Armchair Mogul’s Top 10 Movie Soundtracks of the Last 20 Years
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Sure, most movies generally have a “score” which will use music to accent the emotion and tone of the picture as it progresses. But… every once in a while… a movie will also use a bunch of music pulled from pop culture to do the same thing with even better results. When done correctly, a movie soundtrack can take the spirit of a group of pop songs and enhance the movie (and sometimes breathe new life into the songs themselves.)
We would like to take a moment to celebrate some of the most genius compilation soundtracks that have popped up in the ‘ol flickers shows in the last 20 years.
10. Singles (1992)
Two “Masters of the Soundtrack Genre” appear on this list, and the first one up is Cameron Crowe.
With a musical background, Crowe always seems to know EXACTLY what he wants the music to be in the picture. Stories have been thrown around of Cameron forgoing the “Director” mantle and just giving some of his actors mixed tapes with the songs that he was listening to when he wrote certain scenes.
The Singles movie and album had it’s pulse on the “Seattle Scene” in the early 90’s, and was not only a great movie, but (along with Reality Bites) was almost a documentary of where pulp culture was at the time. The movie also incorporated cameos from some of the artists on the soundtrack, including Alice In Chains playing in a club and Pearl Jam making up Matt Dillon’s faux band Citizen Dick.
Chris Cornell of Soundgarden saw a list of the Citizen Dick song’s titles which were completely made up to appear briefly in the film and then decided to pen songs to match each title. One of those songs, Seasons, appears on the film soundtrack. Another, Spoonman, was later recorded Soundgarden.
Singles is just one of those perfect marriages of cinema and music working seamlessly together.
Highlights: Alice In Chains – Would?, Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees, Breathe – Pearl Jam, Drown – Smashing Pumpkins
9. Snatch (2000)
One of the incredible things about Guy Ritchie’s “gangster movies” is they almost appear timeless. They are shot and written in a way that appears to be the modern day, but the ancient, dirty, and gritty underworlds that backdrop the films make it hard to suss out when they are taking place.
Mirroring that process, Ritchie’s genius in song choices meld together contemporary “techno rock” right along side classic acts like James Brown and The Specials.
The tone of his movies are ‘dirty and gritty,’ and the use of the ‘dirty and gritty’ music along with the visuals blend perfectly.
The opening song to the movie Snatch has tones and sound effects that drive a beat that almost mirrors your heart rate as the song escalates…
Highlights: Overseer – Supermoves, The Stranglers – Golden Brown, The Specials – Ghost Town, Mirwais – Disco Science, Massive Attack – Angel, Piano Smith and The Clowns – Don’t You Just Know It
8. The Matrix (1999)
In true “perfect soundtrack” fashion, certain parts of this film would have been nowhere near as good without the Wachowski’s specific song choices. The Matrix had an incredible blend of old school movie score wrapping seamlessly into the harder modern techno music of the time.
How do you mix the story of technology and violence wrapped up in the style of rock n’ roll? You pick selections from the sub-genre of Techno/Metal like Prodigy, Rammstien, Rob Zombie, and Marylin Manson that was thriving around the turn of the century.
The movie’s scenes are married so beautifully with the visuals they are almost inseparable. Imagine the ‘lobby scene’ without The Propellerheads – Spybreak pounding in the background (jump about 1:00 in)
or The Matrix “Explanation” scene without Rob D’s Clubbed to Death?
The Matrix is one of the defining moments of pop-culture at the time, and the soundtrack is one of the defining moments of the film.
Highlights: Spybreak – The Propellerheads, Clubbed to Death – Rob D, Wake Up – Rage Against The Machine, Leave You Far Behind – Lunatic Calm
7. Across The Universe (2007)
How do you expand upon The Beatles music catalog? Most people would say “You don’t, leave it alone!” However…
Predating the “Glee” model of using pop songs to move a story, Across the Universe is an amalgam of beautiful imagery, incredible music and historical fiction.
Across The Universe uses The Beatles music as the perfect narrative of the chaos of the 60’s. The movie goes from the sugar-coated early 60s to the completely drug addled and political late 60’s.
For example: ATU uses songs like Happiness is a Warm Gun to show the struggle of drug addicted and wounded Vietnam vets as the try to acclimate back into life here in the States.
The movie even takes some of the lesser known Beatles songs like I’ve Just Seen a Face and gives a fresh perspective, breathing new life into the song itself, thus making its way onto our list!
Highlights: Girl, Happiness is a Warm Gun, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Helter Skelter
6. Almost Famous (2000)
One of the perfect definitions of a Soundtrack breathing new life into a song…
I’m not sure many people of our generation knew the first thing about Elton John’s Tiny Dancer before this movie.
This is the second soundtrack on this list from our buddy Cameron Crowe, from the movie Almost Famous (loosely based on his time on the road with bands in the 70’s.)
According to IMDB… “The film is director Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical account of life as a young Rolling Stone reporter. The actual group that Crowe first toured with was The Allman Brothers (Gregg Allman was the one who distrusted him and kept asking if he was a narc.) Crowe’s real-life near-fatal plane crash happened while traveling with The Who. The character of Russell Hammond is based on Glenn Fry from the Eagles.”
This compilation takes songs from that time and gives us new memories to associate with them.
Highlights: Tiny Dancer – Elton John, Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrd, That’s The Way – Led Zeppelin
5. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
What gives Grosse Pointe Blank it’s charm is the the plot revolves around a hitman coming back to his small town 1986 High School reunion. This gives the viewer a bit of nostalgia, along with a little bit of that 90’s darkness… thus opening us up for tracks by The Violent Femmes and English Beat.
Even though the score of the movie deserves some pop music props (composed by The Clash’s Joe Strummer) the compilation album is the perfect mix of late 80’s music for those that weren’t listening to Whitney Huston.
Highlights: Violent Femmes – Blister in the Sun, The Clash – Rudie Can’t Fail, English Beat – Mirror In the Bathroom, Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure
4. Garden State (2004)
One of the greatest things about Zach Braff’s incredible writing/directorial debut Garden State was the eclectic soundtrack. Each individual song was hand picked by Braff … Quote: “Essentially, I made a mix CD with all of the music that I felt was scoring my life at the time I was writing the screenplay.” It was a labor of love, and proved to be difficult to get all the songs due to the small budget of the film, but he felt so strongly about the music that he sent a mix CD of the music along to each studio with the screenplay when shopping it around.
Braff went on to win a Grammy award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for his work with it.
Songs like Zero 7’s In the Waiting Line seemed to be almost written for particular scenes in the movie. Frou Frou’s Let Go features lyrics that seem to be almost plucked directly from the screenplay itself. “Let go, jump in, what are you waiting for? It’s alright because there is beauty in the breakdown.”
Highlights: Let go – Frou Frou, Don’t Panic – Coldplay, In The Waiting Line – Zero 7, One of These First – Nick Drake
3. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The story of the soundtrack to The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou? almost defies logic.
This ol’ timey mix of bluegrass, country, blues and folk music from the Great Depression went on to win 3 Grammys, including the 2001 Album of the Year, it has been certified eight times platinum, was included in the CMT’s 40 Greatest Albums in Country Music and NPR has included it as one of “The Decade’s Most Important Recordings.”
How music from that era fit so perfectly into modern pop culture is almost unexplainable, but it is 100% true. It was the perfect mix of period music with the off kilter narrative of the Coen Brothers that took you directly to that time and kept you there for well after you left the theatre. It was a masterpiece of compilation, and deserves every award it gets.
Highlights: Dan Tyminski – Man of Constant Sorrow, Alison Krauss – Down to the River to Pray , Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch – Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby, Fairfield Four – Lonesome Valley
Old timey, darn tootin’ hillbillies from the Great Depression cuttin’a rug! All the trappings of an 8 times platinum pop album!
2. The Crow (1994)
One of the quintessential soundtracks of the 90’s, The Crow brought us one of the last ‘modern’ compilations that wasn’t just another thrown together mess hoping to “highlight the record companies investments.”
Not only do the songs fit the tone of the movie to perfectly, a lot of the songs were written and or/preformed by bands that directly influenced the comic book’s creator J. O’Barr.
O’Barr included lyrics by The Cure and Joy Division in the original comic. Some bands even returned the favor by writing in words from the book.
“Don’t look! Don’t look!” the shadows breathe. Whispering me away from you.”
– Track 1. “Burn” – The Cure
The movie seamlessly incorporated some of the actual bands (My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Medicine) performing the songs in a club scene during the movie, without compromising the tone of the film by using the more popular acts such as Nine Inch Nails or Stone Temple Pilots. The Crow’s soundtrack stands as a testament to what a soundtrack should be …inspired by, … incorporated in …and enhanced because of.
Highlights: Burn – The Cure, Dead Souls – NIN, The Big Empty – STP, Golgotha Tenement Blues – Machines of Loving Grace, After the Flesh – My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Very rarely does a movie come along that transforms ALL other memories of songs that have existed for decades.
‘Movie Soundtrack Master Number 1’ Quentin Tarantino excels at making the viewer think that he somehow commissioned the musicians 20 years earlier to write a song for his movie. Most times, songs like Miserlou, Jungle Boogie, Flowers on the Wall, or Let’s Stay Together can’t be heard without the need to quote Pulp Fiction over-top of them.
Just as he had destroyed the memory of the sugary pop Stuck in the Middle With You for most of us in the early 90’s with Reservoir Dogs, he COMPLETELY ruined all hope of The Revel’s Comanche being associated with anything but a certain gimp and a basement.
Tarantino is one of the undisputed masters of the movie soundtrack, and for this, we give him the number one spot. Cheers QT, thanks for pleasuring on more of our senses than you had to!
Highlights: The entire frickin’ thing.
Here’s an added bonus just because…
Honorable Mention: Forrest Gump (1994)
Some of you might be saying “WHAT? Why is this not Number 1? Forrest Gump is the greatest soundtrack of all time!
First of all, put the axe handle down, we love it too. Now, with that said, aside from being just an amazing compilation of old songs to play at a party, does this soundtrack bring anything new and fresh to the songs that hadn’t been there before? Forrest Gump’s musical soundtrack is used more like a “Okay, we’re in the 60’s now… now we’re in the 70’s” type of narrative that enhances the scenes, but it doesn’t bring any new perspective to the songs that say a Pulp Fiction or an Almost Famous did. We love it enough to give it an honorable mention though. 🙂
What do you think Moguls? Did we nail it …or are we complete morons? What soundtracks would you have included or excluded?