A couple of Saturdays ago, I was making the late night drive home from Poughkeepsie. I make this drive frequently, since that’s where I catch Metro North whenever I’m heading into the City, but it’s not a very interesting ride and I’m usually doing it after a very fun, but exhausting, day. One of the ways that I keep myself alert is to play music really loud that I can sing along with; this keeps my energy up and makes the time fly by faster. The song “Footloose” came on and as I was belting out my best Kenny Loggins impression, I thought about how much I loved this soundtrack when I was a kid. It was one of the first non-kid albums (yes – I had albums) that I owned and I liked pretty much every song on it; “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” was a personal favorite, but there were also great tunes by John Cougar Mellencamp, Quiet Riot, Bonnie Tyler and Foreigner. I used to play that record a lot, probably driving my mother crazy in the process.
The irony is I didn’t even like the movie Footloose.
While I thought Footloose (the soundtrack) was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard, even at eight years old I knew that the premise of Footloose (the movie) was rubbish. I mean, a town where dancing was banned? What was that? I just wasn’t buying what they were selling. I finally got around to seeing the movie when I was a little bit older and my early instincts were right – this was not a good movie. But thirty years later, I still enjoy all the songs from the soundtrack.
This got me thinking about other instances where I liked a movie soundtrack a lot more than the movie itself. Turns out, this happens more than I would have expected. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I hated the movie in question, but simply that I enjoyed the collection of songs featured in the movie more. Maybe it’s a sign of being a kid of the 80s and early 90s, when soundtracks were really big business, that I pay as much attention to the music in films as I do. A good soundtrack improves a movie and helps the viewer connect with it. It often also exposes you to new artists that you might not have been familiar with; I’ve discovered a lot of music that I like from the artist being featured on a soundtrack that I enjoy. When it’d done perfectly, and there is a perfect marriage between song and movie, you can’t help but think of one without thinking of the other. The two are forever interconnected.
Sometimes the quality of the move can’t seem to quite live up to the quality of the soundtrack. While I’d listen to the following soundtracks anytime, you’d be less likely to get me to watch the movie that they are supposedly supporting. In some of these cases, the music is the star and the movie is more secondary. In others, the music is the only redeeming thing about the film experience.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
I didn’t hate this movie as much as everyone else did, but I’ll admit that it wasn’t very good either. I respect what Diablo Cody was going for with her black comedy horror script, but it just didn’t come together all that well. The cast was pretty good – it featured a pre-super fame Chris Pratt – and it tried to put a new twist on the horror genre, but it gets an A for effort and a C for execution. The soundtrack, however, was great and marked my first exposure to the band Florence + the Machine. I was immediately drawn to their song “Kiss With A Fist” as soon as I heard it; In fact, I paused the movie midway through to start exploring the soundtrack online (not a good sign for the actual movie). It was full of a ton of bands that I liked or wound up liking. The movie experience wasn’t all that great, but the musical experience was top notch.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
While I didn’t get around to watching Saturday Night Fever until pretty recently, I was under the impression that it was just a cheesy 70s disco movie. I’d see plenty of iconic clips from the movie over the years – John Travolta in his white suit on the multi-colored dance floor. So I was ill-prepared for the fact that the bulk of this movie was not about dancing. You’d think that someone would have mentioned the rapes and gang violence and suicide at some point. Those are topics that I don’t necessarily have a problem with in a movie, but they were so far afoul of what I thought I was going to see that I wasn’t a fan of the movie at all. Thank goodness for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which provided me with all the disco-goodness that I was looking for. With the Bee-Gees, you get what you expect.
Into the Wild (2007)
I didn’t mind the film Into the Wild, but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I liked the book more, but that had more to do with Jon Krakauer’s writing style more than anything else. I just didn’t completely connect with Christopher McCandless’ story, probably because I am not, by any definition of the word, outdoorsy. The wilderness is pretty and all, but I’m over it pretty quickly. Taking off to be one with nature is nothing that I would ever do, let alone to do such a half-assed job of it or without telling anyone where I was going. I found much more beauty in Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack, not surprising since I’ve loved Eddie Vedder since I was 13 years old. Add some banjos into the mix and the movie didn’t stand a chance.
Top Gun (1986)
Maybe I like Kenny Loggins more than I thought I did.
Top Gun is a fine movie; I enjoyed it a lot more when I was a kid and I might stop to watch it if it’s on cable on a Sunday afternoon. It doesn’t necessarily hold up all that well – the volleyball scene that was such a big deal when I was younger reads a little differently now that I’m an adult (and poor Goose – forced to play beach volleyball with a shirt on). But even on the strength of only one song – Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” – the soundtrack easily surpasses the movie. And seriously, who doesn’t love “Danger Zone?” Advantage soundtrack.
Garden State (2004)
I have a complicated and ever evolving relationship with the movie Garden State. I didn’t really love it the first time I saw it, but the movie eventually won me over after a few viewings – until I hit a saturation point and fell out of like with the film (possibly related to falling out of like with someone who really loved the film). Now I’m mostly ambivalent about the movie. The soundtrack, on the other hand, I always liked quite a bit. There is just so much wonderful indie rock on there – Coldplay, The Shins, Colin Hay, Remy Zero. I’m 1,000 times more likely to play the Garden State soundtrack than re-watch Garden State itself.
Reality Bites (1994)
I was too young and naïve when I saw Reality Bites for the first time. I was in high school when the movie came out and the thought that this angst was my future was not what I had planned. I didn’t get the appeal of arty and unambitious Ethan Hawke. Then I went to college and Reality Bites made a whole lot more sense. But while I didn’t love the movie as much as my peers did, I had nothing but love for all the music. Squeeze’s “Tempted” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and “My Sharona” and “Stay” are up there as well. I should probably give Reality Bites another watch to see where I stand on it now, but no matter where I am in my life I have always dug the tunes.
Your turn – what soundtracks do you like more than the movie that they were spawned from? Sound off in the comments below.