The Five Best (Mostly) Original Movie Soundtracks
by Matt Sills
Music is incredibly important to a movie. Don’t believe me? Watch 2001 with no music, and see if it has the same impact. Watch the opening of Start Wars without that incredible theme and see if you still get goosebumps. Face it, movies need music like Peaches needs Herb, like Puffy needs Biggie, like Andrew Ridgley needs George Michael (look that last one up, kids). Today, there are some incredible movie composers working, but in this age of streaming and digital downloads, and with the slow decline of the record industry, there’s a segment of movie music that’s gone by the wayside: the original movie soundtrack. You might hear an original song in a movie, but it’s not the event that it once was. There was a time when movie soundtracks meant a compilation of new material, focused around a specific genre, band, or mood. Here’s a list of my favourite soundtracks of all time featuring completely (ok, mostly) original material made for the movies.
The movie? Um…not so good. Prince is a great musician, but he’s not an actor, and wasn’t made for the movies. For evidence, see this or his first (and last) attempt at directing, “Under The Cherry Moon”. The soundtrack? One of the best albums of the 1980s, hands down. Before this, Prince was well known, but not what you would call a star. After this album, he was one of the biggest recording artists on the planet. He knew what he was going for. There’s a song on the album called “Baby, I’m A Star”. It’s hard not to see why when you take a listen to the 9 songs included here. Starting off with the absolutely rocking “Let’s Go Crazy”, Prince spends the next forty-four minutes trying his hand at a bunch of different styles: funk, ballads, sugary pop, epic rock. There’s not a single bad track on this soundtrack. Even the more experimental stuff, like “Darling Nikki”, rocks. And that song was the impetus for the explicit language stickers you found on CDs, making this album even more cool.
I guess if you’re looking for a great movie soundtrack, Prince is your go-to guy. The soundtrack to Tim Burton’s 1989 superhero film is best remembered for “Batdance”, which might have been the weakest song on the album, but was still fun enough to reach number one on the Billboard 100. This album also sold incredibly well, though it was not well liked by critics at the time, and is considered one of Prince’s lesser albums, its success more a product of the blockbuster film than the album’s content itself. But go back and listen to the album again, and you’ll find some of Prince’s best work: the hard rocking “Electric Chair”, the funky “Partyman”, and the straight up pop of “Vicki Waiting”. Yes, compare it to “Purple Rain” and you’ll probably be disappointed. But taken on their own, its a collection of great pop songs. A few months ago, I saw Prince live, and one of the biggest cheers came for this album’s “Scandelous”, proving I’m not alone in my love for this soundtrack.
There were a lot of soundtracks in the early 1990s that tried to capture the “spirit of generation X” by including a lot of loud, depressing songs, many of which originated from Seattle. Most of those soundtracks sucked. Leave it to a former rock writer to get things right. Crowe’s movie looked at a group of twentysomethings looking for love in Seattle during the grunge revolution. It would have been easy for Crowe to throw a bunch of grungy stuff on the album and sell it for a payday. Instead, he found a group of great songs that reflect not only the location and times, but the feelings of love lost and found. You’ve got Seattle stalwarts Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees contributing rocking songs that easily could have been standouts of their own albums, and two new songs from The Replacement’s singer Paul Westerberg that were just as good as anything his former band did. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Chris Cornell’s beautiful solo debut “Seasons” and Smashing Pumpkins’ ethereal “Drown”. The only previously released song was Jimi Hendrix “May This Be Love”, but if you’re going to make a movie about love in Seattle, you can’t do much better than Seattle’s greatest singing about love.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
It’s easy to forget that this album was a soundtrack. Let’s face it, most soundtracks aren’t very good. Even those that are great take a backseat to the movies that spawn them. But this is the Beatles we’re talking about, and nothing takes a back seat to the music of the Beatles. The 1964 film about several days in the life of the Fab Four during the height of Beatlemania is an excellent film, but it’s the music that stands out. This album includes the title track, “I Should Have Known Better”, “If I Fell”, and “Can’t Buy Me Love”. The other songs, while not as well known, are just as good. It may be a soundtrack, but it’s a soundtrack filled with 13 original Beatles songs, and you can’t really do better than that.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP
Is there a funnier movie than “This Is Spinal Tap”? I don’t think so. The reason is simple: it hits its target spot on. 70s and 80s heavy metal was ridiculous, both in the music and in the way the bands acted when they were both on and off stage. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer got the behavior right, but none of this would have been any good had the music not been so perfect. These three wrote a set of great songs that fit right into the over the top nature of the music, both oversexed (hey, there’s a song called “Sex Farm”) and over serious (the pretentiously hilarious “Stonehenge”). The lyrics are blown up to ridiculous proportions, so you can rock out and laugh your butt off at the same time. They also go back in time to the 1960s, and are just as adept at mocking pre-heavy metal and psychedelia. It’s a lesson a lot of music mockumentary makers should learn: a movie about music has to have great music, and “This Is Spinal Tap” has got that.