I Love a Good Soundtrack

21 February 2018


Once upon a time, Shazam did not exist; iPhones did not exist, and internet access was not just a pocketdial away. This was an archaic time, a time when you called a phone number to hear what movies were showing in your area (770-333-3456 for Atlanta), and Moviefone made you wait patiently for those titles at the end of the alphabet - those showtimes were always listed last, and unless you had extra daytime minutes to spare, you saved that call for nights and weekends.

Background Info
This was the movie-going era in which I came of age - when I started crafting my own opinions on different genres (Horror? Yes! Sci-Fi? Bleh.) and making sense of all the elements that factor into a great film: cinematography, editing, script, direction, score/soundtrack, acting, et cetera. Often times, I find the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The acting may be phenomenal, but the narrative makes no sense (looking at you, Tarentino), or the cinematography and editing are flawless but the character development falls flat. The part that has always grabbed my attention most and, quite frankly, acts as glue for all these components is the music.

If the movie is a three-layer cake, the score and soundtrack are the icing in the middle of each layer and the part that smooths it all together on the outside. Sharp, dissonant notes are singlehandedly responsible for every cheap jump-scare in most scary movies, and if it were not for that stringed background track weaving its way around your heart during those sad scenes, nobody would ever have cried during The Notebook (2004).

In my opinion, a good score complements the story like a shadow: sometimes you forget it is there, but it should definitely be there. On the other hand, the soundtrack of a movie has always been more in-your-face (ears) for me. The first soundtrack I ever owned was the Pocahontas Soundtrack; my age was still in the single digits. I asked my dad to buy me the movie, so he requested our local Blockbuster Video order a copy (am I showing my real age yet?), but they accidentally ordered the soundtrack instead, so I just kept it. It was also the first CD I ever owned, and I wore that thing out, casting all my cassette tapes aside in favor of those Disney-inspired melodies. When adolescence hit, I became too cool for such childish things and moved on, as one does.

Fast Forward
I was re-triggered some years later, like someone had flipped a switch in my brain. I distinctly remember sitting at the end of Seven Pounds (2008) to find the name of the artist who covered Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" in an earlier scene - it was Muse, and their cover is still one of my favorites. This was during the aforementioned pre-Shazam era, before post-credit scenes were made popular by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I became the weirdo who had to wait until the very last of the credits rolled to find the name of a song I heard during a movie, and whomever I was with had to patiently wait with me, because it was that serious, and that's where the song credits appear: at the absolute very end.
🙃

Before that, if I was at home and heard a song on tv, I would write down a few of the lyrics and Google them later, from our desktop computer, using dial-up. DIAL. UP. Needless to say, it was a tedious process. It is thankfully much easier now. I still Google the lyrics, but from my handy-dandy cellular device, like how I did in this instance.

So, yeah. Songs in movies have always been a big deal for me. It lowkey sparked my interest in writing because while I do love stories, I especially love a song that tells a good story, particularly when paired well in film. Film storytelling is infinitely better when matched with good music: circular reasoning case closed.

Guardians of the Galaxy
These days, I always notice the music in a movie, even when I am not trying. More recently, after being dragged to yet another superhero movie by my SO, I sank my teeth into one of my favorite soundtracks to date: Awesome Mix Vol. 1.



Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was good and all, but those songs woven into the each critical moment really had me going. I leaned over to J. multiple times during the movie and told him how much I was digging the soundtrack, and he nodded in agreement but mostly brushed it off.

When I got home that evening, I tried to find the playlist on Spotify, but all I could find was the score, which is vastly different and not something to which I could jam out in my car. I ended up piecing the individual songs together in my own playlist, one by one.


Every song took me back to a place in time I have never experienced, while at the same time transporting me to fictional galaxy in an alternate universe. It made me appreciate the movie more than I had ever appreciated any Marvel film, and it definitely helped make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Pairing songs by Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5 with tunes from The Runaways and David Bowie would make absolutely no sense in any other movie, but in GOTG, it worked perfectly.

Mainstream Popularity
Once officially released, Awesome Mix Vol. 1 went on to top Billboard charts and become one of the best-selling soundtracks in recent history. I may be wrong, but I cannot recall another soundtrack from a non-animated, non-musical film performing that well since The Bodyguard soundtrack dropped in the 90's. I would verify these assertions if this were an accredited publication, but this is a personal blog, so my unsubstantiated claims will suffice.

These days I notice more and more movies using Top 40 hits alongside their narratives, even in smaller, character-driven (versus action-driven) titles like Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), for example. It received a limited theater release and only ran for about three weeks. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to see a Denzel movie on opening weekend, and while I was hardly blown away by the storyline, I did find myself bobbing my head and humming along to Baby Boy” by Childish Gambino and Keep on Truckin'” by Eddie Kendricks. Even J. said something about the music when we left the theater, so I am clearly (and proudly) rubbing off on him.

Nylon Magazine recently published an article on the Black Panther Soundtrack and the evolution of popular music "curation" in movies, which is what sparked the inspiration for my own thinkpiece. There is a trend forming. More and more EPs bring on a musical curator in place of - or in conjunction with - a music producer. I notice a shift with movie trailers as well. The editing is more finely tailored to the music for greater impact, especially with action sequences.

In case it is unclear by this thousand+ word essay, I love a good soundtrack, and I look forward to its continued evolution.



Credits:
record photo source »»
awesome mix photo sources »»
iconic, local moviefone phone number recalled by my dear friend Ashley
(it was always a pleasure going to the movies with you!)

6 comments

  1. You have changed the way I'll listen to movies forever! I don't think I've ever really paid much attention to the soundtracks. I mean, I hear them but that's about it. Black Panther is the first time I've really been like oohhh this is something special. Makes me want to go back and listen to others. Really enjoyed this!

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    1. Thank you for reading! I hope I can keep spreading the appreciation for good music in movies. ❤️

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  2. I absolutely loved BOTH of these soundtracks. Loved how they were sequenced, especially for 'Black Panther'. I would also add Baby Driver. That soundtrack is a-mazing.

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    Replies
    1. Never got around to watching Baby Driver, but now i’ll add it to my watch-list. Thanks for the recommendation! My ears can hardly wait.

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    2. The Black Panther soundtrack was absolutely everything!

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    3. i'm already tired of it. J has been playing it nonstop, and if i hear SZA's hook on 'all the stars' ONE MO' TIME...

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