A good soundtrack can give a movie a much longer life. If you find a movie you like with a soundtrack you like then the movie is there with you in your iPod all the time. For this feature I have chosen the top five soundtracks of the last five decades and this year. I have only looked at albums featuring predominantly songs (forgoing albums of scores for a future feature).
1. Easy Rider
The opening lines of this album are “I’ve smoked a lot of grass…” and that pretty much sets the tone. This album is split between songs to ride motorcycles to (Born to be Wild) and songs to smoke weed to (Don’t Bogart Me), which is perfect for a counter-culture movie about two bikers searching for the American Dream in the late 60s. The album flows from beginning to end with the exception of a track from the middle of the album called If You Want to be a Bird by The Holy Modal Rounders. This song is a short, jangly, bad acid trip of a song featuring strange instruments and a singer with a discordant singing voice. Other than that the album is an excellent soundtrack that captures the spirit of the movie it is tied to. The opening three tracks – The Pusher, Born to be Wild and The Weight – are each fantastic and draw you back into the world of Easy Rider, making you either want to go for a drive or stay in and get high…or watch the movie again.
The Beatles made three films in the 60s (I’m omitting Yellow Submarine because they didn’t really have any input into it) and each one has a brilliant album that goes along with it. It was a hard won fight between Help!, A Hard Day’s Night, and Magical Mystery Tour, but in the end I had to choose the one that has You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away on it because, to use a technical term, that shit is my jam. Help!, while not a great film, does have a great album that’s goes along with it. Dominated by tracks written by John Lennon it contains some classics, Ticket to Ride, Help!, and Yesterday, as well as some deep cuts that deserve to be more well known, You’re Going to Lose that Girl and I’ve Just Seen a Face. Admittedly choosing a Beatles movie means that the soundtrack is going to be a Beatles album i.e. very good, however, as I will discuss more in 4/5, it is not easy finding soundtracks during this period of cinema history so I thought, when in doubt, go with The Beatles.
3. The Graduate
When I posed the question of what are the best soundtracks to the other writers on Audiences Everywhere and on my own Facebook page there were a few that popped up over and over. This was one of them. To sit and listen to this album from beginning to end is an interesting experience. Intermingled with the Simon/Garfunkel folksy songs like Sounds of Silence and Scarborough Fair are instrumentals by David Grusin who provides the upbeat party and sunbathing music. It makes the listening experience veer between feeling like the lights are dimming and the world is slowing down to wanting to strut or dance or jump into the pool. A feeling of melancholy interspersed with brief snatches of levity and action perfectly match up with the plot and events of this movie, showing off the talents of all those involved in the film and its music, and their ability to nail down a tone perfectly in all format.
4/5. West Side Story/Oliver!
Up front I should say that for the final two choices I had to cheat and choose musicals. The original idea was to find albums that captured the spirit and themes of the movies they accompany and choosing musicals feels like breaking my own rule. However, The Graduate and Easy Rider are the only two movies in this list that are not musicals and do not features musicians. They also both came out right at the end of the sixties and helped give birth to the modern idea of a soundtrack being an album of music that compliments the film, rather than one that is performed by characters within the movie.
On the other hand though the soundtrack for West Side Story is awesome. I’ve been a big fan of this play/movie since I was a kid and my folks took me to see it at the theatre. The soundtrack is full of big band ballads and cool little jazz numbers. Some of the songs are very funny and all of them are very catchy. Some of these songs could exist outside of the musical’s influence and still be popular, which is the gold standard for musical soundtrack songs.
Oliver! has been a staple in the Fallon family household forever. My mother can still quote most of the movie by heart and relishes any opportunity she has to call someone an ‘avaricious old skeleton’ in her best Oliver Reed voice. The songs are amazing on this album and, like West Side Story, are incredibly catchy and can’t help but remind you of the movie every time you hear them.