I believe a great film is only as great as the music it contains. There’s the musical score — known more for its non-diegetic sounds, usually orchestrations to deliver a tone or emphasis for the film. Like what would Jaws have been if it were not for that “dun-dun” musical cue composed by the legend, John Williams? Then, there’s the compositions of one of my favorites, Hans Zimmer. He’s worked on countless film scores, including The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, which underlines every sweet thematic note with one of his melodies.
But before I get carried away, we’re here to talk about soundtracks.
Soundtracks are made up of curated songs that are featured in a film or were produced to encompass the feeling of it. It’s the accompaniment we’re more familiar with when a film is released. From my own knowledge, it could be assumed that the idea of a soundtrack became popular around the 1970s with the release of films like Shaft. Iconic soul man, Isaac Hayes, engineered the film’s soundtrack and subsequently won an Oscar and Grammy for the funkadelic-badass theme song.
The best soundtracks are like ultimate playlists that not only capture the essence of the movie, but also provide you with some good jams — one after the other.
So where do soundtracks stand today? They’re certainly not as prevalent as they once were. Building a soundtrack can get expensive, and filmmakers now lean towards full scores rather than depending on exclusive content from the likes of Beyoncé or buying the rights of already existing music. Although movie musicals have an automatic leg up in the market, it could be argued that the golden age of film soundtracks was during the 1980s-1990s, with game-changing albums like Purple Rain and Love Jones.
But with the freshly-released film Baby Driver gaining critical praise for not only its plot, but also its masterful compilation of music, it seems that the art form could be making a swift comeback. So in honor of this small re-emergence of the soundtrack — here is a list of some of my favorite, classic soundtracks. Ones so good, you don’t even need to see the film to enjoy (although you probably will have an inclination to do so after). And if you know of some great soundtracks worth checking out, comment below!
1. “Baby Driver” (2017)
This soundtrack is an enjoyable mashup of every musical genre. Critics already admire the film’s choice of music, which differentiates its formulaic high-speed chases from every other Fast & Furious.
2. “Hidden Figures” (2016)
Produced by the great Pharrell Williams, this soundtrack evokes the 1960s vibe the film’s story is set in while still being modern. With features from other artists like Janelle Monae and Alicia Keys, Williams takes the lead on this one with some inspiring tracks to get you over a hurdle or two.
3. “Dope” (2015)
Another produced by Pharrell — I can’t help my favoritism — this recent film is about a group of friends with a taste for classic hip-hop. Just look at the first track. Need I say more?
4. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1” (2014)
This Marvel film would have been just another blockbuster if it were not for the variety of classic throwbacks chosen for the film’s quirky superhero and his group of bandits. It’s so good that if I walked into a bar at 9 p.m. and they were playing tunes off this joint — it’d be fine with me.
5. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012)
First off, this novel-turned-film is super emotional in the best of ways. It is also another great example of music that does not overpower the storyline, but guides it. Centered in punk rock n’ roll, this soundtrack is a good one for those who just want to get their feet wet in the genre.
6. “A Lot Like Love” (2005)
One of the films I find very underrated and can’t help but watch if it’s on TV. This rom-com takes place over seven years, the tracklist reflecting the ebb & flow of the pop music genre. If “Brighter than Sunshine” is the only track I ever hear from Aqualung, so be it.
7. “Love Jones” (1997)
One of the most perfect, romantic films I have ever seen, it’s only right that the soundtrack holds the same sweet feeling (pun intended) the film provides. It makes sense why the soundtrack is more popular than the movie, introducing a whole new genre of smooth r&b and neo-soul. It’s literally the perfect tracklist for a rainy day or a chill night in.
8. “Waiting to Exhale” (1995)
The first of three soundtracks on this list produced by the king of sweet baby-making-90s jams- Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and musical partner L.A. Reid, this album gives us the greatest compilation of “getting over a break-up/friends are the best” r&b tunes. With classics from Brandy, Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige — it’s still one of the film’s leading ladies, Whitney Houston, who makes the album one of her own.
9. “The Bodyguard” (1992)
I’M TYPING IN CAPS BECAUSE I DARE YOU NOT TO BELT EVERY ONE OF THESE SONGS. THE BEST-SELLING FILM SOUNDTRACK OF ALL TIME. THAT’S IT.
10. “Boomerang” (1992)
The tune playing during this classic rom-com’s final credits led me to the soundtrack, and has since become one of my all-time favorite albums. The incomparable duo of Babyface and L.A. Reid strike one more time with a who’s who of early 90s hip-hop and R&B, with classic jams from start to finish. Not to mention, it features the first singles of a newbie at the time, Toni Braxton.
11. “Purple Rain” (1984)
This isn’t even a soundtrack. It’s a masterpiece. It’s legendary art. We were never worthy.