The 2006 movie song of the year “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie Hustle and Flow rapped Oscar up side the head. It beat a Dolly Parton tune from the movie Transamerica and a song from Crash. The sight of the group Three 6 Mafia accepting the award – no tux, flashing gold teeth, and plenty of bling – paved the way for new experiences in movie soundtracks and movie lyrics. The 2006 original score was hauntingly elegant, but came from another non-traditional movie, Brokeback Mountain.
Movie soundtracks and movie music lyrics contribute to the joy of the movie experience. Whether it is John William’s sweeping score for Star Wars or his forbidding shark approach in Jaws, the best movie soundtracks bring to mind key film scenes or set the tone of a film. A soundtrack lyric such as “Goldfinger” from the James Bond film of the same name, belted out by the incomparable Shirley Bassey, lets you know you are in for a film treat. With so many to choose from, let us review some of the best movie soundtracks and movie themes.
“Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind sets the sweeping stage for Scarlett O’Hara on the plantation and then the toll the Civil War takes on her life. Another 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, featured songs by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. Any filmgoer wants to look “Over the Rainbow” with Judy Garland’s yearning vocals. When Sam plays “As Time Goes By” for Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca, we feel Rick’s (Humphey Bogart) pain. Movie soundtracks chronicle the mood of the movie and often the general public mindset. MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s featured Ziegfield girls, snappy tunes, and Rogers-Astaire dances. While sex could not be shown on the screen, the movie soundtracks pulsed with heat and unrequited love. The soundtrack and ballet in An American in Paris burned up the silver screen.
Once Broadway musicals were translated into film, movie soundtracks and movie lyrics opened the door for another audience. People did not have to travel to New York. They could sing “Oklahoma” (from Oklahoma) and enjoy “Climb Every Mountain”, “My Favorite Things”, or “The Hills Are Alive” from The Sound of Music. An actress such as Julie Andrews, with the voice of an angel, had writers creating material for her. Audiences swallowed their “Spoonful of Sugar” and enjoyed the music from Mary Poppins. Musicals allowed the studios to create extravaganzas – swelling orchestras along with elaborate costumes and set designs.
Movie soundtracks add to the emotions on the screen. Listen to the violins used at key moments in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Or think of the swirling tune announcing James Bond. The James Bond theme is indelible with the character. The use of music in movies has changed through the years. Rather than breaking into random song, movie music and lyrics are often integral to the film. Mike Nichol’s use of Simon and Garfunkle’s words and music in The Graduate started a new trend in movie soundtracks. Even in a serious film, songs were used to move along a plot or to capture a character. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid first seems like a throwaway scene. Upon further viewing, the song foreshadows the upcoming seriousness of our bandits’ lives. Hearing the song today, we, nonetheless, hum along and visualize Paul Newman and Katharine Ross having a spin on the bicycle.
James Bond movies have provided some of the best movie theme lyrics of all time. “Nobody Does It Better” sung by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loves Me sums up suave James. Duran, Duran singing “A View to a Kill” from that movie hints at the adventure and danger. The initial clash of chords, from Paul McCartney and Wings in “Live and Let Die”, announced one of the premiere Bond films. Not only singing “Goldfinger”, Shirley Bassey was our James Bond queen with two other title songs – “Diamonds are Forever” and “Moonraker”. The songs and music from James Bond films illustrate the connection between film and music in our lives.
The disco era brought some catchy movie soundtracks and movie themes. “Fame”, as sung by Irene Cara, shares the unfettered joy of young arts students dancing in the streets of New York and brings the viewer/listener to his feet. “Flashdance….What a Feeling”, also sung by Irene Cara, is a toe-tapping tune. Welder by day, strip dancer by night – the lead character in Flashdance kept us rooting for her to follow her dreams. The premiere movie soundtrack of this era is Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees had John Travolta strutting his stuff through the streets of New York. With “Night Fever”, we all have on a white suit and strike a pose. Once again, a movie soundtrack provided indelible tunes for a memorable character – Tony Manero.
Quentin Tarentino introduced a newer element to movie soundtracks with Pulp Fiction. His unique ear and brilliant selection of previously written tunes, both known and obscure, made the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction a character unto itself. “Misirlou”, “Jungle Boogie”, “Bustin’ Surfboards”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, “Surf Rider”, and more are interspersed carefully between Tarentino’s unique stories. He and Cameron Crowe (Say Anything) are known for their music and film knowledge. They both utilize this knowledge in their movie soundtrack selections.
Other films with fun soundtracks that do add atmosphere to the movie are Muriel’s Wedding, Reality Bites, The Big Chill, and recently Zach Braff’s Garden State. On the other hand, a lot of directors today grab some oldies, splatter them throughout the film, and consider their movie soundtrack job finished. Starsky and Hutch and Must Love Dogs are two current examples of this sloppiness. The CD is produced and it demeans the true art of combining film with music for the complete experience. Yes, the songs themselves are spirited, but the actual film/music effort is lazy.
Sometimes a completely original movie soundtrack score strikes a chord. Unfamiliar songs or just the music itself touches our background senses and resonates in the soul. The 2002 film About A Boy featured an original soundtrack composed and performed by Badly Drawn Boy. Subtle, plaintive, soulful, and touching – the soundtrack melded perfectly with the story and characters. It is a hidden gem. Another fairly recent film, The Italian Job, features an original movie score composed, produced, programmed, and arranged by John Powell. Its pulsating rhythms are not background noise. This is a movie soundtrack that adds to the suspense of the film.
Movie soundtracks, through the decades, have added flavor to the films on the silver screen and have reflected the music of those times. Creating character and mood, movie music and soundtrack lyrics are an integral part of film. “The Pink Panther Theme” causes one to grin. Hearing Harry Nilsson sing “Everybody’s Talkin'” (Midnight Cowboy) brings to mind the duo played by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman ambling down the streets of New York. Re-watch a film and consciously listen to the music, or play a soundtrack and run the film loop in your brain. Movie themes and movie soundtracks are integral to movie magic. Now we have the image of Terence Howard, from “Hustle and Flow”, writing and singing about what he knows as a pimp and trying to translate it into a music career. Rap and hip-hop are a new part of the movie scene, adding flavor and character to movie soundtracks, and will not be dismissed after the 2006 Oscar win.