10 Movie Soundtracks That Think Outside Of The Box Office
September 1, 2009 Leave a comment
Welcome to Soundtrack September! All month long, with the help of some special guest bloggers and readers, I’m going to be celebrating the world of original motion picture soundtrack recordings. There will still be the usual array of reviews of current movies and other whatnot but they will be surrounded by soundtrack centered posts.
I’m kicking off Soundtrack September with this list of soundtracks that weren’t content to just be simple collections of score selections or pop song tracks. They featured dialogue excerpts as tracks – sometimes full chucks of audio from the composite track of the film instead of the standard isolated music track. Often these albums contain material that’s not in the movie they represent – different versions of songs, cut lines from post production, and new voice-overs. In their reshaping of the movie material they became works of art in their own right. Here are my 10 favorites from the many soundtracks out there that think outside the box office:
1. THE MONKEES: HEAD (Colgems Records 1968/Rhino 1994) The Monkees only theatrical release was a critical and commercial flop on original release but it’s picked up a well deserved cult following over the years in no small thanks to its psychedelic soundtrack. It’s a merry mishmash in which 7 songs (including “The Porpoise Song”, “As We Go Along”, and “Can You Dig It”) emerge out of the chaos of sound effects, repeated out-of-context lines (as if there’s a context in the film) and assorted trippy effects reportedly under the influence of Frank Zappa (who has a cameo in the movie and the album). The original album did not feature Mike Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” performed live in the film – it substituted an inferior studio take of the song. Happily, a 90’s Rhino re-release restored the ferocious live version as well as a nice handful of bonus tracks (including a cool radio spot).
The icing on the cake? The Original Album Coordinator who did the bulk of the vigorous editing on this project: Jack Nicholson (co-screenwriter and producer of HEAD seen above with the Monkees).
In the late ’70s and early ’80s a lot of “story of” albums were produced of the STAR WARS films, Disney features, Muppet movies, etc. that feature audio excerpts with a ’40s style narrator guiding listeners through. For the first Indiana Jones adventure a soundtrack was released separate from the one of the score by composer John Williams. Billed “The Movie On Record”, it was an album of “Actual Dialogue, Music, and Sound Effects” but most importantly – no narration. 4 time Academy Award winner Sound Designer Ben Burtt (creator of the voice of WALL-E among other iconic work) admitted in an interview that much of this album was made from little of the original soundtrack; he recorded new effects and recreated the dialogue with the film’s cast as voice actors much like old radio shows. The album won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word LP in 1982.
3. THE ALBUM OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE TRAILER OF THE FILM OF MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Arista, 1975) This is only a soundtrack in the loosest sense – approximately 40% of it is movie material; the other 60% has the Pythons bogusly broadcasting from a fictional theater (The Classic Silbury Hill) for the “premiere” of the film. John Cleese plays a reporter who talks over the opening scene with patrons telling him to shut up, the production is halted while the projectionist fights a grizzly bear for the next reel, an announcer (Graham Chapman) repeatedly tells us that this is the “Executive Version” of the record, and so on. The records of the Monty Python films that followed – LIFE OF BRIAN and THE MEANING OF LIFE had a bit of this embellishing but not with the whole team and to the extreme of this supremely silly yet essential soundtrack.
4. APOCALYPSE NOW (Warner Brothers, 1979) This soundtrack is pretty much the full composite track of the motion picture spread over 2 records. It’s a trippy absorbing listen that’s worth seeking out. The soundtrack for the REDUX version (2001) removes the dialogue bits and presents composer Carmine Coppola’s score, along with The Doors “The End” and Flash Cadillac’s “Suzy Q”, but I prefer the original recording. It reminds me of the days before home video when a soundtrack was all one had to invoke the mood of one’s favorite movie. Removed from the imagery, Martin Sheen’s voice over narration works just as well on record as it does in the film, the jungle sounds surround the listener, and Marlon Brando’s haunting “the horror…the horror” evocation echo in the psyche. Or maybe that’s the Thai sticks talking…
5. NATURAL BORN KILLERS: A SOUNDTRACK FOR AN OLIVER STONE FILM (Interscope Records 1994)
“I suggested to Oliver (Stone) to try to turn the soundtrack into a collage-of-sound, kind of the way the movie used music: make edits, add dialogue, and make it something interesting, rather than a bunch of previously released music.”
– Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor in an interview with MTV.
As producer/compiler Reznor provides another absorbing listen and one that introduced many to Leonard Cohen via 2 stellar songs off of his 1992 album “The Future”. My only complaint is Reznor mixing a bit of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis dialogue on top of Bob Dylan’s cover of the ’50s standard “You Belong To Me”. Such a thing just should not be done.
6. THE ADVENTURES OF BOB & DOUG McKENZIE IN STRANGE BREW (Polygram Records, 1983) The album cover denotes “Excerpts From The Original Sountrack” so much like the MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL album this functions as a comedy record in its own right. The success of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s “Great White North” record paved the way for the SCTV characters of Canadian descent to enter the world of movies, so it’s kind of funny to have Moranis stress more than once that this that this is not their second album – it’s the soundtrack album. Funny because they never made another album and with all the additional material here they might as well consider it their second album. As a comedy record it’s a good one – some bits from the movie work better disembodied from the visuals and the track “Shakespeare Horked Our Script” amusingly calls attention to the fact they stole the basic narrative from “Hamlet”. It’s never been released officially on CD but like much on this list it can be found on the internets.
7. PULP FICTION (MCA Records, 1994)
From RESERVOIR DOGS to DEATH PROOF, Tarantino’s soundtracks have featured dialogue tracks (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is the first that doesn’t) but PULP FICTION is by far the most popular – it seems everyone I knew had this in their CD collection in the ’90s. It’s a hip movie mix; tracks by Urge Overkill, Dusty Springfield, and Kool & The Gang rub shoulders with John Travolta’s “Royale with cheese” bit, Bruce Willis’s immortal “Zed’s dead, baby”, and Samuel L. Jackson’s “Ezekiel 25:17”. 15 years after the movie, these tracks are still effective – program them into an iPod shuffle and see for yourself.
8. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (A & M Records, 1988) Sure, the comedy of Robin Williams is far from hip these days but back in the day (the late ’80s) his routines were quoted ad nauseum. The rapid fire lines from his starring turn in Barry Levinson’s Vietnam-set dramedy were no exception. The dominance of James Brown’s “I Feel Good (I Got You)” in family feel-good comedies (or at least their trailers) can be traced to this film but don’t hold that against it. Era songs by Louis Armstrong, The Marvelettes, and the Beach Boys make up the playlist of Williams as Armed Forces Radio Services DJ Adrian Cronauer. Incidentally the weekly NPR program “Sound Opinions” uses the sound bite of Williams’ “This is not a test, this is rock ‘n roll!” in their opening to this day.
9. UHF: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK AND OTHER STUFF (Warner Brothers, 1989) Nobody would expect a soundtrack from a Weird Al Yankovic movie (his only movie) to play by soundtrack rules and this hodgepodge sure doesn’t. It makes this list because of tracks directly from the film like the commercial parody “Spatula City” and the phony trailer for “Gandhi II” which make great compilation fillers or fodder for college DJs. However the non movie related tracks like a spoof of R.E.M.’s “Stand” called “Spam” and “Generic Blues” are just throw-away Weird Al but they still don’t disqualify it.
10. BONNIE AND CLYDE (Collector’s Choice, 2009) Though it’s not the first soundtrack album to feature dialogue – that would be THE GREAT ESCAPE – BONNIE AND CLYDE provides the template for the composite movie mix that Reznor and Tarantino would run with. The dialogue tracks offer cushioning and punctuation for the musical score – as spare as they are. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s exchanges are enhanced by the then very innovative presentation on vinyl. It’s a hard to come by record nowadays but again, one worth seeking out.
Okay! There are many more soundtracks that feature dialogue in an inventive mix (PATTON, ANIMAL HOUSE, BLADE RUNNER, etc.) so if you have a favorite – please send it on. Also if you have soundtrack favorites of any kind (classical scores, pop songs, musicals, etc.) please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your favorites (instead of leaving them as comments on this post please) and I may include them this month during Soundtrack September! Hope to hear from you.