In the past [the 70s, 80s, and 90s], movie soundtrack albums were often massive hits. It was common to see “The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” somewhere on the Billboard Charts. Soundtracks used to be a great marketing tie-in for film distribution. They were a lucrative joint-venture between film studios and record companies everywhere. One could buy the soundtrack album for a movie he enjoyed, pop that record on, and re-live that movie in his head. Music in and of itself is emotionally evocative. The ability of a song to elicit a particular emotion becomes even more pronounced if the auditory memory of a song is linked to a different sensory memory, such as an image or a scene in a movie. The combination of sound and sight amplifies the associated emotion more than either sense could accomplish on its own, and therein lay the brilliance of the soundtrack- it employs this emotional amplification to make not just the emotion, but the song and the scene, resonate in the minds of the audience, often for ever after.
We rarely see a soundtrack album in current times that really accomplishes what it used to. Disney’s “Frozen” is the only one in recent memory. Most movies now contain a current hit song in the trailer, but we also find that same song absent within the film. The trailer makes the consumer correlate the two (the song + the film), then when viewing the film the song is missing.
No question that film studios pay pretty pennies to license songs for the trailers and films themselves. It’s big business. Richard Linklater’s script for the 1993 film “Dazed & Confused” called for the opening scene to play along with Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.” They pulled that off, but paid an astronomical amount to do so. Just like the answer to most questions, the answer to ‘what happened to the movie soundtrack?’ is pretty easy to identify. Money. When film budgets are not allowing for music licensing, the soundtrack album dies a slow death.
Let’s take a look of some of the best soundtracks ever made. It will make you wonder – why is the soundtrack not a thing anymore?
What are some some of your favorite soundtracks? Feel free to comment and share your story.
The soundtrack didn’t contain a bunch of songs from a bunch of famous artists (thank God we didn’t have to endure another Kenny Loggins soundtrack song), but it was mostly original work. One can listen to that soundtrack and hear every song contained within the film and re-live the movie all over again.
“Forrest Gump” (1994)
This soundtrack is actually one of the highest-selling albums of all time and is currently even being re-released on colored vinyl for its 20th anniversary. There were no original songs other than the score. This compilation was a double album of some of the greatest rock, pop, and r & b ever made. I’ve always wondered why “Love Her Madly” and “Freebird” were left off of the album. Maybe they just ran out of space.
“I Am Sam” (2002)
This soundtrack could also be considered a tribute album to The Beatles. There are so many great artists covering Beatles tunes on this album; it’s a music lover’s dream. Have you ever heard Eddie Vedder sing “Hide Your Love Away?” Have you heard The Black Crowes do “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds?” Have you heard The Stereophonics harmonize “Don’t Let Me Down?” If you haven’t, then you better get yourself to a record store and pick this one up.
“Dirty Dancing” (1987)
It’s the film that warped the minds of white women in America from 1987 until the end of time. The soundtrack is the guilty pleasure of millions of men who will never admit they have belted out “Hungry Eyes” at the top of their lungs while driving on a lonely stretch of highway far from the peering eyes of drivers of other cars. “Love is Strange” and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” are the cornerstones of this album that still sells almost three decades later. 32 million copies sold is no joke.
“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino put together one of the most obscure collections of awesomeness musically that anyone had ever previously imagined in a soundtrack. The album itself contained audio clips of dialogue sequenced into the track list, so it makes the soundtrack somewhat of an audio guide through the plot of the movie. The album was a huge seller and made Kool and the Gang relevant again.
“Boogie Nights” (1997)
Combine porn, cocaine, and a little violence with all of the easy listening radio hits of the late 1970s and early 1980s and what you have is a massive hit. The soundtrack for this came in two volumes and captured everything contained within the film. We will never hear “Sister Christian” or “Jesse’s Girl” the same again.
“Saturday Night Fever” (1977)
OK, so if you’ve never heard the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive,” then you have probably been hiding in a cave in the Arctic for the past 35 years. This film and soundtrack marked the highest point of success for the Bee Gees as the album itself is mainly songs by them. However, let’s not forget “Boogie Shoes” by KC & the Sunshine Band. This album charted at Number 1 on the Billboard Charts for 24 straight weeks and remained on the charts for 120 weeks. In today’s world, that would be astounding.
“Empire Records” (1995)
The film was a box-office flop, but has now become a cult classic. (Rex Manning day anyone?) The soundtrack album, though not nearly containing every song contained within the film, was nothing less than outstanding. The soundtrack introduced the best song The Gin Blossoms ever wrote as well as a quirky hit from Edwyn Collins- “A Girl Like You.”
“Good Morning Vietnam” (1987)
The soundtrack album for this film captured the good times and the bad in a compilation of classic rock and r & b from 1965 and the following few years. Accompanying a film set in such a difficult situation, the Vietnam War, sounds from the Beach Boys and none other than Louis Armstrong himself make this album an absolute classic.
The story behind this soundtrack is so truly unique, something like this could rarely ever happen. This is an odd case where the soundtrack actually dictated getting the film released. It was that good and a way to actually sell and market a movie that the studio didn’t want to release. Tracks from bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Chris Cornell, the Screaming Tress, and the Smashing Pumpkins not only graced this soundtrack, but helped define a generation.
“Reality Bites” (1994)
It’s kind of like the previously mentioned “Singles,” but two years later, and much more poppy and snappy. This soundtrack was a huge hit in 1994 thanks to this album introducing the world to Lisa Loeb with “Stay (I Missed You).” What this film soundtrack also did was revitalize the old classic “My Sharona” by The Knack for a whole new generation of listeners.
“Dazed & Confused” (1993)
This two-volume soundtrack is not only a movie soundtrack, but it is the rock n’ roll soundtrack to anyone who came of age in the mid-1970s. From Foghat to Lynyrd Skynyrd, these two volumes would even be great if they had nothing to do with a film. One could give the two volumes to someone who had never heard rock and appropriately introduce him to the genre. They just don’t make them like this anymore.
“Purple Rain” (1984)
OK, so it’s really just another Prince record, but it also happens to be the soundtrack to the film starring Prince as himself. Yes, it sounds like something Kanye would do – but Prince has a bit more class and lot more talent to back it up. This album is as ’80s-small club’ as you can get and it burns all the way through from start to finish. It churned out hit single after hit single from “Darling Nikki” to one of the greatest classics of all time, “Purple Rain.”
“The Bodyguard” (1992)
“And Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” Ok we all know it. This soundtrack album from a simply awful movie gave us a cover of one of the most beautiful love songs every written performed in such a manner that only someone like Whitney Houston could have pulled off. 45 million copies. Think about that. 45 million people bought this whole album because that one single was that good. Anyone who says they hate the song is lying, because I bet they own it. I do.