Blog 1402: Top 8 Movie Soundtracks In My Life

In chronological order: the movie soundtrack albums that influenced me. Not a Top 5, or a Top 10 (sorry about that) – and, funnily enough, featuring more than one comprising mostly cover versions…

Movie Sountracks

I decided against doing a “Best Of All Time” list, because I change my mind about those things all the time. Plus, I’d probably just rate “respectable” things over stuff I actually enjoy – and the embarrassing stuff, especially, is what makes doing something like this fun. Instead, to keep it simple (and fun), I’m writing about movie soundtracks that were big parts of my life.

La Bamba (1988)
This was the movie that made me start guitar lessons. I was 10 years old. Los Lobos’ version of “La Bamba” was all over Saturday morning Video Hits. I’d catch it in between my cartoons, and soon I became obsessed. The La Bamba soundtrack was the first cassette tape I bought, with my own pocket money, and I played it incessantly. I devoured every single song – if only they’d been the originals! – “Summertime Blues”, “Lonely Teardrops”, “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”, and of course all the Ritchie Valens hits (picture this 10 year old singing “Oh Donna” and struggling to play its whopping three chords when he’d not yet learned two of them).

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Singles (1992)
Seattle! ’90s! Flannel! The only Screaming Trees song I know! The Robert Doisneau-tribute poster art! I had this movie poster on my wall for years… sigh. After Alice In Chains’ “Would?”, the meat of this soundtrack for me was mostly towards the end – and, funnily enough, probably the least Seattle-y sounds of them all: in particular, Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” (no surprises there), and Smashing Pumpkins’ “Drown” (which I can’t find the full extended version of anywhere now – and say what you will about Billy Corgan, but he is a superior guitarist; I want to listen to 6 extra minutes of guitar squalls from him). And to this day, I think The Lovemongers’ version of “The Battle Of Evermore” is better than Led Zeppelin’s. Yup, I said it.

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The Crow (1994)
The soundtrack for the two-hour music video, The Crow, was a showcase of all the goth-industrial-metal-rock-whatever-it’s-called-now stuff that was super-hot at the time, referencing or covering bands from the previous decade that I was too young to have heard of. Nine Inch Nails’ version of “Dead Souls” still haunts me, almost as much as Joy Division’s original. Rage Against The Machine’s “Darkness Of Greed” accomplished what I’d thought impossible: it shifted effortlessly between jazz verses and hard rock choruses. Stone Temple Pilots (if you don’t think Purple was a great album, you’re crazy), Helmet, Machines of Loving Grace etc – they all contributed songs with guitar riffs so meaty I just had to teach myself to play them, and then proceed to play for hours every day… wow, I wore these songs – and that tape – out. I even remember lovingly hand-rendering the font of The Crow onto the cover of my cassette tape dub of this soundtrack (back in my high school days, when I had time for such things).

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Pulp Fiction (1994)
I was 16 when this movie came out, and EVERYBODY had this soundtrack. It kicks off with the one-two punch of the Dick Dale / Kool & The Gang title sequence (“Jungle Boogie” was groove school for me: it showed how one really, really good guitar line can sustain a song forever – even without a melody). There are also all the dialogue grabs from the movie throughout the soundtrack (“Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead”). But in between those was my first exposure to two of the most influential songs, and artists, of my career: Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man”, and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” (little did I know back then that, years later, I’d tour Australia with the good Reverend). And I never – and I mean never – get tired of either of those songs. Perfection.

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Amateur (1994)
Hal Hartley, the hipster Brecht of ’90s indie cinema, was my, and I’m sure many others’, idol all the way through film school. His earlier films had individual moments which were more influential on me (such as Simple Men‘s score of sparse guitar twangs, or the scene where everyone gets drunk and dances to Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”), but Amateur was the soundtrack I devoured as a whole. Side A is a “who’s hot” of ’90s alternative rock that Hartley typically used in his film – it introduced me to the hot-blooded songwriting of PJ Harvey and Liz Phair, the noisescapes of Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus Lizard, and the lyric- and guitar-noodlings of Pavement and Red House Painters. Side B contains cues from the beautiful score Hartley himself composed, as he did with all his movies, under the pseudonym Ned Rifle – and that side inspired me both with its effective minimalism and as evidence that one artist can create both his visuals and his music, independently.

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Desperado (1995)
If La Bamba was the Chicano film that made me want to first pick up the guitar, then Desperado was the Mexican film that made me want to play it a lot more. From the blasts of chunky, electric guitar from Los Lobos (again!) and Tito & Tarantula as Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek out-smoulder eachother on a downtown street, to the subdued twangs of Mark Knopfler’s “Six Blade Knife”, to the interludes of acoustic Mariachi folklore, the whole soundtrack just screamed “Bad Ass” to me at the time. They’re not great songs – they’re not even good songs – but this soundtrack reminded me that some of the most effective, and affecting, noises you can make with a guitar involve just playing the five notes of the pentatonic scale – slow, loud, dirty. Nowadays, Robert Rodriguez writes, directs, shoots, edits and scores his own films – which, in itself, is influential enough for me.

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The Commitments (1991)
“The rhythm of soul is the rhythm of sex.” I learned as much about soul music from a bunch of working-class north Dubliners in two hours as I did from consuming albums, documentaries and articles in the years that followed. One of the main things I learned, funnily enough, was that “Take Me To The River” just sounds like you’ve known it your whole life – and this, I eventually decided, was the magic of soul music. And I wanted in.

(Ps. I know this one’s out of order chronologically, but I came to it much later)

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Out of Sight (1998)
I don’t care what you think of J-Lo nowadays – back when she was in this film, Jennifer Lopez was hot. I don’t know about her and Clooney as a pairing, but who cares: this film is so pocket. Story, cinematography, art direction, performances, and soundtrack – all funny, sexy, gripping, clever, inventive, and stylish; all playing together like a super-tight band. The David Holmes score is so cool, so atmospheric and funky: from lazy Rhodes noodlings over shoeboxed-in beats, to downtempo interpretations of the energetic Isley Brothers tracks that also appear in the film (and damn, if the use of “Fight The Power” in this film isn’t just explosive, when we suddenly cut to a street-level exterior with a one-word title card: “Detroit”). Just stop what yr doing and watch it right now.

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Ray Mann plays his first solo shows for 2014 in Berlin – dates & deets here.

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