- Natural Born Killers
You don’t have to put movie dialogue between the tracks to be “cool “, but it helps. What makes the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s wrongly-maligned 1994 serial killer satire so special is the way album producer Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) weaves the two together. Leonard Cohen’s lugubrious Waiting For The Miracle segues seamlessly into L7’s ferocious Shitlist via a line from Juliette Lewis (“Arc you flirtin’ with me?**); the intro to the Cowbov Junkies’ Sweet Jane is overlaid with Woody 11 a nelsons announcement, “The whole world’s cornin’ loan end!”; evocative dissolves nu\ Pasty Cline. Di Dre. Jane’s Addiction. Tommy Lee Jones and gunlire to achieve sublime synchronicity. You don’t even have to watch the film.
- Reservoir Dogs
Another immortal modern soundtrack that sticks close to the text by way of the fictional k- Billy’s Super Sounds Of The ’70s radio show. Voiced by deadpan comedian Steven Wright. K-Billy links the tracks (“And if you’re the 12th caller you were in two tickets to the monster truck rally”), as if we are tuned via some imaginary dial into Quentin Tarantino’s record collection. Nuggets such as George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag, Harry Nilsson’s Coconut and Bedlam’s Harvest Moon, provide a deceptively sunny backdrop for a tale of torture and betrayal.
It’s a formula that’s worked for Tarantino again and again, but Reservoir Dogs remains definitive.
- Apocalypse Now redux
It starts with The End by the Doors! An inspired choice by Francis Coppola that forever marries song to moving picture it’s existential too (beginning with, like, the end). Encapsulating the soundtrack’s modus operandi, Jim Morrison’s wail merges with the sound of helicopter blades, dialogue, cicadas and Carmine Coppola’s squelchy synth overture. The music, whether off-the-peg or bespoke, is no backdrop or add-on. It’s a vital layer of stimulus, like the famous Wagner-assisted village attack. The double-CD unfolds like one of those old Disney storybook albums, scene by scene. Not a record to put on at a dinner party, but taken with the correct drugs, it’s your ticket to Vietnam. I bet.
- Midnight Cowboy
It’s the “musical supervision “credit for John Barry that says it all. Here in 1969 was a studio picture that defied convention in style and subject (the only X-rated Best Picture Oscar-winner!), and instead of Barry simply composing a score, he farsightedly gathered together suitable tracks from obscure late-’60s performers (The Groop. Elephant’s Memory, Leslie Miller), ran them in with his ow n pieces and created a hip. atmospheric patchwork of an album. Harry Nilsson’s quavering, stripped-back cover of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ was a smash hit and hey! a great ad for the film. So blame Barry for Celine Dion’s Mv Heart Will Go On.
- The Virgin Suicides
It is a measure of Sofia Coppola’s cool that, instead of going for an experienced movie composer, she hired delicate French pop duo Air to score her heart-stopping 2000 debut. They rose to the occasion, providing not just memorable tunes of the lounge some type found on their own heart-stopping moon Safari (Playground Love, Highschool 1 over), but also gening down and diri> with a real drummer (Brian Reitzel and rocking out). It’s mightily dramatic stuff. The climactic Suicide Underground provides a moving, multi- instrumental coda, based around a slowed-down piece of poetic dialogue by Giovanni Ribisi. Why slowed down? Who cares!
Whether it’s Jan Hammer, Tangerine Dream or Shriekback, Michael Mann likes his music loud, modern, electronic and under every scene. For his finest hour, the epochal Heat in 1995. Kronos Quartet set the tone with a ludicrously pompous theme (synths. strings, feedback, tribal drums. Middle-Eastern wailing). After that it’s a portent Olympics as equally tasteful leftfield artistes like Michael Brook. Passengers and Moby disconnect the subtlety lead and underplay not a note or drumbeat in order to tell us this is AN IMPORTANT FILM WITH PACINO AND DE NIRO IN IT. Its head-spinning stuff and you will have to watch the film straight afterwards. (And lie liked Linstiirzende Neubauten’s Armenia so much, he went on to use it again in The Insider.)
- LOST IN TRANSLATION
Sofia Coppola does it again, in her Oscar-snalling sophomore effort she went one further than securing air. Talking My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields out of the wilderness. As well as reviving M BV’s blissful Sometimes, the soundtrack gives the world Shields’ first recorded music for donkey’s: four
shimmering instrumental tracks that sit easily between tunes by Air (again), Phoenix and Squarepusher. Fora film set in Tokyo, this is decidedly western, but that’s the point, representing in its fuzziness the dislocated, almost dizzy unease of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The use of The Jesus And Marv Chain’s Just Like
Honey for the finale is inspired too (“Walking back to you is the hardest thing I can do”).
Michael Nyman single-handedly made classical music cool with his prodding, hypnotic scores for Peter Greenaway. Much-imitated, he still occupies a unique seat at the composers’ table, not least because he supports QPR. For Ravenous. Antonia Bird’s underrated black comedy about cannibalism in the Sierra Nevadas after the Mexican-American War, Nyman collaborated with Blur’s Damon Albarn and the result is this nutty banjo-heavy mosaic of a score, in which Albarn pigs out on rough-guide ethnic authenticity while Nyman strays from Ins parp- parp-parp blueprint for something much more unsettling. I had to have Nyman in here, and this score is anything but by the numbers
- Saturday night fever
As with Apocalypse Now, it’s hardly a revelation to name the opening moments of Saturday Night Fever as a perfect union between music and movement: John Travolta, swinging that paint can to the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. It’s a classic.
As is the entire 25-million-selling album, built around seven Gibb compositions, rustled up when producer Robert Stigwood asked if they had anything suitable for what was then called Tribal Rights On A Saturday Night. The song Night Fever was so good they changed the film’s name. Some movies about music reflect their times, others change them. This one led to a disco inferno.
- The Conversation
Commercially available for the first time in 2001 — an insane 27 years after the release of Coppola’s surveillance thriller David Shire’s almost entirely piano-based score is, at heart, jazz. It’s minimal and desperately sad even the three upbeat numbers seem ironic and points up the gloomy, paranoid mood of the visuals. Shire (brother-in-law of Coppola at the time) was charged with creating something “haunting and lonely’’. He certainly did that. It’s like having Gene L Lackman’s character I larry Caul distilled into CD form. A gem.
THE COLLECTION CRITERIA
I defy you to define “cool” and stay fashionable. It can’t be done. One man’s cool is another man’s mid-life crisis tattoo and eyebrow ring. But this is personal, right? These ten soundtracks say ‘’cool” to me. My guess is that most of them are cool, but you will be the judge of that.
The bulk are not scores. This is not because orchestral accompaniment of the old school cannot be cool, simply that we have to draw a line somewhere, and if you got me started on the likes of Vertigo or Zulu we’d be here all day. So, the chosen ten are largely collections of songs. Though this is a largely besmirched form, these are a cut above your standard teen movie with a thrown-together ragbag of contemporary/nostalgic rock and pop hits, plus one off-beam cover version, featured in or – shiver runs down spine of music-lover – “inspired by” the film. They say that if Blur had only ever written Song 2 they’d never need work again, thanks to its ubiquity on soundtracks and compilations. Of course. Quentin Tarantino raised the bar, and now his soundtrack albums are better than his films. Admit it.
Remember also: a great song does not a cool soundtrack make. Thus, no Die Hard With A Vengeance, despite evocative, scene-setting use of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City before the initial bomb goes off. The ten I have chosen are albums you can put on and listen to. from start to finish, like a proper LP. For the record, those that almost made the cut include Mean Streets, Seven, Trainspotting. Pulp Fiction. The Royal Tenenbaums and Casino Forrest Gump is a debonair selection of old tunes too but, well, it’s Forrest Gump.
Enough about me. This summer. BBC 6 Music are launching Screen Age Kicks, a huge search for the Ultimate Movie Soundtrack Album. For details of how to vote and