Saturday’s Six: One-Artist Soundtracks

I’ve always been interested in soundtracks done entirely by one band or artist. I’m not talking about film scores done by traditional composers, like John Williams or Danny Elfman, nor do I mean soundtracks for films like Purple Rain and Interstella 5555, which were made as kind of a vehicle for the album. No, I’m being incredibly specific here and just want to make a list of movies whose soundtracks were by one pop/rock act who had nothing otherwise to do with the film, using music either written specifically for the film by, or plucked from the repertoire of, said act. It’s the toughest list I’ve ever had to arrange, and it by no means encompasses all one-artist soundtracks out there, but these are my six favorites in an order as close to least-to-most favorite as I could get them.

6. Curious George-Jack Johnson

Originally I had intended this one to be at #5. In the end I could not, in good conscience, place Jack Johnson above the next entry on the list. Don’t get me wrong, Curious George is a decent soundtrack. The songs fit the mood of the movie well, and they’re perfect for children while also not making adults want to rip out all of their hair after listening to it multiple times in the car. Johnson is soothing to listen to, his voice pleasant and guitar-playing adequate, but that’s it. Nothing he has ever written has stirred any kind of emotional response in me other than “I think I’d like to go sunbathe.” So why did I almost put him higher up on the list? Well I could be wrong but, aside from his remake of “We’re Going To Be Friends” and kind of the “3 Rs” song, this all seems to be new material Johnson wrote for the movie, which is more than I can say for the current #5. In the end, though, I had to weigh article consistency against my musical conscience, and my musical conscience just couldn’t put Johnson anywhere but last among these other entries.

“We said look at the monkey, Jack, not look like a monkey.”

5. Gnomeo and Juliet-Elton John

I finally ended up watching this one a couple of months ago when a friend of mine insisted that it was a fantastic film and oh my goodness why hadn’t I seen it yet?! The movie was pretty underwhelming and lifeless, except for the great soundtrack full of classic Elton John songs. Those, coupled with the Power Thirst-esque, Hulk Hogan-narrated Terrafirminator commercial saved those two hours from being a complete waste of time for me. Elton John used many of his iconic songs for the soundtrack (including the gutsy choice of “The B***h Is Back”), but also wrote some new ones as well. He says in his DVD interview that originally he had written four new songs for the movie, but the only two used were “Hello Hello” (a duet with Lady Gaga) and “Love Builds A Garden”. I’m a pretty big fan of Elton, so this pleased me very much indeed. This one almost lost its spot to the Curious George soundtrack because there are a few minor instances of non-Elton songs (“Don’t Cha”, “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts” and “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room”) in there. Also, major points deducted for that stupid version of “Crocodile Rock” sung by Nelly Furtado. Overall, though, the music saves this movie, and the new song “Hello Hello” fits its scene so perfectly that it absolutely makes it, so #5 it is! Also, Elton John is a boss. You don’t put Jack Johnson above Elton John.

It’s incredibly blatant, but still entertaining.

4. Maximum Overdrive-AC/DC

Maximum Overdrive is the movie that inspired me to make this list. I still remember the first time I saw it, vacationing in a cabin with my sister and my mom when I was around seven years old. My sister, a huge AC/DC and Stephen King fan, sat me down when it came on TV one afternoon, and excitedly told me how AC/DC did all of the music for this movie about trucks murdering people. Even as a child I knew that was kind of unusual (the soundtrack, not the truckicidal rage, of course), and something about that idea always intrigued me. Cut to some twenty years later and I’ve spent more than a few months obsessing over this concept, eager to see just how many movies I could find to fit that bill (Answer: More than I thought, but still not very many).

AC/DC’s album “Who Made Who” is the official soundtrack for the film, but only three tracks (“Who Made Who”, “D.T.”, and “Chase the Ace”) were written for it. The rest were taken from the band’s other albums. Not only is the soundtrack fantastic, but all of the music you hear in the film, even the incidental stuff, was composed by AC/DC. There is one instance where “Ride of the Valkyries” is used for a gag, and that’s it for music they didn’t compose. Unfortunately, aside from “D.T.” and “Chase the Ace”, none of the instrumental pieces are on the album. The five missing songs are “Death City”; “Scared”; “Humans Are Here”; “Contre Attack”; and “Bad Boy”, which one Youtube viewer was kind enough to post a compilation of here.

“If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.” You and your smug, bucktooth grin really thought there was no way that line was gonna come back to haunt you, did you, King?

3. Highlander-Queen

This one was tricky to place.. One the one hand Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” album is the unofficial soundtrack of Highlander, and only 6 of the album’s nine songs appear in the film (Queen’s cover version of  “New York New York” is not available anywhere, sadly). On the other hand, Queen specifically wrote all of those six songs to be in the film, matching the lyrics and the tone of each one to the scene, and making them work with Michael Kamen’s orchestral score. The music and the movie are one. To many fans, the use of “Who Wants To Live Forever” against Conner watching his wife Heather grow old and die is one of the most powerful musical moments in film. I don’t know why a Highlander soundtrack featuring Queen’s music has never been released, because this music is incredible, with Queen’s dedication to the film coming through in all of the tracks.

“No mortal man can win thish day, for my hat hash already won it. I’m Sean Connery.”

2. Labyrinth-David Bowie

Labyrinth holds special significance to me for being the first and most precious cult film in my life. It introduced me to amazing creatures inhabiting a world that teaches its protagonist the meaning of strength and becoming an adult without losing everything you were as a child. That, and it drop-kicked me into sexual maturity with Bowie’s form-fitting pants. It takes a seriously impressive soundtrack to hold its own against a movie with all of the insane imagery and themes that make up Labyrinth, and David Bowie delivers. Every single song, even the one I can’t much stand (“Within You”) is well-written, fits its scene precisely, and will sometimes just pop into your head for no reason at all. If you walk into a room containing anyone who’s seen this film and shout “You remind me of the babe!” you are guaranteed to get a Pavlovian response of “What babe?”, and you two will continue on until the lyric has finished out or one of you dies in battle (I’m not very good at healthy competition). This is a powerful, fun soundtrack, all written by Bowie and, with the exception of “Chilly Down”, all performed by Bowie. I want to note, though, that the movie versions of the songs are all better than the album versions, which are full of really awkward adult-as-baby gargles and other inexplicably re-recorded sound effects.

“No, no, Sire. It’s not that the pants look bad. It’s just that…well, you may want to reconsider the fit.”

1. Tron Legacy-Daft Punk

I can just hear the groans of disagreement from many of you, even from the fans of their genre. Trust me, this was not a decision easily made. Daft Punk is one of my favorite duos out there, but that isn’t why they’re here. I was incredibly excited to find out they were composing this soundtrack, because not only am I a fan, but there is no other group out there I would rather hear do the music for a Tron sequel. The finished product is not what I expected, and I was initially disappointed by it not sounding more like a Daft Punk album, but the more thought I gave to it, the more I realized that I was being unfair.  The Tron Legacy soundtrack is a labor of hard work and cooperation on the part of Daft Punk and the movie’s orchestral composer, Joseph Trapanese to create a unique score with the traditional orchestral elements as well as a heavy dose of electronic music befitting the movie’s theme. The three men sat down together for two years to create twenty-four brand new tracks for the film, and it shows in how seamless the 85-piece orchestra, synthesizers and drum machines blend together. I decided on Daft Punk for the top spot because no other entry has that level of dedication and cooperative teamwork with the movie’s composer. AC/DC, while composing new instrumentals for the film, didn’t use all-new music. Bowie wrote all-new songs, but his work is totally separate from instrumental score. Queen did work with Kamen, but not as closely as Daft Punk and Trapanese. They are the only artist on this list that created all-new material, over three times as much as anyone else, for a movie soundtrack. I’d say it more than deserves its top spot.

“Well we’d been walking around like Tron extras for two decades, so it only made since to put us in the sequel.”

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15 Comments

  1. One that wasn’t on this list (for good reason, as it’s mind-numbingly bland) is the soundtrack for Dune composed by Toto. My first reaction upon seeing the on-screen credit was to riff, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little composer, too!”

  2. Fantastic article. Totally agree on Labyrinth (except for Within You, I like that song), yes I only have minor shame stating I own the soundtrack.

    I’d throw in Batman (1989)/Prince; and Flash Gordon/Queen too.

  3. Bowie didn’t write the underscore for Labyrinth; that was Trevor Jones, who had also worked with Fantasy Muppets on The Dark Crystal. But it’s far from his best work and so overshadowed by Ziggy’s songs that it might as well have just been silence or song reprises!

    Incidentally, I think the problem a lot of DP fans have with TL is that they were expecting a songtrack and DP wrote a score :)

    • I didn’t mean to imply that Bowie did write the incidental music for the film. In fact, in #1 I mention that his work is separate from the instrumental score.

      As for the Daft Punk fans: As I said in #1, I felt that way initially. I’m glad I got over it, though, and learned to appreciate it.

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