July 28, 2008

Soundtracks Are Going Silent...

Sometime around the peak of the buzz for The Dark Knight (and I promise, I'm not trying to keep buzz alive with all of these posts), I remembered that one of the biggest hit songs of 1995 was Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" from the Batman Forever soundtrack (check out the full track listing). Remember this video? Bizarre in hindsight, isn't it? Especially compared to the last two Batman movies.

Anyway, this morning I came across this BBC News article about the decreasing trend of using pop songs as movie themes. It doesn't necessarily mean that soundtracks are on the downfall and there aren't any more "Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture" albums, but iconic, Oscar winning theme songs by major artists really aren't that common anymore. Evidence? Compare the 90's nominees and winners (especially the early 90's - Bryan Adams, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John) with the nominees and winners from the last few years, and note the rise of musicals since 2000.

Personally, I think it's kind of sad. My memories from a number of older movies are linked to hit singles, and I never viewed them as marketing gimmicks that cheapened the movie, especially if they were just used during the credits or for music videos. (On the other side of the coin, I'm going to be debuting a new video clip feature next week where I regularly highlight some scenes that feature the perfect song at the perfect moment.)

What are your thoughts on the article, or about your favorite movie themes by major artists? What was the last great soundtrack featuring a compilation of stars, and is the declining trend good, bad, or meaningless?


  1. Like you, I too grew up in the hit soundtrack era, but now that I'm older, I really appreciate scores more than songs. What would all those Hitchcock movies be without Bernard Hermann and what would the Joker be without his theme music in Dark Knight?

  2. I have to say I disagree...when a good song is used well in a film, it's awesome, but I always found those "music from and/or inspired by the motion picture" albums pretty annoying. It's one thing to accent a film with just the right song, but nine times out of ten, it always felt they were putting the flavor-of-the-month artist into it in order to sell more tickets and merchandise (which I can't really fault them for...but that doesn't mean I have to like it).

  3. I was in my early teens when The Wedding Singer came out and I remember buying BOTH soundtracks they released (like they did with Dazed and Confused) and loving them so much.

    I can't remember the last time I bought a soundtrack. Or even downloaded one.

    Oh Daniel, I nominated you for the Lazy Eye Theatre 12 Movie Meme, just thought you should know.


  4. Well, there is a difference between the 'music inspired by' soundtracks and the Dazed and Confused or anything by Tarantino soundtracks, that just recycled songs appropriate or not for their subject matter.

  5. For the most part I vastly prefer the score over the 'inspired by' music.

  6. Songs in films were the rage in the 1970's, although the cheesy pop hits aimed at defining character, often pointed out what was terribly wrong with the film. The ballad "Jean" that appeared in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and the syrapy standards in the otherwise superb I NEVER SAND FOR MY FATHER are some examples.
    Songs can be effectively used though, as they were in AMERICAN TEEN and in such classics like GOOD FELLAS, where eriod hits were employed, but the recent age has tilted decisively towarde the synphonic score, which at least boasts originality and an entire transcriptive level of its own.

  7. Great comments. Let me just clarify one thing first of all - I should have been more clear that I'm mostly disappointed about the decline in straight theme songs, not songs that were necessarily used in the movie - does that make sense? Take last year's Oscar nominees - "Falling Slowly" wasn't really a theme song, nor were any of the songs from Enchanted. Even Eddie Vedder's songs for Into the Wild aren't really "theme songs". I'm talking more along the lines of "Down to Earth" by Peter Gabriel for Wall-E. THAT'S the kind of song that I'm missing. Hope that makes sense.

    Mike (and Joseph), I totally get what you're saying, and you're right that it has to do with maturing a little bit in your film viewing. The score (or lack of one - No Country for Old Men) can make the movie. I even appreciate the old John Williams scores more these days. Also, Mike, you make a great distinction between songs being featured in movies and songs being written for movies.

    Luke, I will agree that they usually picked the hot pop star of the moment, and that's a fair criticism. Of course, wasn't pop music a lot better 15 years ago? Compare the stars I mentioned to today's crew. Maybe we're actually lucky that Miley Cyrus didn't get the rights to The Dark Knight soundtrack...(whoops, broke my own rule - she can only be mentioned in relation to the OSCARS).

    Thanks, Scott. I'm still catching up on everybody's posts from being gone over the weekend! I'll try to get it together ASAP. Yeah, I haven't bought a soundtrack in a while either. A couple good ones last year but nothing like the Romeo and Juliet-inspired by soundtrack.

    Sam, not having seen those 70's movies I'll have to take your word for it, and I agree that the shift score is opening the door for some new styles, like Jonny Greenwood's or Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain).

    So nobody appears to deny that original hits by major artists are declining - but does anyone know why? I guess I would have to say that there are no legit pop icons around to do it.

  8. I don't miss "theme" songs so much - very few of my favorite soundtracks feature that type of song. I love a great compilation that doesn't feel too commercialized, like the Dazed/Tarantino mentions. A great pretty recent example of that type would be Snatch - love that soundtrack.

    By the way, was "Kiss From a Rose" really inspired by Batman Forever? I don't believe the lyrics have anything to do with the movie, I think they just put the song in the soundtrack before it got released as a single outside of the film.

  9. I think if you look at the list of title songs from the James Bond franchise (as opposed to the general Bond theme), you'll see how much we're missing now.

    Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger", Duran Duran's "A View To A Kill", Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice", Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die", Tina Turner's "Goldeneye", Carly Simon's "Nobody Does it Better", and Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only".

    These are all great songs written or performed by great artists of their day. I can think of many more from other eras as well, for example, "A Certain Smile," sung by Johnny Mathis and the wordless "Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind. I don't know if I could even separate the music from the songs and, indeed, I only know about A Certain Smile as a movie because of the hit song, which my mother had a recording of.

  10. Good call on Snatch, Fletch. I don't really know about "Kiss From a Rose" - does anybody even know what it's about? It seems kind of funny in that video. You're right that it was on Seal's album at the time, so maybe it was an anomaly.

    Wow, Marilyn, I totally forgot about the Bond songs - those are great examples. The last one, Casino Royale, was done by Chris Cornell, an established rocker but not a household name in most places. I've seen names like Amy Winehouse and Alicia Keys kicked around in relation to Quantum of Solace, so we'll see.

    I have the same nostalgia as you do about some songs, though no surprise - most of mine are from the 80's.

  11. For me, I think music and film go hand in hand. Be it a memorable score, a befitting soundtrack, whatever, if it's good I like it. These days, there are better songs featured in films, or at least songs that I am into – thanks to the indie crowd, but less good theme songs.

    But yeah, "Down to Earth" is definitely a great indication of a good [modern] theme song. I'm not to keen on theme songs unless they hit me really hard. I know that's selfish, but whatever.

    Shoot, I thought I had more to say, seeing as though I download a new soundtrack almost every week (past and present soundtracks, film and television), but I guess not.

    I don't think there are any *greats* left, just a whole lot of new talent that still have to prove themselves in order to be called "great."

  12. Marilyn, I know musical taste is probably even more subjective than taste in movies, but trying to look at the list of Bond theme songs as objectively as possible, I think it's fair to say that only Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" and Carly Simon's "Nobody Does it Better" really were popular among the masses (I'd add that Simon's is a terrible song, but there's that subjectivity creeping out.).

    Just because they are BIG songs from a BIG movie doesn't mean they're necessarily good. But maybe I just have an ax to grind at how a big, fat, hairy deal gets made out of "who's gonna do the new Bond movie song!?!?!?" every two years, when really - who cares anymore (if they ever did)? Sheryl Crow from GoldenTomorrowDaylights, anyone?

    Nick - "For me, I think music and film go hand in hand. Be it a memorable score, a befitting soundtrack, whatever, if it's good I like it. " Concise and very well put.

  13. True, Nick, that there aren't a lot of "greats" left. I mean even thinking about "Down to Earth" - Peter Gabriel? Do most people born after 1990 even know who he is? As much as these have declined and we've enjoyed some indie artists on indie soundtracks, I wonder how long it will be before we have new "greats". Maybe we're just in a dry spell right now as far as widely accepted popular music goes. There are too many artists and too many ways to listen. Tough time to be in the music biz, I guess.

    Fletch, I think we're looking at Bond in two different ways. While the songs themselves might not have been massive hits (other than the ones you mention - and man, Live and Let Die is awesome), the ARTISTS are the ones who were big at the time - all of those Marilyn mentions, according to the decade. Sheryl Crow was also a hit artist, even the song was terrible (and I can't even remember it). So it seems Bond movies are the only ones working according to the old model. Other blockbusters have given up entirely on pop stars or just abandoned "theme songs" altogether.

  14. My bad. I thought we were looking for good pop songs. ;)

  15. Did everyone see this post?

  16. There are no good pop songs. There are only pop songs so catchy that they eventually take over your mind and make you like them.

  17. Wow, no I didn't see that, Scott. Coincidental timing, it seems. Notice how the most recent one is 1991...

  18. Elgringo - I had not seen that post, but damned if it isn't fandamntastic for no other reason than the backstory on the Mah Na Mah Na song.

    That's the second awesome trivia tidbit I learned today (the first was that a favorite band of mine, DeVotchKa, took their name from a slang word for "girls" in A Clockwork Orange).

  19. Yes, musical taste is a matter of opinion. I have pretty catholic tastes, however, so I can appreciate stuff penned by Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand, both multiple Oscar winners. Here is a link to the Oscar nominees/winners over the years: http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/ampas_awards/DisplayMain.jsp?curTime=1217355114244

    Maybe you'll recognize some of these songs. There are some pretty solid ones, often not the winners. But I love that the theme from Shaft won in 1971!

  20. That is interesting, Marilyn - I wish the artists who actually performed the songs were listed as well.

  21. I actually know quite a few of these off the top of my head. I looked up two just to be sure and some were listed on the winner's list.) As you can see, big stars/artists were always writing and performing these songs:

    1936 - "The Way You Look Tonight" Fred Astaire
    1938 - "Thanks for the Memory" Bob Hope (his theme song thereafter) and Shirley Ross
    1939 - "Over the Rainbow" Judy Garland
    1940 - "When You Wish Upon a Star" Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards)
    1943 - "You'll Never Know" the miraculous Alice Faye
    1944 - "Swinging on a Star" Bing Crosby
    1950 - "Mona Lisa" Nat King Cole
    1953 - "Secret Love" Betty Hutton
    1956 - "Que Sera, Sera" DorisDay
    1957 - "All the Way" Frank Sinatra
    1961 - "Moon River" Audrey Hepburn
    1964 - "Chim Chim Cher-ee" Dick van Dyke
    1967 - "Talk to the Animals" Rex Harrison
    1969 - "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" BJ Thomas
    1970 - "For All We Know" The Carpenters
    1971 - "Theme from Shaft" Isaac Hayes
    1973 - "The Way We Were" Barbra Streisand
    1975 - "I'm Easy" Keith Carradine
    1976 - "Evergreen" Barbra Streisand
    1978 - "Last Dance" the incomparable Donna Summer
    1983 - "Flashdance..What a Feeling" Irene Cara
    1984 - "I Just Called to Say I Love You" Stevie Wonder
    1988 - "Let the River Run" Carly Simon
    1993 - "Streets of Philadelphia" Bruce Springsteen
    1996 - "You Must Love Me" Madonna
    1997 - "My Heart Will Go On" Celine Dion
    2000- "Things Have Changed" Bob Dylan
    2001 - "If I Didn't Have You" Randy Newman
    2002 - "Lose Yourself" Eminem
    2007 - "Falling Slowly" Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

  22. Dang, Marilyn - you know your Best Songs!

    As far as the recent winners go, I wouldn't consider Hansard and Irglova "stars" before Once, nor would I consider that song a "theme" in the mold of something like "My Heart Will Go On."

    Eminem? Good call, but I want to discount it because the whole movie was kind of a music video about him, starring him.

    Randy Newman and Bob Dylan? Well Newman is riding the Pixar train and Dylan is, in my opinion, past his prime.

    So I'm stubbornly sticking to my guns!

    Actually speaking of Dylan, the soundtrack to I'm Not There was amazing, and the best song is done by: Hansard and Irglova.

    Also, breaking news - Alicia Keys IS going to do the new Bond song, along with...Jack White. First "duet" ever.


  23. Glen Hansard was very popular in Ireland as a member of The Frames and also appeared in The Commitments, but you're right, "Falling Slowly" isn't a theme. For that matter, a lot of the winning songs, particularly in the early days of the awards, were just songs from Broadway shows or compilations of a composer's work.

    Say what you will about Randy Newman (he's certainly not my favorite musical Newman), he can write theme songs. His song for the TV "Monk" is wonderful, though his Oscar-winning song was just the usual rinky-tink from him.

    I personally thought 8 Mile was a very good film. I wish Eminem would do more films. He's got "it."

    Dylan being past his prime? Perhaps, but I don't see the relevance.

    As for favorite themes, I'd probably go with Oscar-nominated (and totally should have won over the saccharine theme "Born Free") "Alfie" from the movie of the same title. It so perfectly captures Michael Caine's character, wistful and lost without knowing it.

  24. Dylan has difficulty carrying a tune these days (his critics would argue he always did) but he's still turning out some good material. Obviously past his prime, though.

    It's an interesting subject, Daniel. I agree with Sam and others that the use of pop songs can be great, but I'm usually inclined to favor scores.

  25. Seriously, where is Eminem?

    I would only say that when Dylan won in 2000, he wasn't really as much of a hit artist - of course, Wonder Boys was a little film (that I need to see again, come to think of it) that wasn't really in the big market business.

    Thanks, Alexander - I can't take anything away from scores, I just miss some of those big movie anthems, like many of the winners Marilyn mentions.

  26. The thing that I hate is a pop song that's composed after the fact that only plays over the end credits so they can get an Oscar nom and sell CDs. That's a trend I wouldn't be sad to see go away.

    Good songs to open a movie, like James Bond, are great. The one that jumps to mind is Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do), though I can't stand to hear it out of the context of the movies.

    As for compilation soundtracks, few are better than Harold and Maude, and Wes Anderson movies are always a treat.

  27. One of my friends (who I don't think reads this) is going to kill me for still not having seen Harold and Maude...

    So it doesn't sound like Peter Gabriel's "Down to Earth" worked for you, Craig, as that was end credit Oscar pandering at its worst!

    The Bond songs work especially because of the bizarre visuals that accompany them. The songs would be much worse without them, so says me.


Related Posts with Thumbnails