The release of Submarine, a teen angst dramedy, and its soundtrack (written by the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner) got us thinking about how soundtracks can interact with movies, and how some soundtracks can even stand alone, outlasting the films themselves. Here’s a brief, curated (and by no means exhaustive) tour of some notable soundtracks that have influenced the genre.
Submarine EP, Alex Turner
The most interesting thing about Alex Turner’s most recent work is that he could’ve released it without tying it to the quintessentially teenage–y Submarine. The EP is a cloud–like meditation on the teenage condition, which fits nicely with the protagonist’s quest to find happiness in a confusing world. But had it been released independently of the movie, this EP probably would’ve been received as warmly as Alex Turner’s own coming–of–age work, in which he finally settles down a bit and gives a nod to bands like The Clientele.
The Lion King, Various Artists and Tarzan, Phil Collins
It’s always iffy to lump two masterpieces together, but the soundtracks to Disney’s The Lion King and Tarzan are both timeless, and represent a soundtrack’s ability to embed itself in the very fibers of the movies they accompany. It wouldn’t even be an overstatement to say that certain songs on these soundtracks — like “The Circle of Life” and “Trashin’ the Camp”— overpower an entire generation’s memories of the films they were made for.
Greenberg, James Murphy
In scoring Noah Baumbach’s angsty Greenberg, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy crafted something softly Graduate–esque, departing slightly from his normal music. A hit with critics and a flop with viewers, the film’s saving grace is its soundtrack, which fluctuates between brooding, lost acoustic twangs, samba–inspired rhythms and uncharacteristically poppy, Beatles–inspired head boppers. The music is a conglomeration of Murphy’s original compositions and songs by artists as varied as The Steve Miller Band and Nite Jewel.
Where The Wild Things Are, Karen O. And The Kids
With a childish theme at its center, Where the Wild Things Are is a beautiful and melodic contribution to the soundtrack genre. Written and performed by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O., WTWTA melds elements that are both cheery and depressing, laying soft vocals on hard rock instrumentation. What results is an album that stands alone from its cinematic counterpart. Granted, the use of sound clips from the movie helps in this venture, but overall the soundtrack is remarkably coherent, mournful and triumphant.
A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles
The foundation for an entire genre, The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night was an instant classic at its release. The same holds true today — no music movie has proved as important or influential as the Fab Four’s 1964 effort. In its time, A Hard Day’s Night provided both an amusing adventure and witty social commentary, all underscored by an album created specifically for the film. Indeed, few can dispute that the record holds its own against the rest of The Beatles’ catalogue, especially with the eponymous classic and the rousing “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
This Is Spinal Tap, Spinal Tap
All the other albums on this list are notable for embedding themselves in the moods of the movies they were written for, but This Is Spinal Tap goes one step further. Spinal Tap, a heavy metal parody band created in 1979, blurred fiction and reality in the 1984 mockumentary that provided the band’s backstory. Spinal Tap has inspired more recent incarnations of humorous movie–based bands, like Russell Brand’s Infant Sorrow from 2010’s Get Him to the Greek (which actually did a pretty poor job carrying the musical torch).