Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Top 10 Movie Soundtracks

There are two types of film soundtrack. One is where original music is specifically composed for the film, and the other, largely since films such as Easy Rider (1969) and American Graffiti (1973), where pre-existing songs are used to match the tone of the film.

If the latter sounds (sorry) easier than the former, that's because it probably is, but it can be tricky matching the right song to the right scene. But when it works, it can be mesmerising. Watch the start of Mean Streets (1973) when The Ronettes' Be My Baby starts up. Or Notting Hill (1999) when Elvis Costello's She kicks in (I'm joking! I'm joking!). Watching McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), you wouldn't believe Leonard Cohen's melancholy songs weren't written specifically for Altman's bleak winter western. But they weren't: they just work so well together.

1. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973): Bob Dylan
He can't act, he can't sing, but he sure can write a tune.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966): Ennio Morricone
Morricone is the giant of movie soundtracks, having scored some 500+ films, many of them relatively unknown Italian films, a handful of brilliant Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, as well as The Battle of Algiers, The Mission and The Thing.
3. Paris, Texas (1984): Ry Cooder
Another western landscape, but this time modern (well, 1984). And Harry Dean Stanton sings too (and was in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid).
4. The Jungle Book (1967): The Sherman Brothers
I should really have another list for children's films as this one tends to jar somewhat against the others listed, but what the heck, the songs are great. Bare necessities, anyone? I've written about the Sherman brothers previously, here.
5. Taxi Driver (1976): Bernard Herrmann
Bernard Herrman's partnership with Alfred Hitchcock gave us the soundtracks to Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Marnie (amongst others). He scored around fifty films altogether, including Citizen Kane (the best film ever made?). However, Taxi Driver, Herrmann's last score before his death, is probably the only one I can listen to independent of the film.
6. Performance (1970): Mick Jagger, Ry Cooder etc.
Jack Nitzsche produced soundtrack with haunting vocals by Merry Clayton, bottleneck guitar by Ry Cooder (sounding suspiciously like Paris, Texas, or is it vice versa?), oh and a great Mick Jagger song.
7. A Zed and Two Noughts (1985): Michael Nyman
After the made in heaven sound and image pairings of Leone/Morricone and Hitchcock/Herrmann, Peter Greenaway and Michael Nyman may well come third. Nyman's cold, repetitive, hypnotic sounds perfectly complement Greenaway's cold, abstract, yet visually stunning films. And, believe it or not, the only music that would sooth my daughter to sleep in the first few months after her birth.
8. Lift to the Scaffold (1958): Miles Davis
Or, as they say in France: Ascenseur Pour L'├ęchafaud. Miles Davis also did a great OST (that's Original Soundtrack) for the movie Jack Johnson (1971).
9. The Harder they Come (1972): Various Artists
Generally, I love a soundtrack partly because it reminds me of, or complements the film in question. In this case it does neither, as the film is instantly forgettable – but the songs, by Jimmy Cliff (who also starred in the film), Desmond Dekker and Toots and The Maytals, are brilliant.
10. Blade Runner (1982): Vangelis
Movie dialogue usually spoils a soundtrack (the travesty of characters talking over Dylan's You Belong To Me – only known version of the song – on the soundtrack to Natural Born Killers being a case in point, as are the excessive expletives and obligatory gun fire featured on all Quentin Tarantino's soundtracks), but on Blade Runner it's Rutger Hauer's end of film speech I most look forward to:
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tan Hauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die."

Just below the top ten were: Shaft (1971): Issac Hayes; A Clockwork Orange (1971): Various Artists; Trainspotting (1996): Various Artists; Dirty Dancing (1987): Various Artists; Betty Blue (1986): Gabriel Yared; Star Wars (1977): John Williams

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