classics) will be released digitally on Aug. 21, with a physical release on Sept. 18. The partnership among EMI Classics, Random House and author E L James is the first officially licensed "merchandise" spawned by the blockbuster series, and it's already a hit: Presales shot the album to the top of the Amazon and iTunes classical charts the day after it was announced (Aug. 8).
"Talk about instant gratification," says EMI Classics VP Wendy Ong, who brokered the deal. "This was presented to us on a silver platter. [James has] sold 20 million books in this country. If I can get a tiny percentage of those people and introduce them to some classical music, that would be amazing."
The album is a collection of works mentioned by name in the books and on James' website as "inspiration" for her writing. They range from well-known fare like "Flower Duet" from opera "Lakme" and Pachelbel's "Canon in D" to more obscure works like "Spem in Alium," a 16th-century, 40-voice choral piece by Thomas Tallis. This piece, mentioned in a particularly graphic scene in the first book, flew to the top of the U.K. classical charts in July, sparking Ong and EMI's curiosity.
Ong and EMI responded to the success of "Spem in Alium" with "Fifty Shades of Classical," an "unofficial" digital-only compilation, released as part of EMI's Greatest Classical Music Ever series, which packages multiple tracks under a theme, available on iTunes and Amazon for 99 cents.
"Fifty Shades of Classical" (which is no longer available online) shot straight to No. 1 on the iTunes classical chart, drawing James' attention. "She noticed that it was doing well and reached out to us," Ong says. "We suggested making an official album using the book cover and having her credited-'Music selected by'-on the album cover. She was thrilled with the idea."
EMI is planning such nontraditional marketing as a lyric video for YouTube built around passages from the book and matched to the instrumental music, as well as a "playroom box," modeled after the one in the books, sent to key members of the press, along with the music. There's also talk of an album launch event next month in New York, while James is on her book tour.
Ong says that while the current focus is on this release, additional installments are possible. "I'm just focused on making this a big success right now, but I would love for that opportunity."