Music in the movies: the 10 finest non-score soundtracks

In this week's Music in the Movies, we pick out ten of cinema's finest non-score soundtracks...

Having focused mainly on scores in this column, I thought I’d turn my attention to soundtracks that consist mainly of sourced material. I’ve chose some of my favourites, and also asked some Den of Geek ‘s writers to suggest a few choices of their own. And just to make the list a little more balanced, I’ve made sure to only choose one film per director…A Life Less OrdinaryNominated by N P Horton

I originally intended to include Trainspotting in this article, but I decided to ask my followers on Twitter (comprising largely of DoG writers) to nominate their favourite scores, and this was Mr Horton’s. So given that I wanted to include only one film per filmmaker, out went Trainspotting, and in came A Life Less Ordinary.

Ash’s titular track is without doubt the one that springs to mind when discussing the film, and quite rightly so, as it’s rather ace. But the soundtrack as a whole is excellent, with not a weak track to be found. A mixture of songs from the time of the film’s release sit alongside classics from the likes of Bobby Darrin and Elvis Presley. It’s understandable how some, including Nick, would argue its superiority over the soundtrack to Trainspotting.Fear And Loathing In Las VegasNominated by James Clayton

Fear And Loathing has long been a favourite of mine, so I’m pleased that James prompted me to include it in this piece. The song selection perfectly complements the moods elicited in the film, and the accompanying soundtrack is sequenced in such a way that you’re taken on a similar trip while listening to it away from the film.

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Generally, any soundtrack that features the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan and the Dead Kennedys is going to be a winner for me, but tracks such as Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over The Line and Debbie Reynolds’ Tammy recall key moments from the film, and as such, make an excellent contribution to a soundtrack that acts as a brilliant mix tape.High FidelityNominated by Michael Leader

Perhaps the king of modern movie soundtracks. So much so, that a single soundtrack release couldn’t contain the sheer amount of great music included in the film. It’s appropriate that a film that’s so devoted to music geekery should have such an extensive and great soundtrack, mixing pop hits with nice obscurities.

I won’t go into too much detail here regarding my love of the film and its music. Instead, I will direct you to a piece I wrote last year, which includes the top five reasons why I love the film, as well as my pick of the top five songs that feature in it.

Grosse Point BlankNominated by Harry Slater

Another film starring John Cusack that features an amazing soundtrack (it could have easily have been three if I’d opted for Say Anything as my Cameron Crowe choice). Like many of the other selections here, this is like a great mix tape, with the song choices complementing one another perfectly. And importantly, it sticks fairly rigidly to a theme for the most part, with many of the songs representing what the characters would have listened to while at high school.

Let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with a soundtrack that features Violent Femmes, The Specials and The Clash, and come to think of it, there isn’t really a weak song on here. There are two volumes of the Grosse Point Blank soundtrack available, and both are well worth picking up.

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FootlooseNominated by Carley Tauchert

If I’m being perfectly honest, I could see an argument for dancing being outlawed. This may either be due to the fact that I’m rhythmically challenged, or that I’m quite grumpy, but dancing really isn’t my thing at all. That said, though, I really like music – go figure.

Now that fascinating intro is out of the way, on to the soundtrack. The title single by Kenny Loggins, and Deniece Williams’ Let’s Hear It For the Boy both topped the charts, and a further four songs also charted. This is a hugely impressive achievement, and testament to how popular the film was with audiences in 1984. It’s certainly one of the best soundtracks of the 80s.

American Graffiti

George Lucas’ American Graffiti doesn’t get the exposure that his other films do, but it’s still a great one, nonetheless. The double disc soundtrack featuring forty-one tracks of 60s pop goodness is an absolute delight, and there’s barely a bad moment in the one hundred minute runtime.

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Focusing on early rock ‘n’ roll hits, most of the big names are present, and Elvis is the only major big hitter missing. The only complaint that I have with the collection is that a number of the tracks feature a vocal introduction, which is a little unnecessary in my opinion. Nevertheless, this is a superb soundtrack from a superb film.

Singles

For Singles, writer and director Cameron Crowe really captured the zeitgeist. Released in the summer of 1992, his homage to his hometown of Seattle and its growth couldn’t have been timed any better. This was the time when the bands from that city, and many other alternative scenes across America, broke into the mainstream.

I owned the soundtrack for Singles long before I saw the film. The main draw was the unreleased Pearl Jam tracks State Of Love And Trust and Breath, and Drown by the Smashing Pumpkins. After listening to the album steadily for some months, I ended up purchasing albums by nearly all of the artists featured on it.

There’s some Replacements action here as well, with the first two solo tracks from their front man Paul Westerberg, Dyslexic Heart and Waiting For Somebody. Lyrically, it’s not a million miles away from much of the material he produced with his former band, but musically, it’s more overtly reminiscent of the Beatles than his previous material.

This really is one of the finest soundtracks, not only of the 90s, but of all time. There’s not a wasted track here, and the songs perfectly complement each other. The collection still stands up today, even if the same can’t be said for many of the bands featured.

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Pulp Fiction

Tarantino’s second feature as writer and director was produced on a modest budget, became an international smash that ended up being one of the biggest films of 1994, and one of the most influential of the decade.

A film that launched and re-launched the careers of many of those involved, it still stands up as a classic of cinema to this day, and hasn’t dated a bit in the sixteen years since its release. One of the few films that I re-watched immediately after my first viewing, it had a huge impact on me when I first watched it in my early teens.

The soundtrack to the film also proved to be hugely successful. It’s incredibly eclectic, but each song used is perfect for the scene in which it features, and works perfectly as a standalone listen. It’s a great experience.

It’s difficult to pick a highlight here, but I’m going to limit myself to one, which has to be Urge Overkill’s Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon, which plays out as Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace mistakes the heroin in Vincent Vega’s coat for cocaine – a mistake that almost proves to be fatal.

I was familiar with Neil Diamond’s original, and it was a song that I liked a great deal before I saw the movie, but I think this is one of those occasions where a cover improves on the original. It’s a straight cover, but it suits Urge Overkill’s style perfectly. Their take on the song was originally released on the band’s Stull EP from 1992.

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Raging Bull

This film boasts a great soundtrack that shows an immense level of attention to detail and consideration, to ensure that the music reflects what would have been heard around the time in which the movie is set. Scorsese was assisted by The Band (who were the subject of The Last Waltz) guitarist Robbie Robertson, who also provides some instrumental pieces for the film.

The one piece of music that stands out from all the others is, of course,  Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, which is the closest the film has to a theme. I remember being blown away by the use of the track and how it complemented the imagery on screen when I first saw the film, and it’s now impossible for me not to think of Raging Bull when I hear it elsewhere. Out of all the great choices of music in Scorsese’s movies, this is my favourite.

Due to licensing difficulties, the soundtrack wasn’t available for purchase until twenty-five years after the film’s release. The two-disc set, with a run time of over two hours, is incredibly good value, offering listeners both quantity and quality.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Anderson’s 2001 movie about a talented yet dysfunctional family is my favourite of all his movies, and also boasts an amazing ensemble cast. Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson (as with the previous two films), the film has a dark, sometimes absurd sense of humour running through it, as well as moments that are incredibly bleak.

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The score was again provided by Mark Mothersbaugh, but as was the case with Rushmore, it focuses more on recorded material from a number of major recording artists. The film is packed with excellent musical cues, and there are a number of amazing scenes that are enhanced as a result.

When I first saw this at the cinema, I could tell that I was going to love the movie, based solely on the title sequence with The Mutato Muzika Orchestra’s version of Hey Jude.

It’s tricky to pick one standout musical moment from the film, and I’ve rewritten this section a number of times, scrapping Elliott Smith’s Needle In The Hay accompanying Richie’s (Luke Wilson) attempted suicide, and the combo of She Smiled Sweetly and Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones when Richie and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) escape together.

Instead, I have opted for Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard by Paul Simon, which accompanies the montage where Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) takes his grandchildren Ari and Uzi on a day out they’ll never forget. It never fails to raise a smile.

So, there are some of our favourites. Feel free to provide yours below! Do note, though, that The Blues Brothers is a deliberate omission, since we’ll be covering it in a future edition of Music in the Movies.

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