To make a successful film you require a quality director, decent actors and a captivating narrative. But one important factor not to be forgotten, is the film soundtrack.
Many songs over the years have even become synonymous with certain movies, whether they’ve been used in an iconic end credits scene, or perhaps during the climax of the film.
Every now and then you’ll hear a song in a shop, on TV or on the radio and immediately be transported to a specific moment in a film. So when a film has a solid soundtrack throughout, it can truly carry you through the entire viewing, building on the story and adding to the overall success of the film.
Here are seven films that have an iconic soundtrack:
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Roald Dahl hated the fact that this film featured musical numbers so much that he disowned it completely. That was a silly move because the film is arguably the main introduction to the wild, weird world of Dahl, and it’s the buoyant, psychedelic music that glues the entire thing together. From the excited ‘I’ve Got A Golden Ticket” through to the dreamy ‘Pure Imagination’ and the legitimately scary/creepy ‘There’s So Earthly Way Of Knowing’, this lush soundtrack stands alone as a piece of art in its own right, but really soars when coupled to the film’s technicoloured visuals.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
With 45 million copies of these out in the world, Saturday Night Fever is the highest-selling soundtrack ever released, sat at number one in America for 24-straight weeks, won six Grammys, and has been added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being “culturally significant.” It’s therefore surprising to hear that this soundtrack almost didn’t happen at all, with The Bee Gees first turning down the opportunity to write songs for “this little film, low budget, called Tribal Rites of a Saturday Night.” They soon acquiesced, and bashed out most of the songs in a single weekend, long after the film had wrapped shooting. “The Bee Gees weren’t even involved in the movie in the beginning”, star John Travolta explained. “I was dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs.”
It’s fairly clear that John Travolta was in the middle of a purple patch during the late ’70s. While the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sold bundles more, it was the Grease soundtrack that captured the hearts of multiple generations, despite the movie itself having a less-than-ideal message. The songs are so full of life: the heartsick Sandy Olsen singing about her hopeless devotion; the sexual thrust of Greased Lightning; the primal joy of You’re The One that I Want; the ebullient title track (which breaks with the film’s ’50s bend by sounding positively disco, thanks to writers The Bee Gees). The soundtrack has been remastered many times throughout the following four decades, sounding crisper, sharper and even more full of life each time. For the full experience, go big screen, big speakers, big hair.
Paris, Texas (1984)
The soundtrack to the cult Harry Dean Stanton road movie, Paris, Texas, is one of the most evocative of all time: you can feel the heat, see the empty landscape, feel the wind howling through your bones. Legendary slide guitarist Ry Cooder performed the entire thing, and modern technology (Dolby 5.1; surround; whatever your bag is) only adds to the impact. Dave Grohl recently announced that this sparse, striking creation was his favourite album: “It sort of paints this sort of barren desert landscape, but he does it with a slide guitar. It’s just so simple and emotive, and amazing.”
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Romeo and Juliet (1996)
While it’s the second of the two separate soundtrack CDs that features the film’s impressive score (also definitely worth a listen on high-quality gear), it was disc one with the blend of hit singles and interesting deep cuts that garnered the undying love of an entire generation upon release in 1996. It was the perfect storm of cool acts — Garbage, Everclear, Radiohead — breezy camp anthems, and artsy tunes, all soundtracking the romantic exploits of peak-Leo and post-My So Called Life Claire. Shakespearean tragedies were suddenly sooo cutting-edge ’90s – whether we are talking the 1590s or 1990 doesn’t seem to matter.
Almost Famous (2000)
“Music, you know, true music – not just rock ‘n’ roll – it chooses you”, opines Lester Bangs in this tender love letter to rock and roll, but as true as that statement undoubtedly is, sometimes writer/director Cameron Crowe chooses the music for you. The originals in this film — actually written by Crowe and his wife Heart’s Nancy Wilson while on their honeymoon — are outstanding, swinging rock songs in their own right, but it’s the era-specific soundtrack: Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’, a song the film helped to popularise and push back into Elton’s set some three decades after it was written, that gives this film its heart. As Penny Lane says in the film: “You are home.”
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
Although it is the previous film that houses ‘Flightless Bird, American Mouth’ — the tender Iron and Wine tune that has been inextricably linked to the Twilight franchise, it was the second film in the saga that saw the soundtrack move from FM radio-friendly tunes to an impossibly cool indie soundtrack, featuring Death Cab For Cutie Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent, OK Go and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, many of whom contributed original songs to the cause. The soundtrack was desperately romantic, young and vital – much like the films. Regardless of what you feel about the movies themselves, you cannot deny the power of the soundtracks – and as a 2009 time capsule, it is pretty perfect, too.
This article was created in conjunction with Yamaha Home Entertainment Australia, the longest-standing and largest sound company in the world.