February 24, 2010
Hidden Gems: Second Golden Age of Movie Soundtracks
From wholly original soundtracks like Curtis Mayfield’s work for Super Fly to iconic oldies compilations like American Grafitti, the 1970s was the first golden age for the movie soundtrack.
After a glut of ’80s crap, the art form of the movie soundtrack bounced back in the ’90s. Pulp Fiction is the key example of a soundtrack that was not only essential to the movie it supported, but became essential listening on its own (although the soundtrack to Tarantino’s follow-up, Jackie Brown, gets my vote for soundtrack of the decade). Other soundtracks were so popular (Lost Highway, Empire Records) that more people had them in their CD collections than had ever bought a ticket to see the movie. The following 4 selections were not so popular, but they remain worthwhile listening experiences whether you’ve seen the movie or not.
Out of Sight | Music From the Motion Picture
1998 was the moment when DJs were making their biggest impact as solo artists in mainstream music, thanks partially to Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank.” One DJ who got a leg up in this climate was David Holmes, whose first 2 albums were more often groovy than glitchy. Hired to do the music for Steven Soderbergh’s French New Wave-style take on an Elmore Leonard novel, Out of Sight, Holmes delivered a super-cool score that’s funky without being hectic and is ambient without being somnambulant. The soundtrack album seamlessly blends Holmes’s music cues with dialogue from the film and classic hits by The Isley Brothers, Dean Martin, and more. Twelve years later, it still sounds fresh and unembarassing in a way that those Fatboy Slim records sadly don’t.
Touch | Music From The Motion Picture
I remember seeing this soundtrack in the late ‘90s, in a big-box media outlet store in my hometown, and I was a little confused. Here was a soundtrack for a movie I had never heard of, with music entirely composed by Dave Grohl, a guy who was in two of the most popular rock bands ever. How was it that nobody knew about this? I bought the CD, and the question persisted. Kicking off with the awesomest faux-surf/hard-rock instrumental ever, “Bill Hill Theme,” the album was chock full of Grohl goodies that your average Foo Fighters fan would eat up. Unfortunately, the film Touch turned out to be a shoddy Skeet Ulrich vehicle directed by Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader (coincidentally, also adapting an Elmore Leonard book) that went unmemorably straight to video. The soundtrack has since also slipped into obscurity, but you can find a track here and there online, like “How Do You Do,” which sounds like it could have been the B-side to “Big Me.”
Orgazmo | Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
What other album can boast a track list that includes The Cure’s Robert Smith doing a one-off electro-dance-pop song with one of the guys from Tin Machine, a bossa nova song from Smash Mouth called “Sorry About Your Penis,” a contribution from neo-Yé-yé girl April March about sharing your romantic relationship with Jesus, and that Wreckx-N-Effect tune about only wanting to zoom-a zoom zoom zoom and a-boom boom. Produced by The Dust Brothers shortly before their ominous work on Fight Club, the album mixes and matches genres with abandon but holds together, often because the artists have actually written songs inspired by Orgazmo, the South Park guys’ Mormon porn comedy. The ultimate highlight is the goofy genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s spot-on “Eye of the Tiger” spoof, “Now You’re A Man.”
Robyn Hitchcock | Storefront Hitchcock: Music From the Jonathan Demme Picture
In between his two famous concert films for Talking Heads and Neil Young, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) decided to direct a less well-known concert film with offbeat British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. The setup has Hitchcock performing an intimate unplugged show in an abandoned New York storefront, with his back to the window. Throughout the beginning of the film, people are seen to walk by and peer in behind Hitchcock to see what’s going on in the store. The film is pretty good, but the album is even better. Culled from the same live shows that made up the movie, the album features a slightly better setlist that gets rid of a couple of the boring numbers that come early in the film and adds a few interesting nuggets toward the end, like a cover of Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.” Actually, the best parts are Hitchcock’s surrealistic between-song non sequiturs, such as when he describes a person covered in duct tape being dropped out of a plane over London and being mistaken for an atomic bomb.