Great soundtracks manage to encapsulate a film’s premise and stand on their own as a collection of great music. A film doesn’t have to be exceptional in order for it to have a compelling soundtrack. Take the mediocre comedy Friday, for example. Bootsy Collins, The Isley Brothers and Rick James are all on the soundtrack.
There are so many incredible soundtracks - Easy Rider, Saturday Night Fever, Purple Rain, Garden State, Shaft, The Graduate, Trainspotting, Singles, Good Will Hunting, Virgin Suicides, Velvet Goldmine, Superfly, O Brother, Where Art Thou, A Hard Day's Night - but today we'll only be looking at five. (As for the others? Maybe next time.)
Goodfellas (Directed by Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese always chooses the perfect song to complement a scene or flesh out a character, occasionally using the same piece of music multiple times. For instance, the Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter” has appeared in three Scorsese films: Casino, The Departed and Goodfellas. Each time, the song underscores the moment a major character makes the decision that will ultimately destroy him.
In Goodfellas (1990), he makes use of a wide array of songs to perfectly evoke an era, from the seemingly innocent 50s, to the excesses of the 70s, to protagonist Henry Hill's downfall in the 80s, featuring artists like Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, and Cream.
One of the most iconic music moments in film history is Scorsese's use of the beautiful, extended piano outro from "Layla" by Derek and the Dominos in a scene in which the aftermath of a gruesome killing spree is revealed.
Devil’s Rejects (Directed by Rob Zombie)
Rob Zombie surprised everyone with his 2005 film The Devil’s Rejects. The shock rocker combined his love of gore and 70s schlock to craft a damn near perfect horror film, sporting a powerful soundtrack featuring Terry Reid, Otis Rush, and Kitty Wells.
Rushmore (Directed by Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s sophomore effort, Rushmore, heralded the arrival of a clever new director as well as the return of Bill Murray. Although not as novel as the soundtrack to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, featuring Seu Jorge performing Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs, Rushmore does feature British Invasion greats like The Who and The Kinks.
Pump Up The Volume
The soundtrack to this 1990 cult favorite about a kid who starts his own pirate radio station is practically a mix tape of the era’s best alternative music. The soundtrack features the alternate take of the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” along with songs by Leonard Cohen, Soundgarden and a cover of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil Bues" by Cowboy Junkies.
Pulp Fiction (Directed by Quentin Tarantino)
Released in 1994, Pulp Fiction catapulted director Quentin Tarantino to stardom and revived John Travolta's floundering career. It also featured a soundtrack that reached #21 on the Billboard charts and put the thirty-year old Neil Diamond song "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" back on the charts. That alone is quite an accomplishment.
Featuring legendary surf rocker Dick Dale's version of "Misirlou" along with tracks as disparate as Kool & The Gang's "Jungle Boogie" and Dusty Springfield's take on "Son Of A Preacher Man," the soundtrack is eclectic enough to perfectly complement Tarantino's non-linear black comedy.
(Elford Alley has had plays produced and read across the United States and his sketch comedy featured in several shows in Chicago. His articles have appeared in cracked.com. He currently resides in Dallas with his wife and daughter.)