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J.D.'s Top 10 Movie Soundtracks

by JD Warnock on June 17, 2008

in Top 10s

Recently I reflected on the Top 10 films that have impacted me the most through repeated viewings in my “Top 10 Films You’ve Actually Watched the Most.” It seems only fitting that I take the time to consider what movie soundtracks have had a similarly lasting effect. Arguably, not since the soundtrack to “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” stirred up a fuss in 2000, has a film’s soundtrack made as much noise as this year’s musical masterpiece “Once.” We did this list two years ago, but things change and I feel compelled to expand and update my own, very personal ten favorite movie soundtracks of all time. As an extra bonus, here’s one extra (that I just couldn’t resist) to start you off in the “Danger Zone.”

11. Top Gun (1986) Top Gun Kenny Loggins Danger Zone

In the summer of ’86 if I only knew I thing, it was that I absolutely loved “Top Gun.” For better or worse, this is one of those films that made me realize the power of the big screen, both good and terrible. As much as I had wanted to be Han Solo just a few years earlier, I was now a Naval fighter-pilot wannabe. It proceeded to get worse every time I saw “Top Gun” and heard Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” Of course, I now recognize the massive cheese factor here, but I would be lying if denied my unadulterated love of this soundtrack as a kid. Come to think of it, why aren’t I lying about this? In addition to Kenny Loggins’ other psuedo-hit from this soundtrack, the bi-curious anthem “Playing with the Boys,” the “Top Gun” soundtrack includes a subpar, but likable song “Mighty Wings” by one of the greatest rock bands of all-time, Cheap Trick. Oh yeah, and that “Take My Breath Away” song by Berlin.

10. Star Wars (1977) Star Wars original soundtrack

Like it was yesterday, I remember taking my double-LP vinyl copy of the “Star Wars” soundtrack by John Williams to show and tell in Kindergarten. I proudly showed off my favorite record with its bold black cover and inside gatefold shot of the two droids on Tatooine, and couldn’t wait to get home and throw it back on our gigantic RCA all-in-one TV stereo cabinet (a monolithic triumph of the late 1970’s that took up the vast majority of our humble living room and would eventually shepherd me right past Debbie Boone and Alabama on into the marvelous age of rock gods like Kiss and Queen). On this day however, my dreams of Mos Eisley cantina jams and Imperial themes would be smashed to pieces right along with my “Star Wars” album. On the way out of class that day, one of the fragile discs slid, seemingly in slow motion, out of the sleeve and shattered right in front of the very kids who moments earlier coveted its mysterious power. Childhood really is brutal. No, it’s not likely to make your “Up-Beat-Part-Mix,” but this is literally the soundtrack to defining mythology of the first quarter of my life.

9. Say Anything (1989) Say Anything Fishbone

This soundtrack has two unstoppable songs that are brilliantly used during the film. The obvious first is Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” which has an instant effect on any person with even a shred of sentimentality, and no one can forget the boombox scene (especially Fishbone, whose song was actually being playing by John Cusack during the filming, but was later subverted with the massive Gabriel classic in the actual movie). The second is “Within Your Reach” by The Replacements. There are several unsung heroes of the late ’80s, but only equally influential band The Pixies can rival The Replacements as the most under-appreciated late 1980s pioneers. The soundtrack also includes Living Colour, guitar-maestro Joe Satriani, Fishbone, and yet again, Cheap Trick.

8. High Fidelity (2000) High Fidelity Soundtrack John Cusack

John Cusack’s fairly righteous retelling of the classic Nick Hornby novel was full of all the right musical references to draw in the new kids. It also had plenty to appease the know-it-all music snobs of the world, which allowed everyone to sit back and enjoy a great little movie with a stellar soundtrack and enough inside winks and nods to make your head spin. The soundtrack’s highlight is most definitely Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love it Will Be Forever), which so beautifully finishes the picture. I’m a huge Stevie fan, but “High Fidelity” was the first time I sat up and took notice of this truly timeless track which originally appeared on Wonder’s 1972 album “Talking Book.” Other notable tracks include “Dry the Rain” by The Beta Band (which received a memorable record-store spin in the movie that sent everyone rushing to the counter to buy it) and “Shipbuilding,” a stellar track from pop music’s most talented lyricist, Elvis Costello.

7. Magnolia (1999) Magnolia Soundtrack Aimee Mann

Paul Thomas Anderson has balls. To use a new song by a contemporary artist like Aimee Mann and create a sequence in which all your principle cast of characters (including “The Cruise”) lip-sync the lyrics as a connecting device is no small idea. Can you believe the nerve? This soundtrack includes a great deal of work from the remarkable Ms. Mann which serves to set the unique tone of the film, and stands as an example of an artist at the absolute pinnacle of her power coinciding with the release of her flawless 3rd solo album “Bachelor No. 2, or The Last Remains of the Dodo.” Her music is used so pervasively in the picture that she is, in a sense, another character– the haunting voice of an omniscient observer floating above the tangled webs at play. Throw in a couple Supertramp classics and you’re on your way to one classic soundtrack.

6. Highlander Soundtrack / Queen – A Kind of Magic (1986) Queen Highlander A Kind of Magic

Despite the suggestion during the closing credits of “Highlander” that the film’s soundtrack would be available, it was not to be. British rock gods Queen had written songs for the soon-to-be cult-classic and eventually released them as a new full length record dubbed “A Kind of Magic.” Here is where I should exercise restraint and not admit yet again that I saw this film 17 times in the theater and that I may or may not have gone to local shopping malls, glaring at passers by and wearing a London Fog trench coat that may or may not on occasion have concealed beneath it a wooden sword. Fortunately for you, I don’t have that kind of fortitude, and I must confess that it’s true. Although the cheese factor is in the stratosphere for this one, songs like “Princes of the Universe” and “Don’t Lose Your Head” are campy and brilliant in the same way that Queen’s soundtrack for “Flash Gordon” was in 1980. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a real gem, and proves, as he has on so many occasions, that no one in rock history had the presence and singular talent of Freddie Mercury.

5. Once (2007) Once soundtrack

Songwriters and neophyte actors Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova had a big year with a storied win for best original song at the Academy Awards for “Falling Slowly” and the much-deserved accolades for their performances in the the best little movie of 2007, “Once.” I’ve mentioned this before, but the very instant the credits rolled I ran to my computer and bought this soundtrack on iTunes. It’s one of those rare records that I never seem to tire of. I can only hope that Hansard and Irglova team up again in the studio and create more new music. Their chemistry on camera and on record prove they are a magical match. Highlights include: “Fallen from the Sky,” “All the Way Down,” and “Say It to Me Now.”

4. This is Spinal Tap (1984) This is Spinal Tap

Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer have teamed up many times over the years to our benefit, but on no occasion has their combined power been more perfect than “This is Spinal Tap.” The music is an integral aspect of the humor, not only did they write and perform all the music, but they did the impossible: write great “bad” songs. I would definitely have included Christopher Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman” on this list for the same reason, had its genius soundtrack ever been officially released. They say comedy is much more difficult than drama in terms of acting. In terms of music, it has to be the same or a whole lot worse. Trying to write funny songs and not end up churning out Barenaked Ladies tracks has just got to be a nearly insurmountable task. “Big Bottom,” “Hell Hole,” “Listen to What the Flower People Say”– are you kidding me? This stuff is absolutely pure gold! My favorite track has to be “Gimme Some Money,” a bouncy British Invasion-style number with lyrics that leave me in stitches if I even so much as think about it. “This Is Spinal Tap” is the best comedy of all time and its soundtrack is priceless.

3. Almost Famous (2000) Almost Famous Stillwater Elton John

This is simply the second best fictional story about a fictional band ever told. That is, to date, of course. A composite of a number of the real bands that Cameron Crowe encountered on his journeys as a young music journalist, “Almost Famous” is a Crowe joint that hammers so close to my heart that it consistently gets a 4-5 times a year viewings at my house. In the history of film has there ever been a pop song used to more effect than the bus scene with Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer?” It is as if those two pieces of art are now inseparably fused together for all times. Hearing “Tiny Dancer” on the radio instantly snaps you back to that unforgettable moment on the Stillwater bus with Ms. Pennylane, Jeff Bebe, and Russell Hammond. An extraordinary collection of artists and songs help tell the story of a rock band on the verge of both success and implosion. Standouts include: “America” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Feel Flows” by the Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” which doesn’t appear on the album, but makes the end of the film.

2. Purple Rain (1984) Prince Nelson Rodgers Purple Rain

Unless you really love bad acting and Morris Day and the Time, “Purple Rain” the movie was not so good. But its soundtrack is an undeniable classic. If this album had only one song on it, and that song was “Purple Rain,” it would still be #2 on my Top 10 Soundtracks list. The title track is not the only ridiculously badass song, in fact the rest of the album is just as electric and provocative. Hits like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” propelled Prince into superstardom right where he belongs. If you don’t own this record, seriously–what the hell are you thinking?

1. A Hard Days Night (1964) A Hard Day's Night The Beatles

The Beatles made a number of relatively good films, (”Help!” and “Magical Mystery Tour” both have superb soundtracks) but nothing beats “A Hard Days Night.” “A Hard Days Night” the film was a very slight exaggeration of the band’s hectic existence in the early years of Beatlemania. Musically, it’s a soundtrack album that was yet another step forward in the history of the greatest pop rock songwriting team that has ever been. The title track, taken from a Ringo-ism, is a “Name that Tune” gold mine with its instantly recognizable intro chord. In addition to it’s namesake track, “A Hard Days Night” includes “And I Love Her,” If I Fell,” and uber-classic “Can’t Buy Me Love,” all of which make it easily my favorite movie soundtrack of all time.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 RCM June 17, 2008 at 7:15 am

Interesting call on Magnolia, P.T.A really has a good ear for tone setting music. I purchased the soundtrack composed by Johnny Greenwood for “There Will Be Blood” which you could also say is like a character in itself in that film.


2 Eric Melin June 17, 2008 at 8:56 am

Me too, RCM. It’s the first one I’ve bought in a loooong time, maybe since “High Fidelity.” Great soundtrack; puts me in a very weird mood.


3 ChrisKnudsen June 17, 2008 at 9:09 am

Damn, I was just about to go post about the There Will Be Blood soundtrack too. It is as distirbing as the Clockwork Orange soundtrack which is my all time favorite soundtrack.

My favorite version of the Star Wars soundtrack is done by the Electric Moog Orchestra.


4 Jerry June 17, 2008 at 9:33 am

“Danger Zone” takes this list to the top.


5 Steven June 17, 2008 at 9:54 am

I am suprised to not find any soundtrack from the Danny Elfman collection. I thought perhaps Pee Wees Big Adventure would be on there, Edward ScissorHands, or Beetlejuice. I also think their should be an exception for the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Although it was a television show, it was produced and directed by David Lynch, plus its hard to deny how great a soundtrack it was.


6 Charles T. Samuels June 17, 2008 at 1:15 pm

In 1986 some very good soundtracks came out, one that you don’t mention is “Pretty in Pink” being 13 at the time this soundtrack shaped my musical taste for years.


7 rustyc June 17, 2008 at 1:17 pm

One of my favorite soundtracks is from a VERY bad film,”Not Another Teen Movie”.It’s basically a cover album, but System of a Down’s take on Berlin’s Metro may be the bet cover I’ve ever heard! I can’t think of a bad cover on the album.


8 Rutkowskilives June 17, 2008 at 2:55 pm

10 Things I Hate About You – solid soundtrack.


9 RCM June 17, 2008 at 4:15 pm

The “Twin Peaks” soundtrack was certainly ahead of its time. I really like that sorta eerie tone they played though I sometimes think they went back to that particular song a lot more than necessary.

If we were gonna make an exception for a t.v show than I put my two cents in for the “Battlestar Galactica” soundtrack. It’s really divers and at times truly beautiful music.


10 Cleavy June 17, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Nice list, J.D. I agree whole-heartedly on the “Once” soundtrack! I, too, went straight to the computer immediately after seeing the movie to buy it on iTunes. And, further, proceeded to buy three Frames albums! Pretty sweet.


11 JohnOB1 June 17, 2008 at 5:10 pm

What about Grosse Pointe Blank?


12 RCM June 17, 2008 at 7:55 pm

“Once” was excellent; I was so taken with that film when I saw it. Sweeney Todd should have been more inspired with its music considering it’s originally composed by a true master; Stephen Sondheim, but that film just didn’t have any musical power.

“Dazed and Confused” has a great string of classics attached to it. I’m sure I could think of more but I just saw that one when I glanced over at my dvd collection.

Kind of a weird bit of irony, a friend of mine was watching “Almost Famous” at her house today; on my recommendation, and she didn’t like it… Ahhh. I was heart broken, but whatever. J.D.’s right, sometimes I find myself rewinding the “Tiny Dancer” segment after the first time it plays through when I watch that movie. Then if follows up so perfectly with Francis McDormand’s hilarious “Rock stars have kidnapped my son” line!


13 Twitch June 17, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Pretty decent list, IMO. I haven’t saw a few of the movies on there (even though I know I need to), but if I had to add one in somewhere, it would be the Garden State soundtrack. IMO, that is one of the greatest movie soundtracks of this decade, and was very well set up by Zach Braff.

And I think I would have had Star Wars a little higher, since it is STILL making an impact in movies and music everywhere. John Williams’ genius will never die.

But, as I said, no real complaints. Great list, as always. =]


14 RCM June 18, 2008 at 8:28 am

Despite its overly hip status I still like some of Garden State songs, and that movie actually.
Yeah, you could easily fill this whole list with films scored by John Williams.


15 Werner June 18, 2008 at 12:07 pm

I miss the legendary Ennio Morricone on that list.

But all those kind of lists are bound to be subjective. And don’t we all love to read thoses lists 😉


16 Steven June 18, 2008 at 7:05 pm

I agree Ennio was great with his The Good, The Bad, The Ugly score.


17 Aaron June 19, 2008 at 10:44 am

Got 2 movies to add to your list: Wayne’s World – Who doesn’t hear Bohemian Rhaspody and not automatically get taken back to the car scene in Wayne’s World where they’re rocking out?
Garden State – The songs on this soundtrack are great in their own right but Zack Braff did an amazing job of using the music not as filler but to enhance the tone of the movie.


18 Dana June 19, 2008 at 1:37 pm

The Empire Records had a pretty decent alt. 90’s soundtrack, and I’ve always loved Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Detroit Rock City’s soundtracks too. Great list JD!

The suckfest that was Rob Zombie’s Halloween re-make had a pretty good soundtrack too.


19 NOYB June 19, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Pulp Fiction, Garden State, and Grosse Pointe Blank would be on my list. Highlander, Magnolia, Top Gun, and Star Wars would not. All of your others- spot on. My number 11- The Muppet Movie.


20 Alan Rapp June 20, 2008 at 9:19 am

Great list, my two addition would by Raiders of the Lost Ark (awesome score!) and Garden State (AKA the Zack Braff mix-tape). Great love for some of my fav’s! My only issue with High Fidelity is the soundtrack released for a film includes only the barest amount of kick ass music used throughout the film. And as for that moment you mention in Almost Famous, I said it before and I’ll say it again – that’s just freakin’ awesome!

And nice suggestion of The Muppet Movie by NOYB! To quote High Fidelity – “that’s so good it’ should have been mine!”


21 Reed June 23, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Steven, I prefer “A Few Dollars More”, but that’s really splitting hairs. I agree that Morricone should make the list. Some others I dig that would be on mine:
Harold and Maude (not technically the same as Rushmore)
O Brother Where Art Thou?
Judgment Night (OK, very hit or miss, but the Dino Jr/Del the Funky Homosapien and Faith No More/Boo-Ya Tribe songs make it all worthwhile)
South Park (caught myself singing “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch” in the shower today – don’t ask)

All in all, excellent job here (a Fishbone mention will automatically make any list a great one IMO).


22 Sally High July 16, 2008 at 1:46 pm

I’d like to add The Commitments, directed by Alan Parker, to the list.


23 cam August 30, 2009 at 8:55 pm

the soundtrack from dazed and confused was awesome and should be on the list


24 pumpkin13 March 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm

1988’s AKIRA, soundtrack performed by Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Simply incredible. Possibly overlooked because of being a foreign animation film.


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