Now before every Pitchfork follower puts on their hipster hat and bashes every choice on this list, let me clarify my reasons for the list below. The choices for the soundtracks below are based on more than just their musical talents. They are based on their influence and cohesiveness with the films they accompany and maybe a little preferential taste. Below is my list for 10 amazing film soundtracks that were just as good, if not better, than their related films.
10. Love Actually
If you’re the “Bah Humbug” type you may steer clear of this soundtrack, but for those with the holiday spirit I would say this is a necessary experience. It may not be your most traditional holiday soundtrack but that distance from tradition is what makes it unique. Apparent classics have their place on the soundtrack while other classics have been revitalized for a more modern feel. There’s also a bit of laughs sprinkled in with a song by Bill Nighy, but it’s the not so holiday songs that truly appease the ears. Artists such as Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, and Dido have their songs transcend to new holiday significance through this soundtrack’s permeable flow of music. The “Love Actually” soundtrack is holiday music for a more universal audience.
9. Hustle & Flow
Besides the performance that put Terrance Howard on the map, “Hustle & Flow” is known for its accompanied Hip-Hop score. Going back to the roots of a more solid style of “Gangster Rap,” this soundtrack provides raw, unfiltered lyrics and beats that you watch evolve throughout the film. Instead of attributing a slew of slang terms to nonsense, “Hustle & Flow” provides meaning to the songs which creates a more appreciative listening experience for the audience. “Getting crunked” or “whooping tricks” usually would go in one ear and out the other but when listening with the film in mind, there’s a much deeper perspective and meaning tied to such phrases.
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8. Forrest Gump
“Forrest Gump” is a film that is universally loved accompanied by a soundtrack that is the same. While it may not take as many risks as other soundtracks, it is a two disc compilation of generally loved musicians primarily from the 60s and 70s. Artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynryd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, and even Elvis himself have a voice on this musical collection. If it wouldn’t be such a demeaning comparison, I would actually compare this soundtrack to a “Now That’s What I Call Music” album but with actual credible music.
7. Star Wars
Part of what made “Star Wars” such an influential film on our culture is the story and the other is the full symphony orchestra that musically tells the tale. When the opening credits begin to roll, no one can forget that powerful opening symphonic intro music. Its emphatic resonance is unforgettable on both a physical and emotional level as it has now become signification of a historical milestone. From beginning to end, “Star Wars” dictates the story through its score as if it were a musically driven storyboard. While there may not be any notably popular music in the film, the music produced by John Williams is undoubtedly as memorable as some of our most well known music.
6. Saturday Night Fever
Ever heard of the Bee Gees? Ever heard of disco? “Saturday Night Fever” is said to have controversially misrepresented 1970s Brooklyn youths and disco culture but with the help of a strong soundtrack, primarily headlined by the Bee Gees, it revived the dying disco movement. John Travolta’s memorable opening walk would have not been nearly as powerful without being accompanied by “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. Despite being a horrid genre of music, the “Saturday Night Fever” film and soundtrack made the disco scene tolerable for the last few years it was alive.
5. 500 Days of Summer
“500 Days of Summer” was responsible for reigniting and launching many careers including the stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel and Director Marc Webb who later directed “The Amazing Spider-Man.” While the film’s exposure was almost non-existent, so was the accompanying soundtrack which featured a variety of notable artists. Each song compliments the emotional journey of the main character’s relationship. Even without seeing the film, the sounds of The Smiths, Hall & Oates, Regina Spektor, and more are a diverse mix that is an emotional auditory journey in itself.
4. O Brother Where Art Thou
“I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” is probably one of my favorite soundtrack songs of all time and it isn’t even in my preferred genre of music. Besides the most notable song, there is a plethora of bluegrass/country music that is unique only to the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack. The simple yet soulful music is just as significant as the film’s plot and characters. Much of the film is told through song and represented by the characters that lip sing those songs. It’s completely obvious why this soundtrack was so meticulously hand picked because without the music, “O Brother Where Art Thou” would lose stability.
3. The Great Gatsby
“The Great Gatsby” received some harsh critical reviews for Baz Luhrman’s modernization of a classic novel. Despite those reviews, the soundtrack seamlessly captures the essence of the 1920s for a modern audience. Remixing many popular songs of this generation with a 1920s influence gave this generation a musical perspective of the wild energy surrounding that decade. Artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce were among the remixed while Florence & The Machine, Jack White, and especially Lana Del Rey provided a new original sound for the film. While some may not enjoy Luhrman’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” many would agree that the soundtrack is musical bliss.
“Once” is a musical about a struggling musician that finds inspiration for aspiration from a woman passing by. The film is completely raw and unorganized as is the accompanied score, but it is that raw nature that makes it so pure. The music develops with the film from complete uncertainty, to discovery, and finally cohesive harmony. The lyrics, vocals, and simplistic yet relentless acoustics from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová invoke an emotional response that is completely pure and honest.
1. Garden State
The “Garden State” soundtrack is one of the most influential soundtracks of all time with its risky yet successful compilation of indie artists. Natalie Portman’s quote from the film, “You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life,” is an accurate description of the song “New Slang” by The Shins. I don’t think it would be far fetched to say that this soundtrack launched The Shins’ career through exposure, along with many other artists. And why would this not be a launching point for many of these indie groups? With such a genuine coming of age story, came a genuine coming of age soundtrack for a new generation.