Friday Playlist: Movie Soundtracks

I can still remember pretty clearly going on a road trip in college with some friends of mine, and the guy who was driving had a CD player in his car (which at the time seemed pretty fancy). So I eagerly opened up his book of CDs...only to find that every single one was a movie soundtrack. I don't mean a mix-type soundtrack like The Big Chill or High Fidelity, I mean original score soundtracks like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, etc. And those were the ones good enough to be memorable. Suffice it to say, I was a sad puppy for most of that trip.

But time has passed and I've come to appreciate the value of a great original score. In large part, I have Carter Burwell to thank for that. Burwell wrote the score for Raising Arizona, among his many, many other movie credits. Nearly every time I find myself noticing how much I like the music in a film, it turns out to be Carter Burwell's work.

Raising Arizona was probably the first movie I saw where I can remember feeling like the music was an integral part of the experience for me. This isn't like the Imperial Death March or Superman's theme - those are great pieces of music that add to their respective movies, but they work more as leitmotifs that are more or less associated with specific characters or things in their movies - and they stand alone so strongly that I can hear them without necessarily picturing their associated movies.

This music was something different - it was simply part of the fabric of the movie for me, and I couldn't think of the movie without hearing that music. The second time this happened to me was while watching Buckaroo Banzai - one of my favorite hobbies that year was to recreate Michael Boddicker's theme on the piano over and over again, much (I'm sure) to the delight of my family. Hearing that music put me into the world of that movie in a way that almost nothing else could.

I could go on and on, but I have cupcakes in the oven, so let's get to the playlist. What follows are a handful of my favorite songs from movie scores over the years by an even smaller handful of artists.

Here's the breakdown:

  • "Mediational Field" by Susuma Hirasawa (from Paprika)
    Absolutely beautiful song, and I can't imagine the movie without it. Playful and serious at the same time.

  • "Way Out There" by Carter Burwell (from Raising Arizona)
    You can skip the first 34 seconds. Once it gets going, this is actually a cover of a Pete Seeger song, which itself is a take on an old traditional, etc. More on that here.

  • "Buckaroo Banzai Theme (long version)" by Michael Boddicker (from Buckaroo Banzai)
    Fans of the movie will recognize this as the music that plays over the closing credits when all the characters join up and walk together in lockstep. This is a more expansive take on the main theme, and it takes me right back to the first time I saw this movie and realized that I had a new favorite movie.

  • "Open Spaces" by Jonny Greenwood (from There Will Be Blood)
    Radiohead guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood was declared ineligible for an Academy Award for this soundtrack because it contained some elements from a piece he had written previously for the BBC - but it's still great. This piece does a wonderful job evoking the feel of this movie: dark, mysterious, foreboding, sad, and complex.

  • "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes (from Shaft)
    How could I not include this?

  • "Dream of the Future" by Carter Burwell (from Raising Arizona)
    This is essentially "Down In The Willow Garden," an old bluegrass tune, done with synthesizers. This song is a recurring theme in the movie, and this piece does a beautiful job wrapping everything up on a hopeful - yet restrained - note.

  • "A Drop Filled With Memories" by Susumu Hirasawa (from Paprika)
    This is is the same tune as "Mediational Field" from the beginning of this playlist, but it's a completely different take on it. I love how they sound like two totally different songs even though they're essentially exactly the same, note-wise.

Do you have any favorite movie scores? Tell me in the comments.


Molly Malone said...

totally agree re: "Paprika" score. i've seen that movie 2 or 3 times and am not sure i understand it. but the music is splendid and complements the mayhem beautifully. it's like pop-rocks and butterflies.
other scores/soundtracks i like: "Dead Man Walking" (Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn's cries are wrenching) and "English Patient." Gabriel Yared is generally good, as is Ennio Morricone, come to that. Oh, and Phillip Glass' contributions to "Koyannisqatsi" and "The Truman Show."

Amanda said...

"Yes!" to the first Paprika track, and, I love the music from Monsoon Wedding - "Chunari Chunari" in particular.

Unknown said...

I liked David Holmes' work in Ocean's Eleven so much that I bought one of his albums: Come Get it I Got It" It's a really fun listen.

99 said...

absolutely cannot hear anything by john williams and not immediately think of the movie. despite having heard it in all of the movies since, when i hear the imperial theme my mind jumps to the first scene of a star destroyer from empire. and pavlov rings his bell.

rugg said...

I am shocked we crossed paths on the Buckaroo Banzai stuff.

I have to add anything John Carpentar - Halloween and Escape from New York in particular.

Annoyingly catchy is the theme from Bullet Proof - Sandler and one of the Wayans.