I love a good soundtrack album. A good soundtrack album highlights the narrative of a movie. It provides a beat-by-beat visceral reminder of that movie’s significant moments, while bringing a contributing artist out of their self-enclosed zone and forcing them to create something to service a wider story, or at least to define a visual moment within their own, unique sound.
At their best, soundtrack albums can transcend the movie itself and provide a listening journey all their own, akin to a concept album of the highest water. The very best, for me, become an entity in their own right: you don’t have to watch the movie at all to appreciate the nuances, the narrative, and the emotional impact of the music within.
Here, then, are five of my favourites.
Five for Friday: Soundtrack Albums.
1. The Crow
A thunderous slice of industrial darkness to accompany one of the best comic book movies ever released. The movie is a shadow-drenched revenger’s tragedy filled with gallows humour and an overwhelming sense of despair highlighted by one, small, story of light and hope, with brilliant visuals from a director who has never been better. The soundtrack, curated with loving care by Emo poster God Trent Reznor, is a superb combination of covers, re-recordings and originals by bands that were close to the creative process of the original comic book. The Cure song Burn was the lead from the album, and the one most remembered, but I’m going to highlight the song that opened up a whole new fandom for me: the mad-as-fuck industrial After The Flesh, by the mad-as-fuck My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.
2. Purple Rain
Not only one of the best soundtrack albums ever recorded, but I doubt I’d get thrown out of any room for suggesting this is one of the best pop albums ever recorded, period. This is Prince at the height of his pop-funk fusion power: sexually intense, soulful, lyrically ambitious, and with a band so tight and perfectly attuned that every song on the album is a perfect slice of pop brilliance. The movie itself isn’t bad, but without this album it would be lost in a sea of mid-80s boy-meets-girl-in-an-electro-synth-teen-haze movies. The album will outlive memories of the film. It really is an utterly brilliant work from an artist at the height of his powers. When Doves Cry, the stand-out track, sat at number one on the charts for something like 486 years. I could highlight any of the other songs off the album, (Darling Nikki is a favourite) but fuck it: it’s too brilliant not to share.
3. Tank Girl
I make no bones about it: I love this glorious, B-grade failure of a movie. I love the original Tank Girl comics. I love Jamie Hewlett’s visuals. I have a crush a mile-wide on Lori Petty (this movie is the reason why I watched Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and went, “Meh”.) Hiring Courtney Love to put together the soundtrack was simply the most Tank Girl thing anybody could have done. And truth is, it bangs. Songs by Bjork, Devo, L7, Portishead, and more give it an absolute shitload of indie cred. The great centrepiece of the album, as indeed the movie, is a cynical, fuck-you reworking of Cole Porter’s Let’s Fall in Love by my lifelong-time rock crush Joan Jett, with Paul Westerberg. It’s wonderfully, psychotically loopy, just like the movie and the album producer who spawned it.
4. Rocky Horror Picture Show
It may not be the greatest movie of all time. But for those of us who have raced up and down the corridors of a midnight screening, covering our heads with newspaper and firing water pistols at each other; who have hurled buckets of confetti at the screen and time-warped out into a deserted car park at 3 in the morning dressed in fishnets and sou-westers, it will be remembered as one of the greatest movie experiences of all time. It’s the movie that defines cult, and the soundtrack– filled with perverse show-tune brilliance– is eternal. Think about this movie. Think about what goes on in it– the cannibalism, the gay sex, the cross-dressing, the brainwashing. And then think that almost every wedding since the mid-70s has featured the guests doing the Time Warp. That’s when we started to win the cultural war, my freaky friends.
5. Blues Brothers
Full confession: I think the movie is overrated. But the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, all blasting out career-defining songs (for many of us, this was our first taste of those artists), and all backed by a genuinely brilliant blues band, made up of the spine of Booker T & the MGs with some very choice additions, including the vastly underrated blues voices of Belushi and Aykroyd. There’s nothing fancy or tricky about this album. It’s just top-notch performers doing what they do best, on brilliantly penned numbers, with an unrestrained love and joy. And it swings. Hard.