The 8 Ball 7.05.14: Top 8 Movie Soundtracks
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.05.2014
From Prince's Purple Rain and the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night to Pulp Fiction, This Is Spinal Tap and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 movie soundtracks of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Movie Soundtracks
Happy Fourth of July (or Fifth of July at this point), readers! Welcome back to the 411 Music 8 Ball. I'm your host as always, Jeremy Thomas, and I hope that you had a great Independence Day (or, if you're outside the United States, The Philippines, Denmark or Rwanda, a great Friday). I've covered patriotic music a couple of times over the last few years so this week we're going to go with something different. This week marks fifty years since the release of A Hard Day's Night, the great Beatles film and album. The Fab Four's film is considered one of the great films, but more importantly the album is often called one of the all-time greatest soundtracks. That got me thinking of great movie soundtracks. Music is essential to film and I love soundtracks because they combine those two great loves I have. This week we're going to look at the best soundtracks ever assembled.
Caveat: A couple caveats here. The first is that I didn't include film scores or soundtracks to musicals. Both are a little bit different from soundtracks to traditional films and I wanted to focus on that. Second, I have a bit of a preference for albums that include new music over compilations of previously-recorded material. That isn't a hard and fast rule and when you put old songs together exquisitely to complement the film, it can be truly great. Still, some great weight was placed on albums with new music recorded for it. As for criteria, I considered both the overall quality of the music and how well it fit the film it was tied with.
Just Missing The Cut
• Easy Rider (1984)
• O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
• Saturday Night Fever (1977)
• American Graffiti (1973)
• 24 Hour Party People (2002)
#8: Juice (1992)
Juice may not be one of the most revered films of all-time, but it is a fairly good one and earned decent reviews at the time of its release. This Ernest R. Dickerson drama was Tupac Shakur's first starring role after a brief bit in 1991's Nothing But Trouble and earned the late rapper some very favorable notices. But what is most notable about the film is its fantastic soundtrack. It wasn't that common for a film in the early 1990s to feature true hip-hop songs on its soundtrack; not that it didn't happen at all, but it was a relatively uncommon thing. R&B was more the flavor of these kinds of films. The Juice soundtrack stood out in that context and definitely in a positive way. Naughty By Nature, Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Too Short, Cypress Hill and more feature on this powerful soundtrack that really chronicles the various sides of hip-hop from the era. If you wanted to go gangsta there's plenty of that; there's also N'Dea Davenport and Brand New Heavies delivering more of an R&B feel with closer "People Get Ready." Salt-N-Pepa show up for a damned good turn with "He's Gamin On Ya" and Eric and Rakim's title track is classic work from them. This is easily my favorite hip-hop soundtrack.
#7: This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
This Is Spinal Tap is one of the greatest music-related films of all-time, a funny and satirical romp through the hard rock scene that also happens to legitimately rock. The soundtrack hits all those same notes perfectly. Part of what makes the film so impressive is how Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer really managed to get the music sounding right and from start to finish the soundtrack is a blast. "Hell Hole" is a hard rocking number that gets very funny when you really listen to the lyrics and "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" is so blatantly inappropriate that you just have to laugh, with a "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" sound that really fits. You have the prerequisite ballad in the over-the-top "America" and "Stonehenge" is simply a classic. The band was so good that we've two more albums since its release, both of which have been quite good in their own right. Sometimes the best way to spoof something is to stay close to the letter and that's what happened here.
#6: Trainspotting (1996)
While the second Trainspotting soundtrack suffered a little in quality, the first is nearly untouchable. Danny Boyle has always had a good mind for what music should populate his films and Trainspotting is his crowning achievement in that capacity. I mean seriously, who doesn't love Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life?" It's a poppy punk number that appeals no matter what kind of music you like, and that's just the most well-known song. Underworld's "Born Slippy" is an electronica masterpiece while gloriously subverting Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" and New Order's "Temptation." Pulp, Brian Eno, Elastica and Damon Albarn are all used to great effect as well. This is an album that really has something for just about anyone, whatever your taste in music, and it's nearly impossible to think about these songs without thinking of the film itself. That's the mark of a truly great album: when it takes a classic song and uses it so well that you always associate with that film. This is one of the best matches of music and film than I can think of, short of just a couple. That's more than enough to rank it on my list.
#5: Pulp Fiction (1994)
While I've noted in my caveats that I give greater weight to albums that consist of new material, some albums are just so effective at taking old hits and using them that they might as well be new songs. Much like Danny Boyle, Quentin Tarantino has a consummate skill at this. All of his soundtracks are incredibly well-done, but few would argue against the idea that Pulp Fiction is his crowning achievement as a soundtrack assembler. The use of such songs as "Misirlou" and the Tornados' "Bustin Surfboards" to better-known numbers like "Let's Stay Together" and "Son of a Preacher Man" were truly inspired and they added up to one of the most unforgettable soundtracks of the 1990s. It's an album that has almost as much regard as the film itself; a high bar, considering its many accolades. The highlight really has to be Urge Overkill's cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" which comes into play for Mia's dance just before her heroin overdose. Tarantino's films are built to appeal to cinephiles, and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack similarly matched up with would-be music historians nicely. It's a landmark album of the early 1990s, and not just as a soundtrack.
#4: The Graduate (1968)
Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson. The songs of Simon and Garfunkel are permanently embedded in the history of America and few as strongly as those on the soundtrack to the 1986 film The Graduate. This was an album destined to stand among the all-time great soundtracks, with a set of songs that perfectly captured not only the film, but the era. In theory this falls along the "older songs" theory but the entire album is Simon & Garfunkel; it isn't a compilation in the same capacity and either way, the influence this album had on soundtracks was powerful. Rock music was used in narrative fashion around this time, but not so much to set moods and Mike Nichols did a fabulous job of thematic and mood establishment with these. "Sounds of Silence" was originally featured on the duo's album of the same name, but for those who lived after the era of its first release it will always be remembered more strongly as the song during the opening credits while Benjamin Braddock makes his way through LAX. There's also the classic "Scarborough Fair and, of course, "Mrs. Robinson." This is one of those LPs that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the late 1960s and is a damn fine soundtrack from a damn fine movie to boot.
#3: The Crow (1994)
There are some soundtracks that just take you back as powerfully as the best "regular" album can. And then there are the ones that do it more so, because it's got the power of the music and the movie running through your mind. I don't think a soundtrack has ever been quite as perfectly matched to its film as The Crow. The film was one of my favorites of the early 1990s but the soundtrack, somehow, was better. You had everyone from the Cure and Nine Inch Nails to Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, the Violent Femmes, Thrill Kill Kult, Jesus and Mary Chain--it was practically a who's who of heavy, mood-ridden music. Everyone has a favorite song off the album and for my money, although I do love "Color Me Once" and NIN's "Dead Souls" cover, it's that opening track--The Cure's "Burn"--that does it just right for me. The Crow franchise has become known for three things, and two of them are unfortunate: the death of Brandon Lee and a series of subpar to atrocious sequels. The soundtrack is the third and that's the one that does the film justice.
#2: A Hard Day's Night (1964)
It inspired the list and it certainly earns its spot as well. A Hard Day's Night is considered to be among the Beatles' better albums and the film is often ranked incredibly high in most people's regard (and deservedly so). It's a film that shines from the opening credits, which are set to the title track. This is an album that is just full of all-time greats: "A Hard Day's Night," "Can't Buy Me Love," "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You," "If I Fell," "And I Love Her" and many more. This helped launch the Beatles even higher to stardom and the album represented a high point in the groups' career on a creative level. Part of that is because the music is just so good, but another part is that this was the first album where the Fab Four wrote all of the songs on their own. Others may enjoy Magical Mystery Tour, Help! or Yellow Submarine's soundtracks better (okay, maybe not so many on that last one), but for me they all take the backseat to this one.
#1: Purple Rain (1984)
Man, should there have even been any doubt? I will never say there is a direct relation between commercial success and musical talent (hello, Mr. Bieber) but it's a little hard to deny how, even as silly as the film is, the Purple Rain soundtrack is one of the best-selling albums of all-time. Purple Rain is an example of an album that succeeds not only as a soundtrack, but as a cohesive musical work. This isn't just a collection of great songs; Prince's soundtrack is bound together in a tight narrative that is frankly more logical in story progression than the film itself. Every single song on the LP is stellar whether you're talking about the epic title track, the celebratory "Let's Go Crazy," the taboo eroticism of "Darling Nikki" or the up-tempo dance joys of "I Would Die 4 U." And I haven't even mentioned "When Doves Cry," which is flat-out one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded. There was a lot of shuffling around of my rankings for this list, but one thing was clear from the beginning: when it comes to the greatest soundtracks of all-time, no one comes close to Purple Rain.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
For this week's Music Video A-Go-Go, I wanted to go with a song from a soundtrack that I like, but didn't quite make it on the list. Here's "Lovefool" from The Cardigans off the William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet soundtrack:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.