Jan 152014

So the other week, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought a copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. This movie and it’s accompanying 2-record set made a big impact on me, my brother, and my sister. My younger sister was the coolest one: she convinced my parents to take her to see it (underage, she had to convince my parents to go; years later, she admitted to me that she didn’t understand the movie). But my younger brother and I made do by listening to the soundtrack. I loved that record, and even my parents put up with our playing it (Dad, son of a musicologist, even liked Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven”).

Listening to it again, years later and with a more jaded ear, I was pleased how well the Bee-Gees tunes have stood the test of time. I was never a huge Brothers Gibb fan, but the production and arrangements on their songs are pretty nice. Contrast that to the obvious filler in the album: several David Shire tracks that seem to be a white guy’s approximation of ethnic dance music. And then there’s the stuff in between: second rate but fun KC and the Sunshine Band, Tavares, The Trammps, and Kool and the Gang’s “Open Sesame,” which regardless of it’s B-level status gets a thumbs up in my book due to the repetition of the lyrics “Get down with the Genie!”

Which got me thinking about soundtracks.,,

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was a hybrid of pre-recorded songs (several Bee-Gees tracks had been previously released) and music written for the film (that awful Shire shite). But there are other types of soundtracks:

  • The compilation of previously recorded songs. Consider prime “oldies” movies, such as The Big Chill and American Graffiti.
  • The album of all original music, often by one musician/group. For example, music from The Virgin Suicides, by Air, or Obscured By Clouds, from Pink Floyd.
  • The Broadway Cast Album of a musical, such as Hair or (gasp, gag) Phantom of the Opera or some other Andrew Lloyd Webber nonsense.
  • The “let’s make this cooler by adding snippets of movie dialogue but end up making it irritating” soundtracks, such as Pulp Fiction.
  • An album that makes you think it’s a soundtrack but it’s really a concept album of thematically-related music, such as Barry Adamson’s Moss Side Story.

I’m sure there are other examples of soundtrack albums. But what I really want to know about is your relation to soundtracks: Do you own them? Buy them? Do you prefer one type over another? Are soundtracks just a lame attempt to re-package music? Are they boring? Could they be, like Trix, for kids, and a way to get children, tweens, or musically-adverse buyers interested in music (Ah, the Grease soundtrack!)?

I’m interested in your thoughts.


  46 Responses to “This Is The Soundtrack of Your Life?”

  1. 2000 Man

    I always looked at soundtracks like weird greatest hits things. They’re kind of like a KTel album since all the songs are from different acts. It doesn’t do anything for continuity for me, and sometimes there’s the oddball only for the movie songs that I never care about. So I really don’t buy them, or even look at them.

  2. I always resented soundtracks like the Big Chill because it seemed like a cheap director’s stunt to me, and I found it profoundly annoying that people who didn’t normally care about a particular artist or type of music would suddenly begin to overplay a song just because it was in a popular movie. I love the Harder They Come soundtrack, but it was a gateway for me into other reggae artists aside from just Marley and Tosh to whom I was already listening, so I felt that my motives were pure. Eventually I grew up and simmered down and stopped thinking so territorially about music (and giving a shit about others’ music listening habits). Besides, more often than not, it a song is going to appear in a soundtrack, it’s either going to be Walking on Sunshine or Spirit in the Sky and I don’t care about those songs.

  3. misterioso

    Good topic, LMKR. Aside from the Bee Gees material, I think the secret hero of the SNF soundtrack is the long version of “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps.

    In general, though, I don’t pay much attention to soundtracks. I own a few: the Dazed and Confused 2 CDs, Saturday Night Fever (on lp), Pulp Fiction, The Harder They Come. I’m not counting things like The Kinks’ Percy, Dylan’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, or Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, though probably I should.

    And then there’s the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band soundtrack, which I’ve never owned but deserves some mention here. What a difference a year makes!

  4. This is a great subject, ladymiss, that can be looked at from the perspective of the soundtrack apart from the movie as well as its role in the movie. Although I had no issue with the role of the soundtrack in The Big Chill because I loved Motown music and was happy to see it get an added kick of attention in an era that was turning its ears toward the works of Russ Ballard, that may be the first soundtrack that was used to prop up a movie. I’ve since grown really tired of songs being inserted in movies to fill space and/or suggest emotions that the script and actors are not willing to carry out directly. The movie soundtrack as mouth-breathing director’s in-movie commentary track usually bugs the shit out of me. “Check out this obscure record and how if fuels the emotional development in this character that I’m afraid I can’t portray through storytelling!” See my whipping boy Wes Anderson. Few directors can use music effectively to substitute for storytelling. My man Scorsese did it best in his prime.

    The soundtracks from American Graffiti and Saturday Night Fever are central to the stories of their films’ characters. The music in American Graffiti weaves into the characters’ experiences the way music discussion weaves into the real stories we tell here. Tony Manero in SNF lives for the dance floor. The Bee Gees’ music is beautiful. It brings to life the world Tony wants to inhabit. I’m sure there are other movie soundtracks that work that way.

    I do appreciate the occasional “KTel” soundtrack, as 2000 Man put it, like The Harder They Come, which I’ve still never seen but is almost wholly responsible for me giving real Jamaican reggae the time of day for 20 years, until I finally discovered other artists, albums, and songs in that genre that I could dig directly.

    Another type of soundtrack I’ll buy and enjoy is the soundtrack that is essential to a movie, even more essential than the “fabric” soundtracks of American Graffiti and Saturday Night Fever. One subtype of essential soundtracks I own include fake artist collections, like the soundtracks for the Rutles, Spinal Tap, Nashville, and even Grace of My Heart (a guilty pleasure). Another subtype includes soundtracks that work directly in conjunction with the movie’s images, like Koyanasquaatsi (s?), that Phillip Glass piece that is core to the dizzying array of images onscreen. The soundtrack of Run Lola Run and even The Last Temptation of Christ, with Peter Gabriel’s essential, pulsating undercurrent of music, also work this way for me. Peter Greenaway movies like The Draughtman’s Contract also fused music and visuals in a way that couldn’t be disconnected.

  5. misterioso

    Obviously, I knew Wes Anderson would come in for abuse here. Like all of his good traits as a director, which sometimes he takes to such extremes that they become drawbacks, so too his use of songs varies from film to film. I think it is brilliant in Rushmore, for example: never a substitute for character development, but a complement.

  6. misterioso

    Grace of My Heart–however guilty a pleasure that is for you I am sure it isn’t guilty enough.

  7. Suburban kid

    All I have time to say is this:

    When I worked in the record store, the OST buyers were the most lame record buyers. They would come in all excited about the movie they saw and wanting to re-experience it instantly, almost as if they were buying a video (DVDs were’t invented yet) of it. It was the next best thing I guess.

    I never went into a record store because of a movie before, I don’t think.

  8. cliff sovinsanity

    I seem to remember a stretch in the early 90’s when soundtracks became more popular than the movies. After the success of the Singles soundtrack a host of indie-type movies would hype their soundtrack album in hopes of driving people to the box office. Some of the movies that come to mind were Empire Records, The Craft, Angus. Most of the bands on those soundtracks were anchored by 1 or 2 big time bands of the day but mostly was filled with C-list grunge or alternative bands.

    A type of soundtrack you haven’t listed is the TV soundtrack. I recall in my youth purchasing the soundtrack to Twin Peaks and My So Called Life mainly because I was more than a little ga-ga for both of those shows. The wife has the Gilmore Girls soundtrack which features a decent collection of songs.

  9. I’ve spent more money than I care to remember in the 80s and 90s on soundtracks just to get that one non-released song from a certain artist. Okay, yeah, I’ll say it: I’m looking at you, Roger Daltrey (“Quicksilver”) and Brian Wilson (“She’s Out of Control”).

    The “Jaws” soundtrack did provide a lot of fun in college though.


  10. trigmogigmo

    I don’t think I’ve ever bought a soundtrack album of the collection-of-rock/pop-songs flavor. What I do have a handful of are those by a rock musician/group who has done something interesting, perhaps quite different from their normal thing, though inevitably recognizable, for a movie (or tv) score. A few of these that I really really like:

    Stewart Copeland — “The Equalizer and Other Cliff Hangers”, “Rumblefish”, “Wall Street”, “The Rhythmatist”
    Peter Gabriel — “Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ”
    Stan Ridgway & Pietra Westun — “Mark Ryden: Blood” (actually a soundtrack for paintings!)
    Wang Chung — yes, that’s right — “To Live and Die in L.A.”

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    When I was younger (ie, the 90’s), I have to admit to using soundtracks as a gateway to hearing more of a band. For example, the “There’s Something About Mary” soundtrack got me hooked on Jonathan Richman. I consider a mixed repertoire soundtrack like that to be sort of like listening to a radio station set at a particular musical style dial

  12. ladymisskirroyale

    Yes, on my re-listen to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, The Trammps were a stronger track than I recall as a kid. Perhaps it’s because the grunts and screams of the lead singer remind me of James Brown, who I didn’t know as a teen.

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    You bring up an issue that Mr. Royale was mentioning to me and I hope he will talk about too: how a soundtrack heightens or lessens the movie experience. I always pay attention to a movie’s soundtrack, hence my off-line comments to you about the excellent use of the 70’s hits in “American Hustle.”

    I, as you can guess, really beg to differ on your criticism of Wes Anderson’s movies and the music contained therein, and, like misterioso, think the choice of songs in “Rushmore” to be just about perfect. That is a soundtrack I listen to regularly, Mark Mothersbaugh’s inclusions and all.

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    Good call: the TV Soundtrack addition. Gag – “As Heard on Glee”! Or, even worse, the fake renditions (covers?) of previously popular songs.

    I was fan of My So Called Life, too, but I don’t remember the music from it. Angst-ridden, perhaps? I don’t think they would have had Angela listening to Joy Division!

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    Yup, I was one of those idiots. But then again, when I worked in a record store, and if there was a cool soundtrack album cover, it made me want to go see the film. (for example “A Clockwork Orange”)

  16. ladymisskirroyale

    I salute your admission!

    You are making me think of my interest in “Electric Dreams” for some reason or another.

  17. ladymisskirroyale

    Wow, I didn’t know Stan did a soundtrack to Mark Ryden’s work. Perfect!

    In your category, I would add Danny Elfman’s soundtrack to “Peewee’s Big Adventure” which is one of my favorite pieces of music, period (and I loved Oingo Boingo in the day). I’ve watched that movie a billion times, and have really enjoyed Danny Elfman’s commentary about his complete cluelessness while scoring that film. And Mod, Mr. Elfman, who I think is one of the more interesting film scorers out there, also did “American Hustle’s the non-pop-song portions of the score.

  18. ladymisskirroyale

    In the Stan Ridgeway vein, I am calling on Nixon’s Head or The Donuts (or any of you out there ) to score Mr. Royale/Slim’s next show!

  19. trigmogigmo

    It’s good ethereal haunting little vignettes to go with each painting in the set.

    Interesting you mention Danny Elfman. I have his “Music for a Darkened Theater” compilation which includes a couple of tracks from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure — great stuff!

  20. Suburban kid

    That’s hard to believe given you are a huge music fan. Didn’t the music in the movie send you to the artists’ own catalogues, after a cursory look at the soundtrack album?

    I think I was burned a few times myself by liking music in a movie, but then finding out the soundtrack didn’t include those selections I was interested in. Perhaps that has colored my memory.

  21. ladymisskirroyale

    SK, I’ll admit that my musical interests have not always been tasteful, although I think they’ve been fueled by enthusiasm. I’ve always liked movies (or films, said with a upturned nose) so at times, if the music in it was particularly evocative, I would check out the soundtrack at the record store. I’ve also followed my sort-of rule that if I like 2 songs by an artist, I’ll go looking for more. At times, soundtracks have been exposure number 1 to a group/musician.

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    I just looked at the Oscar Nominations for best song and best score. Haven’t seen any of those films yet, and may not. Any commentary about these nominations?


    I did see “Inside Llewyn Davis” which left Slim and me scratching our heads.” I’m surprised the music wasn’t included in the nominations, given Justin Timberlake’s participation.

  23. Pre-downloading, there are some soundtracks that I resented buying way back when to get a single track I wanted.

    Does anybody remember that stupid Americathon movie, where the vision of future was wearing track suits with ties? I had to buy that to get Costello’s “Crawl Into the USA” and the Pretty in Pink soundtrack had an alternative version of the Furs’ song. The Singles soundtrack had Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart” which I wanted at the time.

    Soundtracks I still listen to from time to time are from I Am Sam, Local Hero (Mark Knopfler), the album from John Mellencamp’s strange Falling From Grace movie that has some funny bits of dialog mixed in and Ry Cooder’s score from one of my favorite westerns, The Long Riders.

  24. I don’t recall the music in Gravity and Philomena playing any particular role in the movie. I don’t even recall music in those films!

  25. I resisted the urge to buy that Americathon soundtrack, but I was tempted for the same reason!

  26. trigmogigmo

    We saw “American Hustle” recently and knowingly smiled at a lot of the songs straight out of the 70’s. At one point a song kicked in to accentuate some scene but I didn’t recognize it at all, and somehow it didn’t quite seem legit 70’s material. I think to myself, “that really sounds like Jeff Lynne singing but I don’t recognize it as ELO; maybe it’s The Move when he was the singer”. Later I looked up the obvious song title (“Long Black Road”) and find that:
    – It is ELO.
    – It was recorded during the Zoom album, the obscure and unsuccessful pseudo-comback album that is pretty much just a Jeff Lynne solo album from 2000.
    – It isn’t even on the album, but it’s an extra on the Japanese edition according to Wikipedia.
    – It somehow landed on the “American Hustle” soundtrack.
    – It’s pretty good.

    Track 11 in preview here:

  27. Found my Back To The Future – LP this week. Makes me think about the movie, which I think is the point. My son LOVES the “Cars” Soundtrack and we play it in the car almost every day.

    I almost never buy them.

  28. ..Oh, I also had “Less Than Zero” soundtrack but have never seen the movie.

  29. diskojoe

    Besides The Harder They Come (never saw the movie myself either) & Grace of My Heart, the other movie soundtracks that I own include: 1. Diner (great selection of late 50s rock/pop) 2. Scandal (the 1989 Brit movie about the Profumo scandal which has a great selection of pre-Beatles Britpop & Dusty Springfield w/the Pet Shop Boys & 3. The Life Aquatic (which I bought @ at a thrift shop because of those acoustic Bowie songs done by the Brazilian sailor in the movie).

    Speaking of movies, I saw Inside Llewyn Davis this AM, whioch was interesting, if somewhat grim. One of the trailers prior to the movie was for Wes Anderson’s latest, The Hotel Budapest, which looks rather interesting.

  30. ladymisskirroyale

    “which was interesting, if somewhat grim…Wes Anderson’s latest, The Hotel Budapest, which looks interesting.”

    diskojoe, I salute you!

  31. ladymisskirroyale

    I think I may have, too. All I recall of that movie was being impressed with Robert Downey Jr., and annoyed with my vapid crush, Andrew McCarthy. I haven’t watched it in ages and don’t know if it’s stood the test of time (let alone a year or two).

  32. diskojoe

    Thanks for your kind words. I saw Llewyn Davis @ an 11 AM show (popcorn lunch!) w/2 other people in the theatre. The funniest part of the whole movie was when they recorded the novelty song. As for that road trip w/the jazzbo played by John Goodman (he reminded me of Doc Pomus) & the greaser, well, that was pretty grim indeed.

  33. ladymisskirroyale

    Did you hear the Terri Gross interview with the Coen Brothers? They mentioned that that song was a take off on what I think is this one:

    Certainly sounds similar.

  34. My son unfortunately moved on from “Cars” to “Cars 2” over the summer, and Weezer’s cover of “You Might Think” has become the driving song in our XTerra the last month. I’ll take that over James Taylor and Rascal Flatts. And that’s pretty much all I’ll take over “Cars” from “Cars 2.”


  35. How would one consider things like “The Kids Are Alright” or “Bring on the Night”? Aren’t these de facto live albums masquerading as soundtracks? Or should I re-visit them after twenty years before asking?


  36. mockcarr

    That movie turned me on to The Creation, I bet the soundtrack is worth it just for that.

  37. mockcarr

    How about a TV special soundtrack like A Charlie Brown Christmas?

  38. diskojoe

    No, I haven’t. I did click on the link & heard that song. I think that the Coen combined that song w/”Please Mr. Custer” to come up w/their version.
    Speaking of links to click, here’s one to an article by Jean Shepherd of A Christmas Story lampooning the NYC folk scene 30 yrs. before A Mighty Wind (scroll down & click on pages to read):


  39. ladymisskirroyale

    Ha! I had to re-read your comments, because the recent move, “The Kids Are All right” (starring Julianne Moore, etc.) had a soundtrack, too.

  40. ladymisskirroyale

    Touche´! I have that soundtrack too and listen to it every Christmas.

  41. A lot of the appeal, or the worthiness or what have you, of a soundtrack, depends on how the movie was. I find it hard to like (original) soundtrack music or tracks if I don’t like the film. And yet, if I love the film, I may be swayed into enjoying music I wouldn’t otherwise have sustained interest in.

    It’s rare to have a soundtrack that doesn’t immediately and continually call forth the corresponding sequence from the film (“This is the part where Quint is firing the harpoons!”), and it can be a bit difficult to shake that phenomenon.

    The first soundtrack music that comes to mind, which can completely stand on its own for me, is “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”, or almost anything by Ennio Morricone. I can listen to it as music in its own right, without it becoming a tie-in.

  42. ladymisskirroyale

    Good points, Slim!

  43. Sometimes I like the soundtrack album without really liking how the soundtrack functioned in the movie. I think the music Wes Anderson, for instance, uses in his films is usually fantastic and maybe the best part of watching any of his films. However, I ultimately feel like I am hanging onto the music to get me through the stuff I don’t like in the films, which turns me against the soundtrack as it’s used in the film. I’m sure there are other movie soundtracks that function this way.

    Ah, the director Otto Preminger seemed to use music in a similar way that Hitchcock used it. (Same for a similar use of cinematography.) I enjoy the music in Preminger films, although his films often leave me feeling short. I don’t think he was as strong a director as he was a constructor of mood, if that makes sense.

    In the ’80s there were lots of movies that I liked but that have HORRIBLE soundtracks. Tootsie is the first to come to mind. Great movie, but the ’80s lite-rock soundtrack only threatens to ruin the experience of watching it as the years pass. I feel no more kinship with the soundtrack no matter how much more I appreciate about the movie itself.

    As much as I believe in letting works of art be as they were originally made, I would make an exception for the removal and replacement of the bad music in Tootsie, Arthur, probably Working Girls, and I bet another dozen early ’80s comedies that I like.

  44. ladymisskirroyale

    Me too!

  45. ladymisskirroyale

    Yes, include Groundhog Day in that mix. One of my favorite films, but as Slim says, the music is cheesy (really, it’s white chocolate…Note to self, no white chocolate.)

  46. misterioso

    Ugh, there are some brutal soundtracks from that era. In my mind’s eye (or ear) they are all the work of David Grusin, but in reality I think that only, say, 75% can be pinned on Gruesome.

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