Music in the movies: single band and artist film soundtracks

With AC/DC providing the soundtrack to Iron Man 2, Glen takes a look at other instances where one band or artist has provided the musical backdrop for a movie...

With Iron Man 2 about to hit cinemas, the advert for its soundtrack is all over TV. However, the soundtrack is essentially an AC/DC best of.

I’ll have to wait until I see the film to see if this works or not, but when looking into the soundtracks for some of this year’s movies, this isn’t the only recent example.  Noah Baumbach’s latest movie Greenberg is scored by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and later in the year we’ll get to hear Beck bringing Sex Bob-omb’s music to life in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and Daft Punk providing the score for Tron: Legacy.

With this in mind, I thought I’d look through my collection for similar soundtracks and here are my favourites…

Mogwai – Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait

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Unlike AC/DC’s Iron Man 2 contribution, this features original material by Scottish post rockers, Mogwai. Douglas Gordon’s feature is a little underwhelming. Even with me being a fan of the subject matter, it became a little tiresome and, without the soundtrack, I would have got little enjoyment from the film.

Mogwai were approached to provide the soundtrack by Douglas Gordon, who showed them a segment of the film backed by the song Mogwai Fear Satan. The band agreed to score the film and were given free rein to come up with what they wanted, but had limited time to compose and record. As such, the material has a largely improvised feel.

Their work here is not as immediate as a lot of their output, particularly the material on the album that preceded this soundtrack, Mr. Beast. Instead, it’s more of an introspective and slow paced album that recalls some of their earlier work on albums like Young Team and Come On Die Young.

The soundtrack provides a great accompaniment to the film and seems to match the emotions and characteristics of Zidane throughout this game that took place towards the end of his career.

Explosions in the Sky – Friday Night Lights

Sticking with post rock (and, indeed, sport) here’s another soundtrack by one of the genre’s most prominent acts, Explosions in the Sky.

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The band were approached by Brian Reitzell and, having been familiar with the book on which the movie is based and being natives of the film’s West Texas setting, they agreed to do it.

The soundtrack features some material that was adapted from songs from their first two albums, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever and The Earth Is Not ACold Dead Place.

Friday Night Lights is a fantastic film and one that topped my Top 10 American Football films article earlier this year. A large reason why I like the movie so much is down to the use of music throughout. Whereas a lot of other sports movies rely heavily on the expected soundtrack gimmickry, here we have a much more thoughtful and considered score that subtly influences the viewers’ emotions. Sure, some of the song choices, such as New Noise byRefused, add the expected bombastic elements, but the score is mostly a more subdued affair.

Elliott Smith – Good Will Hunting

Although the score to Gus Van Sant’s 1997 movie, written by and starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, was composed by Danny Elfman, the majority of the material that features on the soundtrack was provided by singer songwriter Elliott Smith.

Smith provided a number of unreleased songs to the film, one of which (Between The Bars) was re-worked by Elfman.

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It was an original composition that was, perhaps, the stand out on the soundtrack, Miss Misery. This song would earn Smith an Academy Award nomination, although he would lose out to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On from James Cameron’s Titanic, written by James Horner and Will Jennings.

Smith performed at that year’s Awards ceremony despite initially being reluctant to do so as he was informed that either he perform the song or someone else would have to do it for him.

Smith died in 2003 at the age of 34 from two stab wounds to the chest in an incident that’s largely believed to be suicide.

Re-mastered versions of Smith’s albums, Roman Candle and From A Basement On A Hill, were released this year through Kill Rock Stars.

Aimee Mann – Magnolia

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 epic featured a stellar cast and a great soundtrack.

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Anderson knew Mann prior to starting work on Magnolia and approached her to provide the musical backbone to the film due to the strong similarities between the characters in Mann’s song and those in Magnolia.

Mann provides eight of her own songs, two of which were written specifically for the film, and a cover of Nilsson’s One to the soundtrack.

Mann’s songs play such an integral part in the film. An example of this is the scene in which the cast sing along to Wise Up.

Of the inclusions, Save Me earned Mann nominations for The Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Grammys and boasted a music video directed by Anderson.

Neil Young – Dead Man

The soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film is perhaps not what most would expect from a Neil Young album. There’s an absence of Young’s distinct vocals. The album is mostly instrumental with the exception of a few excerpts of Johnny Depp reading poetry by William Blake and some snippets of dialogue from the film.

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Like the Mogwai soundtrack for Zidane, Young’s contributions here were largely improvised, as he watched a version of the film in a recording studio. He plays a variety of instruments and evokes the moods seen in the film perfectly.

Given the soundtrack is as good as it is, and  the manner in which it was created, it’s a testament to Young’s immense talent.

Air – The Virgin Suicides

After a successful debut album, most acts sophomore efforts are perceived to be somewhat problematic, so for an act to choose to score a movie so early in their career it could be seen as something of a strange decision.

This is exactly the decision that French duo Air took when they were approached to provide the score to Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut The Virgin Suicides.

The score is largely instrumental, keeping in the tradition of conventional scores, with only Playground Love containing vocals performed by Gordon Tracks.

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Dunckel and Godin didn’t change their distinct sound and, as such, the soundtrack works as well as an Air album as it does as a score for the film.