Movie soundtracks have given people a lot of listening enjoyment over the years. And, to be sure, many film soundtracks are great to listen to on their own—apart from the movie they were made for. But some movie soundtracks fit the film they were made for perfectly. In fact, it can be difficult to separate some movies from their soundtrack. They are forever linked and seem to grow old together. Listening to a song off the soundtrack instantly reminds people of the movie, and you can’t imagine the movie without the songs in it. This hand in glove relationship makes some soundtracks truly special. And here is a list of 10 soundtracks that work with their movie.
10. The Commitments (1991)
The movie, directed by Alan Parker and based on a novel by Roddy Doyle, is about a group of musicians in Dublin, Ireland, who start a soul and rhythm and blues band. And the band sings classic soul songs such as “Mustang Sally,” “Take Me To The River,” “In The Midnight Hour” and “Bye Bye Baby.” The singers in the movie have to be believable and they have to do justice to the songs they belt out in dingy clubs around Dublin. If they didn’t the whole premise of the film wouldn’t work. Fortunately, the singers and actors in the movie are completely believable and the songs selected for the movie—and featured on the soundtrack—are perfect for the plot, setting and vocal talents of the cast. In fact, the song “Mustang Sally” has largely become synonymous with this movie since its release.
9. Titanic (1997)
Can you think of the movie Titanic without hearing in your head the Celine Dion song “My Heart Will Go On?” Similarly, can you hear that Celine Dion song without picturing Leonardo DiCaprio holding Kate Winslet over the bow of the Titanic as they sail into the sunset? This is an example of a soundtrack—and a particular song—becoming completely intertwined with a movie. Both the song and movie were massive hits when released in 1997, and the film’s soundtrack, which features orchestral music by composer James Horner, sold 30 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time, and the highest-selling primarily orchestral soundtrack ever. Indeed, the lilting Irish music and flute playing heard throughout the movie is quite catchy and hypnotic. Perhaps it is the people behind this movie’s soundtrack who are the real “Kings of the world”?
8. The Big Chill (1983)
A lot of movies contain nostalgic songs from the 1960s. And a lot of those classic songs are featured on film soundtracks. But few movies incorporate those songs as well as The Big Chill. About a group of 1960s college radicals who reunite after one of their friends commits suicide, The Big Chill examines how the hippies of the 1960s morphed into the yuppies of the 1980s, and how their ideals changed as they grew older. This drama plays out with a host of perfect songs playing in the background and on the soundtrack. From the film’s opening sequence set to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” to other memorable tracks such as The Temptations’ “My Girl” and the concluding song in the movie, Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” The songs perfectly fit what the film is about and even serve to enhance the dialogue and discussions at many points in the film. It’s like the music is a punctuation mark within the movie.
7. Trainspotting (1996)
Has a song captured the spirit of a movie better than Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”? We doubt it. This 1996 film about heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland, is notable for several things, including its soundtrack, which helps set the mood for this bleak exploration of urban decay and squalor. Songs such as the aforementioned “Lust for Life,” as well as Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and New Order’s “Temptation” make for a perfect backdrop to this black comedy that was directed by Danny Boyle and made actor Ewan McGregor a star. The music in the film serves to accentuate the action, and the Trainspotting soundtrack has only grown in esteem over the years. In 2007, the editors of Vanity Fair magazine ranked the Trainspotting soundtrack as the seventh best motion picture soundtrack in history; and it was ranked #17 on Entertainment Weekly‘s 100 Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time.
6. Purple Rain (1984)
A quasi-autobiographical film about musician Prince’s life, Purple Rain contains several of the artist’s most popular and beloved songs—including “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry.” However, while these songs work well on their own, they elevate this movie and make it more than a ho-hum biopic. In the movie, Prince plays a troubled Minneapolis-based musician who is trying to escape a difficult home life. The songs in the movie Purple Rain are played in several extended concert scenes and underscore Prince’s feelings in the film. Without the songs, Purple Rain wouldn’t be much of a movie. In fact, it is telling that most people associate this film with its soundtrack. How many people have heard songs from the Purple Rain soundtrack? And how many of those same people have actually seen the film? The movie Purple Rain helped to catapult Prince to stardom. But it is the songs that sell this film.
5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
This Coen brothers’ film is about a folk singer struggling to make a name for himself in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. And, of course, the soundtrack to this movie has to be great given the subject matter. And what’s great about the soundtrack to this film is that it revives several classic folk songs that had largely been forgotten such as “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song),” “Five Hundred Miles” and “The Roving Gambler.” These songs feel appropriate for the movie but aren’t well known—kind of like the title character of the film. However, the songs help to evoke a particular time and place, and they set the mood and tone for this period piece. And the Coen brothers helped to revive interest in folk music with this soundtrack, just as they helped to renew interest in blue grass music with their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?
4. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
The film and soundtrack that are singlehandedly credited with launching the disco craze of the late 1970s, Saturday Night Fever is about a young hustler in New York who spends his nights showing off his dance moves at the local disco. And along with John Travolta’s white suit and the colored disco floor and mirror ball, we have a classic soundtrack by the Bee Gees. Many of the Brothers Gibb’s best known songs were written for this movie—including “Staying Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “More Than A Woman” and “Jive Talking.” The songs work in the movie and are played most often when John Travolta is dancing in a club. If the songs weren’t catchy and memorable, the entire movie would fall flat. Good then that the Bee Gees were up to the task with their songwriting. Like other movies on this list, it is hard to separate the film Saturday Night Fever from its soundtrack. The movie is about the music and dancing it inspires. The soundtrack stayed on Billboard ’s album charts for 120 weeks and has been added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress.
3. Mary Poppins (1964)
One could argue that the songs featured in Mary Poppins are better known and beloved than the movie itself. After all, almost everyone can recite the words to “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Chim Cher-ee” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” But who can say what the movie is really about? Sure, we remember the dancing penguins and singing chimney sweeps, and everyone knows that Mary Poppins is a nanny. But what is this movie about? Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter because the songs make the movie and suit the dancing and blend of live action and animation perfectly. No surprise that Marry Poppins was later adapted into a musical theater production. The songs kind of demand it, don’t they?
2. Singles (1992)
The 1992 Cameron Crowe directed movie Singles is of a time and place. That time would be the early 1990s and that place is Seattle, Washington. And at that time and place, grunge music ruled the world. Crowe uses Seattle’s real grunge music scene as the backdrop for his movie about love among a group of twentysomethings in the Pacific Northwest city. In fact, actor Matt Dillon plays a musician and frontman of the fictional grunge band Citizen Dick in the movie, and members of several bands including Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains make appearances in the film. Add to this environment a soundtrack that features almost all the leading grunge bands of the time (minus Nirvana), and you have a great musical compliment to the movie. The film is peppered with songs by leading bands of the era such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees and The Smashing Pumpkins, and each tune helps to establish and reinforce the time and place in which the movie unspools.
1. Grease (1978)
If there is a better movie musical and accompanying soundtrack than Grease, we here at Goliath can’t think of it. Originally a Broadway musical, the film version of Grease stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton John as star-crossed lovers who sing and dance their way through the movie to hits such as “Summer Nights,” “The One That I Want” and “Greased Lightning.” This is a movie that is about the music, period. And it is the songs that propel the film forward. None of the acting in the movie is as good as the singing and dancing, and that’s how you want it to be in a movie musical such as Grease. And it is the songs that people remember and love. “You’re The One That I Want” topped the charts around the world, and Grease is the bestselling movie soundtrack in history with 45 million copies sold worldwide, and counting…