You know, I’d had big hopes for December. I was gonna post a series on XXXmas albums, managed one and fizzled. Why? Two kids. That’s why. Ok, other stuff too, but I’ll get to that at another time.
But it’s a new year and a new tank of motivation, so let’s see what we can do…
I’ve been toying with the idea of a soundtracks series for some time now. I’m not a huge fan of soundtracks and always find it funny that virtually every movie has at least one, even multiple album releases if there is a score, etc. I mean seriously, who is going to purchase The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift soundtrack…assuming there is one, I’m not going to take the time to check.
But there’s money to be made there, and some soundtracks are pretty popular, even classics of an era. Saturday Night Fever was huge when I was a kid, and let’s not forget The Bodyguard soundtrack, one of the biggest album sellers not just of the 80s but ever, and then the rather sleeper hit of Muriel’s Wedding in the 90s. Of course all of those were less collections of various artists and almost proper albums by top artists of the time, namely the Bee Gees, Whitney Houston and Abba (though yes, the latter was all old material). Also, those were movies where music was a big focal point, not just background tracks setting the mood for whatever scene.
And with that in mind, while the soundtracks for productions like The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and West Side Story are some of the greatest of all time, those are also musicals, so it’s not quite the same category. Not to mention that, while I love all three of those, I’m very ill equipped to tackle a write up on any of them…though I will say that ¾ of The Sound of Music makes me cry like a ginger baby.
In addition, I won’t be delving into movie scores, because I’m again under qualified, and most of the time they’re pleasant but ultimately utilitarian. Some exceptions are The Cider House Rules by Rachel Portman (another that makes me cry) and most anything by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, particularly Henry V, Sense and Sensibility, Gosford Park and Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. Seriously, my boy is prolific and rocks (in a score sort of way).
Finally, as I stated a few months ago, Queen’s 1981 soundtrack for Flash Gordon is the greatest soundtrack of all time.
Ok, I feel myself beginning to meander here, so I’ll get to the point.
There are some soundtracks of songs by various artists working as incidental music throughout any given flick that for whatever reason are just great. I mean at the end of the day, a soundtrack of this kind is essentially a mix tape, and we all know how much fun those can be. So, without further ado, here are a handful that I really enjoy (and why), in no particular order.
Amelie (2001) – Ok, immediately I’ve gone off the various artists path, because most of music for this FAN-TAS-TIC French import from Jean-Pierre Jeunet is by the ridiculously gifted Yann Tiersen. Actually, this album works as a nice compilation of his first three albums, though there is some new material. Regardless, Tiersen’s music is emotive in a very childlike and yet not childish way. He expresses the joy and misery of love and life and loss in a bittersweet symphony (oh yes, I did) that absolutely makes you want to dance and collapse into tears all at once. In a word: Delightful
French Kiss (1995) – There was a time when Meg Ryan could, to me, virtually do no wrong. Throw in the ever-amazing Kevin Kline, and you’ve got a match made in romantic comedy heaven. And the soundtrack? A perfect backdrop for an escapade through the French countryside. I loved the movie enough to see it twice in the theater, but never really appreciated the soundtrack until I started dating Karla, who had a copy. I determined that if we were to split, I would keep this one. (I just told her that a couple of days ago and she did not laugh – that’s how awesome this soundtrack is.) Kicking off with Van Morrison’s Someone Like You (which flat knocks your socks off as only Van can), this collection is a great blend of World music (of which I’m usually not a huge fan) and old school standards, all weaving perfectly in and out of each other with a vibe that is both classy and cheesy, and simply a joy to listen to overall.
Pretty in Pink (1986) – Without a doubt one of the greatest movies of the 80s and the Brat Pack, Pretty in Pink spoke to and for Gen Xers (as did many John Hughes flicks of the era) in a way that no other movie has about any other generation group. Plus, the music is great. Ok, mostly. To be honest, if you were to lift the best songs from this one, Say Anything, Breakfast Club, etc, etc, you’d have one stellar compilation of the best the 80s had to offer. And to be fair, the soundtrack for Some Kind of Wonderful is way more punk than anything these others have going on. But, for my money, I always fall back to Pretty in Pink. Yes, there are some pleasant throwaways like Get to Know Ya and Round, Round, and some guilty pleasures like Wouldn’t It Be Good and Do Wot You Do (Sorry, INXS, not one of your brilliant moments), but you’ve also got some of the best music the 80s could muster, namely cuts from Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, the Smiths, OMD and of course the title track and inspiration for the movie, the Psychedelic Furs. Admittedly, even most of these essential songs are a bit dated sounding, but that’s part of the appeal. Even the point of it. Also, this was Karla’s first ever CD purchase…and we still have it.
A Life Less Ordinary (1997) – What a completely underrated film. Yes, I said film (a tag I don’t drop often). Karla and I tend to love underdog movies (see Joe Versus the Volcano as well), and not only is this Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz pair up quirky, love-fantasy fun, the soundtrack is out of this world. Again, as with French Kiss, a lot of this is music that I’m not a big fan of, but can enjoy in doses depending on the setting – and this collection is just right. Beck, Sneaker Pimps and Faithless offer some slinky, sexy fun alongside old school standards by Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley, as well as some personal favorites like REM and the Cardigans. As with any good mix tape, it’s all about the flow from song to song, mood to mood, and this one delivers in spades.
Monster’s Ball (2001) – And yet another instance, initially, of a non various artist soundtrack, and even a score. But man, what a score. Asche & Spencer create a dark, chilling soundscape for a movie that is certainly both in a very unsettling way. I’ve not seen it since the theater, but I picked up the soundtrack the next day and these twelve sparse, low key pieces are poignant and moving in their own right. I don’t know what else these guys have done, but I’d sure like to hear it. Also, tacked on at the end are four alt-country tunes that are some of the absolute best of the genre and in no way disrupt the mood created by the first portion of the album.
Moonlight Mile (2002) – A pretty much forgettable movie I enjoyed at the time but have never seen since. But the album is essentially a collection of some of the giants of the 70s: the Stones, Dylan, Bowie, T. Rex, Sly & the Family Stone, etc. Basically, it rocks. The one contemporary track is Love Will Come Through by Travis, Karla’s favorite band (man, Karla is all OVER this post), and the reason we picked this album up; and while it certainly sounds more, er, contemporary in comparison with its disc mates, it’s a fantastic song that fits in quite nicely. Of course later it ended up on their album 12 Memories, but that’s ok, ‘cos this soundtrack is a great set of songs to have going on no matter what the occasion. I should also note that the inclusion of Van Morrison’s I’ll Be Your Lover Too, a song so powerful I lack words to describe it, gave me cause to look beyond Gloria and Browned Eyed Girl and really explore the wonder of this truly gifted artist.
And that’s the cool thing about soundtracks of this kind (and mix tapes), is that you’re more likely to listen to and subsequently discover an artist you’d have otherwise ignored. So keep your ears open, kids.