There are some soundtracks that eclipse their original film. Everyone knows more about The Harder They Come from Jimmy Cliff’s rousing anthem than from the Perry Henzell film. Easy Rider’s soundtrack was just as iconic to the counterculture as the movie. But there are some film’s that had equally great soundtracks that have been basically forgotten. Even if they are remembered, they do not carry the amount of weight that they should. I make no statement that these are the greatest soundtracks of all time. Hopefully this look will suffice at some of the great soundtracks that no one seems to ever talk about.
The Crow – As a film, The Crow is so obsessed with its visual detail that it forgot to include any interesting characters. What was moody in the comics comes across as bombastic in the film. Eric does nothing but talk, and none of his internal struggle is reflected. Luckily the soundtrack makes up for it, featuring covers of the gothic punk songs that inspired James O’Barr to write his book, and bands like The Cure and Rage Against the Machine before they became walking punchlines of themselves. Sadly, as alt rock died, everyone seems to have forgotten the soundtrack. Shame – it’s better than the film and you can’t get through one Halloween without seeing some overweight teen trying to cram himself into leather pants while liberally applying pancake makeup.
Drive-This is the most recent film on the list, so the soundtrack may still achieve legendary status. Indeed, there was already a “Drive Tour,” showcasing the songs and the style. Still, had this been released forty years ago, it would have caused a sensation and catapulted the bands to instant stardom. Ah well. The songs still effectively tell the story of a man who is so anonymous he does not even have a name and his quest for identity to become a hero. The songs are undoubtedly mechanical in nature, but that’s the point. Ryan Gosling’s driver could barely crack a smile, much less develop a human emotion. The songs were perfect in accomplishing their goals – too bad the soundtrack barely qualifies as an EP. Had it been expanded, who knows how many people would still be pointing to it as a musical landmark?
Forbidden Zone-The film is an awful mess, somehow trying to pretend that Max Fleischer cartoons were the equivalent of Dali-esque portraits of the mind. I’m making it sound better than it is – there is no plot, no production value, and too much Herve Villechaize. But the soundtrack! It’s a wonderful mix of jungle beats and Cab Calloway style jazz. Oingo Boingo and Danny Elfman launched successful careers of quirky, off beat art rock. I’ve heard of lounge music being referred to as “psychedelia for the Greatest Generation.” In one fell swoop, Oingo Boingo proved it true.
Harold and Maude-Everyone seems to always talk about the music to The Graduate. No one mentions Harold and Maude, event though both the music and the film are better. The movie is a terrific exploration of alienated youth and pointless rebellion, while the songs come from a Cat Stevens that didn’t yet think Salman Rushdie deserved to die for expressing himself. The songs are melancholy, but they also present an upbeat world view. “If you want to sing out, sing out” Stevens croons as Harold realizes what Maude taught him. People may not understand you, but so long as you express yourself, you’re living life.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains-Ever wonder what helped women finally found a voice in rock and roll? Well, listen to an Aretha Franklin song. But The Fabulous Stains managed to truly be rebellious by combining punk with women – something that the body hating nihilists could not comprehend. The only reason that no one heard the music is because no one could see the film for many years. It was not given a wide release until 2008. But it was made as a parody of punk at the height of the movement. As such, it is more revealing about the nature of the industry than the nostalgic retrospectives made today. Punk was just as shaped as Justin Bieber, with people like Johnny Rotten being asked to join bands by record executives because they looked the part. Stains has all of that. The music starts off awful, but by the end, the band has broken free of their restraints and finally manages to get their point across. The soundtrack works much the same way. Some of it is pedestrian, some of it is brilliant, and all of it is urgent and honest. Punk music to the core.
The Last Days of Disco-It’s a lot easier to talk about Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack when talking about disco. So, naturally, that’s what everyone does. But The Last Days of Disco is a better film and contains a much better soundtrack. The film is not really a nostalgic look at disco, nor does it attempt to make it glamorous. The soundtrack is much the same way – it goes from excitement (Diana Ross) to gloom (Harold Melvin, although even that still sounds like something you want to dance to) to nostalgic (Love Train) capturing both the good times and the bad. The film operates much the same way, unlike Saturday Night Fever, which was just meant as a silly showcase. If you want to know why people ever made this the most popular form of music in the world for a time, check out this. Together, we can overcome the Bee Gees.
Moulin Rouge!-The soundtrack is vastly superior to the film. For those who have done what they can to block it out, Moulin Rouge! tried to create a link between turn of the century bohemia and 1970s progressive rock. The film was a mess of visual incoherence. But the soundtrack was able to perfectly capture its themes, utilizing everyone from David Bowie to Elton John to the classic “Come What May.” The soundtrack is genuinely one of the best ever, showcasing some fantastic singing from the leads (that was mostly buried in the film) and a great song selection that is able to capture the lost love and dedication of desires through art themes of the film. It was popular for a while. but when was the last time you heard someone spin Fatboy Slim’s “Because We Can” at a party?
Natural Born Killers/Lost Highway-Before Trent Reznor won an Oscar for The Social Network, he produced these two soundtracks. Of the two, I prefer Lost Highway, but they are almost inseparable as works of art. Reznor’s soundtracks really helped the film, creating a sense of confusion and disorientation. In Lost Highway, Reznor explores how the then current pop stars managed to fit right in with David Lynch’s mad vision (and how Lou Reed and Marilyn Manson were equally capable of creating covers of fifties rock). In Natural Born Killers, Reznor mostly digs into his own back catalog and ropes such Americana figures as Patsy Cline and Bob Dylan into the proceedings to present the fable of a country gone wrong. Both would be as legendary as his Social Network score (and both are as effective) had he written all of it. I guess I should be thankful that there are still people who have heard “The Perfect Drug.”
One From the Heart-The movie killed Francis Ford Coppola’s career, and forced him to direct strictly commercial fare for the next fifteen years. None of that was fair – One From the Heart is not even close to a bad film. Coppola just aimed too high and missed. The fact the film was a catastrophic bomb also means that the film’s haunting soundtrack has been forgotten. But it contains some of Tom Wait’s best lyrics (particularly “Little Boy Blue”), and Crystal Gayle voice is enough to bring the dead to tears. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a failing romance, and deserves to be heard..
Streets of Fire-This is the film I have viewed most recently on this list. As such, the soundtrack is freshest in my mind. My inclusion of the material on this list may simply be a result of my enthusiasm for a new film experience. But still, this soundtrack was incredible. The film is advertised as a “rock and roll fable” and boy does the soundtrack reflect that. Much like the film’s obsession with fifties slang and style, the soundtrack goes through the entire history of the sound from rockabilly to jazz to the popular power metal that defined the eighties. The film, an action noir that takes place in a universe where cultural development pretty much stopped after James Dean died, is full of visual motifs of forgotten blockbusters. The soundtrack helps this more than any visual element, from The Blasters Bill Hayley strumming to Dan Hartman’s imitation of early Motown. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s listened to it since 1985, but that is a reflection of the fickle natural of pop than the songs, which like the film, thumbs its nose at the present and shows the squares how it’s done.