Exit Music (For A Film) – The Best Movie Soundtracks
Films are a funny thing. Even if they prove to be forgettable flops, they can still enjoy an everlasting currency due to a few flourishes – sometimes it’s ridiculously expensive special effects, sometimes it’s the small role of a future Hollywood hunk, while other times it’s down to the scene-stealing soundtrack.
Over the years, there have been some formidable collections providing musical accompaniment to some of the movie industry’s most memorable moments. Here, Sam Lambeth provides a handy precis of the soundtracks you need to dig out.
Dumb and Dumber OST (1994)
Dumb and Dumber may be a product of its time, with Jim Carrey at the height of his rubber-faced follies, but while its crass, but highly amusing, comedy hasn’t endured, it did provide a soundtrack that compiled some of the most ’90s songs imaginable. The bull seal bellow of Canadian baroque rockers Crash Test Dummies takes prominence, but there are also strong cuts from Deadeye Dick (the light-hearted, earth-munching chug of New Age Girl) and Gigolo Aunts (the barnstorming jangle pop of Where I Find My Heaven).
Garden State OST (2004)
Zach Braff had proven himself to be something of a walking mixtape, with Scrubs often featuring apposite, and stellar, snippets of a clutch of esoteric indie bands. With his first feature film, Braff filled it with suitably idiosyncratic, and emotionally-damaged, indie rockers, including healthy lashings of Braff favourites The Shins and Colin Hay, plus Badly Drawn Boy, Nick Drake and Zero 7.
Singles OST (1992)
Singles was the unsung hero of the 1990s – it launched the highly successful sitcom Friends and was helmed by acclaimed director (and future Tom Cruise collaborator) Cameron Crowe. Set amid the burgeoning grunge era, in Seattle no less, Singles mixed fuzzy fairweather tunes and original compositions from alternative rock legend Paul Westerberg. He may hate Dyslexic Heart, but its wistful strum is a perfect postcard of a bygone era.
The archetypal youth movie has continued to be passed down from generation to generation, and even those not of a mod persuasion can enjoy its themes of adolescent angst. It also provided some of The Who’s defining moments, eclipsing that of their previous rock opera Tommy.
I Am Sam OST (2002)
Perhaps one of the few cases of a soundtrack eclipsing a movie before it had even come out, I Am Sam may have proven a disappointment, but its exceptional soundtrack – featuring new and old artists covering Beatles standards – featured stunning renditions of Two Of Us (Aimee Mann), I’m Only Sleeping (The Vines) and Across the Universe (Rufus Wainwright).
Pretty In Pink OST (1986)
Some soundtracks provide a handy snapshot of the biggest artists of the day. Pretty In Pink was not only one of the many John Hughes blockbusters of the era, but it also contained the seminal title track from The Psychedelic Furs, as well as numbers from contemporaries New Order and Echo & the Bunnymen.
Trainspotting OST (1996)
Another case in point would be the soundtrack to the gloriously grubby adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel, which featured the zeitgeist-grabbing Born Slippy from Underworld, the jittery Mile End from Pulp and Sleeper’s knockout cover of Atomic. Ewan McGregor’s generation-defining monologue Choose Life is also a standout.
Dazed and Confused OST (1993)
Dazed and Confused is a quintessential rock and roll movie, from the characters’ desire to get Aerosmith tickets to the brilliant songs that come with its soundtrack. Black Sabbath, Peter Frampton, War and, of course, Aerosmith all provide the rocking riffs.
She’s The One OST (1996)
So-so film, great soundtrack. Rock godfather Tom Petty was on a roll at this point, and he managed to magnify this humdrum romantic drama with some of his most wistful, big-hearted tunes, including the twinkling motifs of Walls (Circus) and the soaring California.
The Graduate (1968)
Such a film regarding the loss of innocence needs songs that match. Mike Nichols managed to succeed by hiring the harmonious tones of Simon & Garfunkel to soundtrack his movie, bringing in the haunting Scarborough Fair and, of course, Mrs Robinson.
The Royal Tenenbaums OST (2001)
Another director more than equipped with choosing a great soundtrack is the indier-than-tho helmsman Wes Anderson. Of course, the film is a classic, but it was always going to be helped by a compendium that boasted Elliott Smith, The Velvet Underground and Nick Drake.
Reservoir Dogs OST (1992)
It’s difficult to choose just one Quentin Tarantino compilation, such is his way with a mixtape. One of the best, though, has to be Reservoir Dogs, if only for the horrific juxtaposition of Stuck In the Middle of You soundtracking the severance of someone’s ear. The bluesy stomp of Little Green Bag also deserves an honorary mention.
About A Boy (2002)
Fresh from winning the Mercury Prize, troubled troubadour Badly Drawn Boy added his mercurial touch to this acclaimed adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel. Silent Sigh and A Minor Incident are heartfelt, aching ballads led by Damon Gough’s raspy howl, but it’s the jauntily melancholic Something To Talk About that steals the show.
Sam Lambeth is a Birmingham-based journalist, writer and musician. You can read more of his blog on his archive.