Monday, October 31, 2011

Soundtrack Albums

Using pop music in films is a great way to establish mood (either on top of or instead of the film's instrumental score) and, for those set in a specific point in time, an easy way to help establish the period. Releasing these for sale to has proven to be a rather handy moneymaking venture, since soundtrack albums sometimes sell very well indeed – The Bodyguard, Dirty Dancing and Saturday Night Fever are in the top ten best-selling albums of all time.

And whether the songs are specifically written for the film or not they often provide very interesting combinations that you wouldn't otherwise find together in one place. I've bought quite a few over the years, and, after some thought, I came up with four albums that I consider my favourites – as well as some notable mentions.

Lost Highway

Trent Reznor's compilation of songs to accompany David Lynch's twisted neo-noir thriller is as eclectic as the film itself, as is illustrated by the combination of artists whose songs are featured: David Bowie, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails1, German hard-metal act Rammstein, Marilyn Manson (an original and a cover, I Put a Spell on You, originally by Screaming Jay Hawkins), Lou Reed, Brazilian bossa nova jazz composer Antonio Carlos Jobim (an exquisite version of Insensatez), frequent Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti and some very interesting tracks from UK band-hopper 2 Barry Adamson.

The combination of songs – and the way they're ordered – almost tells a story without the film. It's probably my favourite 'driving' album; it helps that, all up, it's only a few seconds shy of 72 minutes long – pretty damn long by album standards3.

It also reminds me that it's probably time I watched the film again. It's been a while.

1Unsurprisingly, given that it's Reznor's own band.
2He's played with The Buzzcocks and Nick Cave amongst others.
3Yeah, I'm one of those old-fashioned people who still listen to entire albums.


Along with the quirky-to-the-point-of-unrealistic dialogue – an aspect of it which I loved, though (for no reason that I can understand) it made a lot of people hate it – Juno had a killer soundtrack. Much of it is the so-called 'anti-folk' (see what Wikipedia has to say on the genre) of Kimya Dawson and her two bands (Antsy Pants and The Moldy Peaches), but there are two songs from Belle & Sebastian that I hadn't heard before: Piazza, New York Catcher and Expectations.

There are also some older songs like Well Respected Man, by The Kinks; Dearest by Buddy Holly; Sonic Youth's cover of The Carpenters' Superstar; the Bowie-penned All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople; and I'm Sticking With You by The Velvet Underground.

It's a great combination.

Garden State

Writer/director Zach Braff also compiled the soundtrack to Garden State – and managed to win a Grammy for it.

The standout tracks – for me at least – are Don't Panic by Coldplay4, In the Waiting Line by Zero 7, One of these Things First by Nick Drake, The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon & Garfunkel, Lebanese Blonde by the Thievery Corporation5 and Iron & Wine's cover of The Postal Service's Such Great Heights6.

Then there's New Slang by The Shins; it's even referenced in the film by Natalie Portman's character, who's listening to it on a headset which she hands to Braff's character, saying 'it'll change your life'. I probably wouldn't quite go that far – but it is a great song.

4Yes, I like some Coldplay songs; they weren't always lame. Was never all that fond of Yellow, though.
5Which, for all I know, might be the only song they ever recorded.
6My familiarity with both versions of the song meant I was freaked out when it got used in Baz Luhrmann's Australia.

Empire Records

Another of my all-time favourite films which happens to have a great set of songs to go with it – hardly shocking, given it's set in a record store.

It features Til I Hear It From You by the Gin Blossoms, Crazy Life by Toad the Wet Sprocket, Circle of Friends by Better Than Ezra, the exceptional Evan Dando cover of Big Star's The Ballad of El Goodo7, and a great Australian song, The Honeymoon is Over by The Cruel Sea.

The film itself features a heck of a lot more songs than the album; you can find the complete list at Wikipedia here.

7Like so many songs I like a lot it has features excellent drumming. However, even with the internet I've got no idea who's actually playing.

Notable mentions

There are other good soundtracks that just don't quite make the cut in terms of consistency. Good Will Hunting has five Elliott Smith tracks, including Miss Misery, which should have won the Oscar for Best Original Song instead of the vile My Heart Will Go On; that it didn't is possibly the greatest travesty in Academy history8.

What the heck; here it is:

Okay, back to the soundtracks. Romeo + Juliet has some good songs, including Radiohead's Talk Show Host – arguably the best b-side of all time – as well as Garbage's #1 Crush and Everclear's Local God. Quentin Tarantino knows how to put them together, since both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs have some kickass tunes. The Matrix is certainly up there, and – despite the fact the movie it belongs to ranks as one of my least favourites of all time – so is Godzilla.

The X-Files: Fight the Future has some good tracks – though only three of them actually were on the film. My favourite songs from it are Filter's cover of Three Dog Night's One, Flower Man by Tonic; a slightly different version of Foo Fighters' Walking After You from the one on The Color and the Shape; One More Murder by Better Than Ezra9; an odd mashup of Tubular Bells and the X-Files theme song by Mike Oldfield (they called it Tubular X); and Teotihuacan – a strangely good instrumental by Oasis's Noel Gallagher.

I'm tempted to put the Daft Punk-composed soundtrack for Tron:Legacy (which I talked about a bit in my post about the film) on here as well, but I still haven't gotten my hands on it, so I can't. Still, it's a good reminder that I should get around to that.

8Though only marginally more so than Russell Crowe winning Best Actor for Gladiator – he pretty much just played himself, after all.
9Yes, you'd be right if that's the second time they've shown up in this article. Funnily enough, I couldn't actually tell you the name of any non-soundtrack songs they've ever done.

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