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The Greatest Movie Soundtracks

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

We all know about those movies with legendary soundtracks. Whether it's the like of pioneering likes of A Hard Day's Night and Performance bringing rock to the masses in the 60s, or the soul and funk gold which Quentin Tarantino digs out for his films, creating new classics in the processes, the right choice can ensure that song and celluloid are forever wedded together in our minds.

But what those soundtracks composed especially for films? Sometimes these can be just as seminal, influential and timeless. When composers and film-maker create something other than the usual orchestral score, the results can define and era and herald a new one as effectively as any single or album. Here are just a few examples of film scores which, once heard, can never be forgotten.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

The creation of boob-obsessed, psychedelic trash-king Russ Meyer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was, ostensibly, a sequel to his successful Valley of the Dolls, about drug-addicted, sexy young women. In fact, it was nothing of the sort, instead being a manic mash-up of psychological thriller, sexploitation comedy, and late-60s flower power cash-in. The plot, and I use that word in its loosest sense, follows an all-girl band who travel to LA where they get sucked into a world of debauchery and free love, leading to abortions, lesbian affairs and mass murder by a drug-addled, cross-dressing 'teen tycoon of rock' called Z-Man. The scene below inspired the video for The Pipettes' 'Pull Shapes'.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Perhaps the greatest film produced by the pairing of legendary director Werner Herzog and insane megalomaniac and brilliant actor Klaus Kinski, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is an unforgettably intense cinematic experience. Following the slow mental and physical disintegration of a group of Spanish conquistadores lost in the Amazonian jungle, everything about the film, from the breathtakingly beautiful opening scene (below) to the sudden explosions of violence which puncture the stifling dread, is perfectly judged. This is especially true of the soundtrack, which was composed by seminal Krautrock band Popol Vuh. Their forward-thinking electronic soundtrack could have clashed with the film's setting , but instead it feels as lush and forbiddingly mysterious as the vegetation which encloses the doomed soldiers.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

While the likes of Popol Vuh and Kraftwerk were shaping the electronic sounds to come in 70s Germany, film-maker John Carpenter was right there with them, albeit out of necessity and with technology which was already old. Creating the soundtrack to his cult breakthrough Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter and collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace took three days to put together a tense, minimalist piece of electro-funk which still sounds light-years ahead of its time. The film may look adorably creaky now, but Carpenter's music, thanks the leanness of its production, is remarkably fresh.

The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors is, well, it's just the best film ever made and that's that, basically. A highly stylised (some would say slightly camp) account of the titular Coney Island gang's attempt to 'bop' their way back to their home turf from the Bronx after being framed for the murder of a rival gang's boss, the film is just an utter delight from start to finish. Chief among its strengths is its irresistably cool soundtrack by Barry de Vorzon, particularly its funky main theme. Mixing disco, funk, spiralling synths and new wave guitar, it's a veritable amalgamation of all the sounds that put late-70s New York at the cutting-edge of music.

Blade Runner (1982)

The film still looks amazing and the soundtrack, by ambient pioneer Vangelis remains spine-tingling, as coldly futuristic as Popol Vuh's music for Aguirre is sumptuous and verdant, but no less beautiful. Here, the film's greatest scene is twinned with Vangelis' most scintillating piece of music. Can't say fairer than that, can you?

Comments (5)

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I watched the Warriors a few months back, the first time in years, and after 5 minutes made a mental note to dig out the soundtrack. It is exactly as you say above, it really sets the tone for a New York that was a bit scary.

I think the two...

I watched the Warriors a few months back, the first time in years, and after 5 minutes made a mental note to dig out the soundtrack. It is exactly as you say above, it really sets the tone for a New York that was a bit scary.

I think the two best movie soundtrack guys currently doing the rounds are Brian Reitzell and Clint Mansell. Strangely Reitzell was once the drummer in Red Kross and Mansell was the singer in Pop Will Eat Itself. Reitzell worked on The Virgin Suicides with Air, Lost in Translation and his best work, 30 Days of Night. Mansell did Moon and Black Swan.

Also if we're talking soundtracks specifically put together for a movie then check out mid 90s film Judgement Night. Hardly any of the songs are in the film for some reason and the film is a bit naff but they got loads of bands like Sonic Youth and Mudhoney to team up with rappers. Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, Mudhoney and Sir Mixalot, Dinosaur Jr and Del the Funky Homosapien and Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul. There's some lost classics on there.

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Hmm, movie soundtracks, really love The Wickerman, especially 'Willow's Song', Wes Anderson seems to pick some great tunes (love the Darjeeling Ltd soundtrack) and it's not a movie but 'The Singing Detective' soundtrack is rather special. Can't...

Hmm, movie soundtracks, really love The Wickerman, especially 'Willow's Song', Wes Anderson seems to pick some great tunes (love the Darjeeling Ltd soundtrack) and it's not a movie but 'The Singing Detective' soundtrack is rather special. Can't get much more iconic then the Halloween theme or the creepy music Goblin made for Susperia though...

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Oh hell yeah, Goblin! I loves me some Goblin.

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The soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine with glam songs re-recorded by members of Radiohead, Sonic Youth etc was really good too. The cover of Brian Eno's 'Baby's on Fire' is amazing.

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Can't believe I left out Psychomania! Amazing music and it's the best film ever about posh home counties undead bikers with thick, luscious hair!

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