With good movies comes good movie soundtracks. But what makes a good soundtrack? First of all, it has to fit the mood of the movie. It needs to reflect the tone of the film. There’s an art to compiling a good soundtrack. You can’t just pick one song to fit one scene, all the songs need to fit together, just like all the scenes have to fit together.
Great soundtracks can also stand alone as their own albums. The best albums are those you can hit play and listen to straight through with no skippable tracks. They’re the rarest and hardest to find, but they’re also the ones you’ll treasure forever. Just like the films they represent.
One of my favorite soundtracks is for the movie “Elizabethtown.” Director Cameron Crowe was a reporter for “Rolling Stone” and knows a thing or two about music. When it comes to picking the right song to capture the right moment, he’s a master. “Elizabethtown” features songs from Elton John, Tom Petty, and Ryan Adams among others. My favorite song is “Long Ride Home” by Patty Griffin.
Each song flows easily from one track to the next. And it also takes me back to the joy I feel watching the movie. Many judge “Elizabethtown” a little too harshly but I connected to it on a very personal level. I feel a strong connection to the film, and listening to the soundtrack only solidifies that bond.
Another good soundtrack from Cameron Crowe is “Almost Famous.” When you’re making a movie about music it’s even more important to have a great soundtrack backing it up. “Almost Famous” is set in the 70’s and gets a lot of help from rock legends like: Simon and Garfunkel, Todd Rundgren, The Beach Boys, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin.
It also uses music in some very poignant scenes. In one, we see the film’s heroine, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) dancing alone in an empty auditorium to Cat Stevens’ “The Wind.” It’s a beautiful moment that is backed by the perfect song choice. Also, of course, the bus scene where after a big fight, everyone comes together singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
A surprisingly good compilation soundtrack is the one for “Shrek 2.” Each track, from first to last is enjoyable which seems odd for an animated feature. Novelty tracks aside, like Eddie Murphy’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and Jennifer Saunders “Holding Out for a Hero,” there are great songs and hold up without the film. Songs like the Counting Crows “Accidentally in Love” and my favorite “I Need Some Sleep” by the Eels.
Sometimes I like a soundtrack, not because it necessarily reminds me of the movie it’s from or a particular scene, but simply because it’s a good compilation of songs. “Garden State” is one of those soundtracks. With songs from Coldplay, The Shins, Colin Hay, Remy Zero, and Frou Frou to name a few, it’s an hour plus of music I can relax to. It has a very “chill” sound that flows in the background, like it does in the film.
The “Away We Go” soundtrack creates a similar mood. The majority of the album features songs by English singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch. The film, about one long road trip, mirrors the soundtrack, which doesn’t feel like several songs, so much as one long piece of music.
“Juno” a unique, quirky indie film, offers a unique, quirky sound. The tracks are from a variety of artists including: THe Kinks, Buddy Holly, Belle & Sebastian, Sonic Youth, Kimya Dawson, The Velvet Underground, and the films stars Ellen Page and Michael Cera doing a cover of The Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else but You.”
Sometimes, the entire soundtrack isn’t worth it, but on it will be one or two gems. Luckily, now it’s possible to just buy one or two songs. For me, most of the times these are novelty songs. Such as the cast of “Anchorman” singing “Afternoon Delight” or Dewey Cox from “Walk Hard” singing “Let Me Hold you Little Man.”
But just because they’re novelty doesn’t mean they can’t be good, like “That Thing You Do” from the Tom Hanks movie by the same name. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” offers a few different fun finds like The Coconutz singing covers of “These Boots are made for Walkin’” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” in Hawaiian.
And sometimes there is just one song that stands out and sticks with you. Like Simple Mind’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from “The Breakfast Club,” “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls from “City of Angels,” and “When You Say Nothing At All” by Ronan Keating from “Notting Hill.” Or take a great movie about music like “Empire Records” and you get a couple of good tunes such as Edwyn Collins “A Girl Like You” and Gin Blossom’s “Til I Hear It From You.”
Covers are also a large part of movie soundtracks. Either from the films stars singing songs, or modern bands covering older songs to bring them to a new audience, such as Letters to Cleo’s cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” in “10 Things I Hate about You.” Or Zooey Deschanel’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Elf.”
One category of soundtrack I haven’t mentioned yet is for musicals. It’s not that I don’t like musicals, I do. But they just don’t seem to fit into the same category. “Grease,” “Mamma Mia,” “Across the Universe,” all great films with equally good soundtracks. But the two go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Same goes for classic animated films. I personally love the songs “Part of Your World” and “Be Our Guest” but they’re Disney masterpieces that you can only truly appreciate if you’ve seen the films.
I like music, but I love movies! The list of good songs goes on and on and one but when you find the right one, to match the right scene, there’s a … I don’t know … kismet. A good soundtrack enhances the quality of a good film. It has to start with the film, but if you do it right, both will be remembered.