For nearly four decades, the motion picture soundtrack album was an integral part of the Hollywood firmament. From Easy Rider to American Pie, compilation albums tied to a major film release and featuring contemporary pop, rock and hip-hop acts were a ubiquitous component of every music- and movie fan’s media consumption.
But as the record industry began to crater and streaming sites stepped in to become our default means of ingesting music, soundtrack albums have become less and less essential—and, frequently, non-existent.
Which is too bad. At their best, soundtrack albums are more than just a collection of music (often dubiously) “from and inspired by” the movies they’re derived from. A good soundtrack album is a time capsule: a snapshot, frozen in time, of a specific pop culture moment. Like, say, when we all thought it was really cool to watch Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny play basketball—we all believed we could fly.
So, not including original orchestral film scores (the subject of our last column—click here to read that one), this week’s Must-List is here to pop a fresh cassette into the jukebox and whip up a mix tape of our staff’s favorite movie soundtracks:
Purple Rain (1984, dir. Albert Magnoli)
The Purple Rain soundtrack is Prince—evocative, passionate, unpredictable, sexual, feisty. In a word: genius. The record was ostensibly conceived for director Albert Magnoli’s campy, heartfelt, Eighties-tastic slice of synthesizer love, with the late pop icon Prince cast as a struggling musician who turns family drama into nightclub opera via electric guitar. It’s an unabashed vanity project, a music video stretched into a full-length independent film, with scenes of domestic melodrama buffered by glorious examples of Prince taking to the stage, assuming his throne and forcing us all to bend a knee.
But listening to the album apart from the film is transformative. From the opening words “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here for this thing called life…” leading into the infectious album-opener “Let’s Go Crazy”, to the blistering vocal majesty of “The Beautiful Ones”, to the unapologetic fearlessness of “Darling Nikki”, the sonic poetry of “When Doves Cry” and closing with the gospel power ballad “Purple Rain”, we’re left dizzied. We’re still dizzy. The loss of Prince is a bullet to the chest, and we’re all bleeding purple.
-Evan Ward-Henninger, Associate Director, Membership
SLC Punk! (1999, dir. James Merendino)
James Merendino’s snot-nosed-and-spikey-haired celebration of punk rockers amid the conservative (which is to say: Mormon) environs of 1980s Salt Lake City was a pivotal part of my early-‘aughts film diet. Obviously. Just like the film’s leads—“Stevo” and “Heroin Bob”—I too was a young, disaffected, non-LDS Salt Laker drawn to the counterculture, living just off campus from the U of U in abject cheap beer and cold-weather squalor. And just like Bob and Stevo, I loved to rock out.
True, the SLC Punk! soundtrack doesn’t feature much in the way of local Utah bands. But with ringers like The Dead Kennedys, Blondie, The Velvet Underground, Fear and The Ramones, who cares? From Generation X’s “Kiss Me Deadly” to The Suicide Machine’s propulsive cover of “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”, this collection is more than just Punk 101—it’s the real-deal anarchists’ cookbook.
-Matt Warren, Digital Content Manager
Garden State (2004, dir. Zach Braff)
For some movies, a cool soundtrack is a nice add-on. An afterthought. For Garden State, the film’s soundtrack was an essential part of Zach Braff’s creative process. Like Zach Braff, I’m a proud Gen X-er. Like Zach Braff, I can make a mean mix tape. But unlike Zach Braff, I’ve never actually won a Grammy for any of my mix tapes.
When Garden State came out in 2004 there was so much about it that resonated with me: the question of what it means to be an adult, the angst of figuring out how to deal with uncomfortable emotions and the euphoric feeling of falling in love. And, of course, the feeling of having a single song change your life.
The music Braff fought to include on the Garden State soundtrack captured the quirkiness of his indie directorial debut perfectly. From the use of Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” to kick off Andrew Largeman’s numbed-out reaction to his mother’s death, to his crush Samantha’s love of The Shins, to an ecstasy trip set to Zero 7’s “In the Waiting Line”, the early parts of Braff’s film are oddly airy and light, despite its rather heavy themes—because of the music.
But my favorite song from the movie, and the one that makes me cry every time, comes at the end of the film. Frou Frou’s “Let Go” begins to play in the airport, just before the credits roll. Perfection. Yes—I just admitted that even in 2016, the end of Garden State makes me cry. But as Sam would say, “I look forward to a good cry.”
-Leila Tredemeyer, Publications Editor & Designer, LA Film Festival
Singles (1992, dir. Cameron Crowe)
This soundtrack is nothing less than the ‘90s summed up in 13 grunge-era modern rock classics, including Alice in Chain’s “Would?”, The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Drown”, Pearl Jam’s “Breath” and 10 more songs with titles consisting of more than just one syllable each. Like a chin-only goatee made sentient, rock ‘n roll doesn’t get much more “Seattle-circa-1992” than this. In fact, according to one-time Nirvana opening act Bobcat Goldthwait, no less of an authority than Kurt Cobain himself referred to Cameron Crowe’s sophomore film (perhaps dismissively) as “the grunge movie.”
But guess what: I don’t love the Singles soundtrack despite its early-‘90s sonic and aesthetic clichés—I love it because of them. For better or worse (I’d argue better), the early-‘90s was when I first awakened to what was happening in the wider world of pop culture. It was a time when rejecting the norm was the norm; a time when outsiders and the avant-garde were mainstream, even celebrated.
And while most of today’s guitar bands have traded in their distortion pedal for computer sequencers, there’s still plenty of that early-‘90s alt-rock spirit alive and well running through all kinds of different art forms—including film. (Matt Warren)
Ever hear the first few bars of a song and you become immediately transported? That’s what the opening few bars of the Rushmore soundtrack do to me. The album (to director Wes Anderson’s breakthrough 1998 sophomore feature) has been my constant companion on every road trip I’ve ever taken, and every time the first few chords of Mark Mothersbaugh’s “Hardest Geometry Problem in the World “ start, I can feel the open road in front of me with nothing but possibilities ahead.
Apart from Mothersbaugh’s original instrumental contributions, the Rushmore soundtrack is a collection of British Rock Invasion songs from the early-to-mid 1960s. The song collection is filled with everything that makes Rushmore (the film) special: innocent longing, adolescent angst and jazzy, carefree swing. And like the film itself, the overall effect feels timeless. From Creation’s “Making Time”, to John Lennon’s spousal-ode “Oh Yoko”, every single song choice is totally inspired.
-Andy Yardley, Box Office Manager, LA Film Festival
So pull down the piggy bank and raise the hammer above its pink, porcelain head—it’s time to go record shopping! And forget iTunes. Getting a jewel case blister from thumbing through the used-CD racks is all part of the fun.