OUR TOP 10 MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS

~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 22nd 2014

Writing about the Coen Brothers’ "Inside Llewyn Davis" (above) in the current issue, I proposed that film soundtrack albums tend to gather dust after a year or so. Much to my relief, the readers who responded agreed with me, but not without mentioning the exceptions that prove the rule. One reader, Bee Sutton, chose the soundtracks of Jean-Jacques Beineix's "Diva" and Wim Wenders' "To the End of the World". Another, Christian Wilhelm Mäsing, generously offered his top ten:

1. "Schindler's List"
2. "Gladiator"
3. "Shogun"
4. "Casino"
5. "The Russia House"
6. "Lawrence of Arabia"
7. "Crimson Tide"
8. "Portrait of a Lady"
9. "You Only Live Twice"
10. "Studio 54"

One top ten deserves another. At the risk of contradicting my own premise, here is mine—not of the Greatest Film Soundtrack Albums In The World...Ever, but of the ones which most often make it onto my iPod and CD players. First, there's the Coen Brothers/T-Bone Burnett soundtrack cited in my original article, (1) "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", a treasure trove of new and vintage recordings. Second, I have small children, so (2) "I Wan'na Be Like You" is a car-journey staple—and very enjoyable it is, too. One thing that "Saving Mr Banks" did right was to pay homage to the genius of Disney's great songwriters, the Sherman Brothers.

 It would be cheating to include any more musicals, but I'll throw in (3) "The Wicker Man", which has enough of Paul Giovanni's spine-tingling folk ballads to count as a musical in disguise. Another semi-musical, (4) "There's Something about Mary", is punctuated with tracks by Jonathan Richman, my all-time favourite singer-songwriter. Alas, the soundtrack album is one of those fraudulent "Music From And Inspired By" jobs which don't feature much of the actual soundtrack, but Richman's contributions are enough to keep me playing it.

I don't usually put on the soundtracks of individual (5) Bond films, but my CD of the first 20 theme songs is guaranteed to start conversations and/or singalongs at parties. And if "Thunderball" gets me in a Tom Jones mood, Burt Bacharach's (6) "What's New Pussycat?" is an irresistibly bizarre combination of yomping bierkeller silliness and jazzy, bachelor-pad sophistication. Put on Angelo Badalamenti's (7) sepulchral "Mulholland Drive", though, and the party's over.

I'd also include Ennio Morricone's (8) "Dollars" trilogy, even if it encompasses three separate film soundtracks, as well as Carl Davis's monumental (9) "The Silents", even if it has excerpts from 17—all composed several decades after the silent movies they accompany.

It's only fair to end with (10) "Reservoir Dogs", which reinvented the soundtrack album as a super-cool mix-tape of dialogue snippets and funk rarities. Whatever you think of Quentin Tarantino's writing and directing, he’s got quite some record collection.

Nicholas Barber previews films for Intelligent Life