We have selected ten great-sounding movie soundtrack albums. Music that works with or without the movie.
There are two kinds of soundtrack album. There are compilation albums of songs used in a film – the Trainspotting album is a great example of this – and then there is the purposely written score, usually by a single composer and recorded specially for the film. Plus there are occasional exceptions to this rule, such as the Blues Brothers album.
For the purposes of Hi-Fi quality, the compilation or Jukebox approach can be problematic. A compilation of tracks by different artists, recorded using different processes, studios and producers can make for a messy listening experience. However, they can also be incredibly powerful documents of not only a movie, but also a time. This is particularly the case with Trainspotting, but also with Pulp Fiction for different reasons: Trainspotting is full of contemporary era-defining music; Pulp Fiction’s collection of classic tracks was completely unavoidable at the time of release!
The score approach usually offers a much more homogenous sound, and is all the better for that. The only downside with these albums, is that it can sometimes be a bit hit-and-miss in terms of the occasional incidental pieces of music that are included. These can jar, especially if you are used to listening to complete classical works.
The albums we have chosen here all sound fantastic, and we feel are worthy of your attention even when not watching the movie.
A truly great soundtrack can stand apart from the film that it was written for; Paris, Texas is such a piece. It is an absolute classic album, beautifully recorded and wonderfully performed. The fact that it stands up on its own is even more amazing when you consider that the longest track on it is a nine-minute double-handed conversation from the film. But it is so well-acted and beautifully written by Sam Shepard that it is musical in itself, even before Ry Cooder’s wonderful guitar playing adds to the heart-breaking beauty half-way through.
This is one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, and thanks to a clever smattering of classic tracks from Iggy Pop, Brian Eno and Lou Reed it manages to be both representative of its time – the mid-1990s – and completely timeless. The production values – and volume levels – can be a little hit and miss, and you may need to watch those controls, but this evocative collection will immediately take you back to the film and to the time it was released.
Cards on the table, we could have picked any one of a number of excellent Bernard Hermann soundtracks, but his dark and haunting score for Taxi Driver won out in the end. You can almost feel New York breathing in the ebb and flow of the brass in this amazing work. The only complaint, and we are being picky here, is that as a ‘proper’ soundtrack there are some shorter incidental pieces here. That you are just left wishing they went on a little longer at times.
If you think you know the Monkees, think again. Rather than the manufactured band of TV series fame, this incredibly trippy movie soundtrack is the work of a highly creative group in full swing – with help from song writing masters Carole King and Harry Nilsson. Okay, so at times it goes off the rails a bit, but tracks such as the Porpoise Song, Circle Sky and Can You Dig It are well worth the occasional ‘what the hell was that?’ moment.
Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Nick Cave and his primary Bad Seeds collaborator Warren Ellis are ploughing themselves an incredibly prolific soundtrack niche, and this is the best of them so far. This moving soundtrack perfectly complements the wide-open nature of this amazing Western, and in its wonderful simplicity – often using just piano and violin – it is a breath-taking listen. The recording is very good, too, with plenty of space and resolution for you to enjoy.
This soundtrack is completely inseparable from the film it comes from; which is no bad thing. Tarantino’s amazing ear for music and dialogue combine wonderfully here, with classic tracks interspersed with iconic excerpts from the movie. Like Trainspotting, it also allowed some classic tracks to reappear in the public consciousness, not least of which are Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man and Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell.
Across 110th Street
Bobby Womack and JJ Johnson
This blisteringly soulful soundtrack perfectly encapsulates the era from which it comes. The title track is incredibly well known – and has been used in a number of films since – but the rest of the album stands the test of time wonderfully, too. Whether its the Bobby Womack tracks or the instrumental pieces by Jazz trombonist JJ Johnson, it won’t let you down.
The Blues Brothers
Great film, incredible soundtrack. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi may have been comedians, but by putting togther a backing band with the likes of Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve Cropper in its ranks they managed to become one of the hottest blues outfits ever! Add in bonus tracks from Ray Charles, James Brown and Aretha Franklin and you are in for a completely uplifting sonic experience.
This is more than just a sensational soundtrack to an amazing film, it is also an incredibly important work in the history of electronic music. Odd then, that the album wasn’t released until 12 years after the movie’s release. This magical, mysterious, synth-laden recording still sounds extraordinary today. Wide open, dark and beautiful, this is a fantastic listening experience with or without the film.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
If this soundtrack only contained the main title theme it would still be on this list as one of the greatest, most evocative opening piece of film music ever. Wonderful instrumentation, a massed choir, and an incredible sense of the drama and action to come make for a spine-tingling listening experience. But the rest of the soundtrack doesn’t let up with the likes of the beautiful Ecstasy of Gold and the amazing Story of a Solider particularly standing out from the pack.