How often do you think about movie soundtracks? Not at all? Congratulations, you’re not a huge nerd, like us. The soundtrack is vital, though, and can make the images onscreen that much more powerful. So we’re going to blabber about the best ones, try to learn a little something… OK? OK.
We could not put this list together without talking about Shaft. And not just because it’s historically significant, but because it is awesome.
Seriously, if you’ve ever listened to Shaft, the album, you know that it not only deserved that Oscar, it arguably deserved all the Oscars. This is music that captures an entire era, that makes you feel cool just by listening to it. You’re not, of course, so don’t walk down the street strutting to this on your iPod; you’ll just look silly.
And, hey, Isaac Hayes got one up on Curtis Mayfield. Take that, Superfly!
Psycho was a game-changing movie in a lot of ways. It actually created the requirement that people show up to movies on time, instead of just wandering in and catching the show whenever they felt like it. It created a new standard for psychological horror.
And it had one of the most ripped-off scores in existence, courtesy of Bernard Hermann.
Hermann had a long career as a composer; he composed the music for classics like Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, and North by Northwest, and he even introduced the theremin to science fiction by using it on the soundtrack of The Day the Earth Stood Still (no, the good one). But nothing has transcended this score.
Even if they’ve never seen the movie (and way too many people haven’t), everybody knows the meaning of “Ree! Ree! Ree!”, probably accompanied by an up-and-down stabbing motion, which needs to be done at shoulder height or above, or else people get the wrong idea. His score was so original it promptly got stolen, including some flagrant thievery for gore classic Reanimator.
Now THAT’S pop culture influence.
Marking the beginning of the career of Nicholas Roeg, and the beginning of Mick Jagger’s acting career, Performance is not a movie you want to see stoned. Just…trust us on this one. It will mess with you.
You might expect, with the presence of Jagger, that the Stones would be involved, and you’d be wrong; they’re nowhere to be found. In fact, Mick Jagger only has one track. Instead you’ve got Merry Clayton (the female parts of Gimme Shelter), guitar legend Ry Cooder, Buffy Sainte-Marie and, in one of the most disturbing surprises of all time, Randy Newman, performing the unnerving Gone Dead Train.
And Jagger himself has Memo from Turner, a creepily lighthearted number about the horrible things gangsters do. You might remember it from Goodfellas, after Henry comes out of his house from the cocaine binge. Yeah, it’s that kind of influential soundtrack; the one where you have no idea how you’ve heard it until you realize it’s everywhere.
Oh, and it’s a really bad idea to leave this soundtrack in your car on a first date. A…friend told us it didn’t end well.
Pulp Fiction is unique on this list because absolutely none of the music for the movie was actually composed. Instead, Tarantino did what would be one of his trademarks: turn what was widely considered pop culture junk into treasure. By this point, his choice of music is as much a trademark as his creepy obsession with feet (seriously, we don’t even WANT to know why he likes feet so much). But this was, by far, the best.
The weird thing is how it all works. Ricky Nelson followed by Dusty Springfield followed by a song called Bullwinkle Part II just should not work, yet it does. The album also mixes obscurities with hit tracks pretty much willy-nilly, largely sticking with the order the songs were played in the movie, and it reflects how tightly the movie is put together that it works.
Also, we’re pretty sure everybody involved was shocked when they got their royalty checks. We can’t imagine the Tornadoes were expecting much. Not bad for the audio equivalent of a church rummage sale.
Requiem For a Dream
This is among the best soundtracks because of just how innovative it is. Granted, you combine the frontman of Pop Will Eat Itself with long-time classical iconoclasts like The Kronos Quartet, you’re going to get something interesting. But nobody was expecting the popularity of this abstract, unusual soundtrack.
A good example is the song Lux Aeterna, which has turned up in everything from game shows to other movie trailers. There’s something about the song’s frantic and yet mourning tone that struck a chord with everybody who heard it… even though almost nobody went to go see the movie. Arguably the soundtrack is more famous than the movie itself.
Probably not what Mansell and the quartet were expecting, but hell, you take success where you can get it.
Any great scores we missed? Tell us in the comments!