The musically ignorant? That would be me. I was raised on a steady saccharine diet of showtunes and bubblegum pop of the 50s and 60s. I know, tragically hip, try not to look too impressed. So, weirdly, a lot of my musical education has come from film. The following ten soundtracks are the ones that, for better or for worse, most encouraged my musical growth. If we still had record stores, I’d say they’re the soundtracks that caused me to wander into new sections. I think this is true for a lot of folks and is something people are ashamed to admit. You didn’t listen to Johnny Cash before that Joaquin Phoenix biopic? Okay. You thought Édith Piaf was a fancy French rice dish before La Vie En Rose? Fine. Film soundtracks can be a tremendous opportunity to expand your horizons and open you up to something you’d never heard before. Don’t listen to the hipsters and their sneering. Listen to the music.
Virgin Suicides—Electronic Music: The soft mellow soundtrack for Sofia Coppola’s film introduced me to the French Electronic Duo Air which opened up a whole world of non-ravey electronic music. Eventually I discovered Kings of Convenience, to this day one of my favorite groups.
Billy Elliot—Glam Rock: The infectious, highly danceable T-Rex tunes on this album never fail to put a smile on my face. Skip the saccharine Eagle Eye Cherry tune for the harder sounds of The Clash and The Jam.
The Wackness—Hip Hop: This is embarrassing, I was a teenager in the 90s but it wasn’t until I saw this film that I really started exploring A Tribe Called Quest, R. Kelly, The Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a great soundtrack and an even better launching point.
In The Mood For Love—????: Never has a piece of film music haunted me as much as Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme.” I hesitate to place this piece of music in any genre because while I can hear the asian influence, I don’t know enough about Japanese music to say why. The traditional Chinese operas are equally evocative of Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece.
Immortal Beloved—Beethoven: Most kids I know played an instrument. Piano or something. I never did and so my classical music education was pretty crap. This film made me fall in love with Beethoven. Lame? Maybe, but it is, to this day, my favorite reading music. So there it is.
Next Stop Wonderland Brazilian Bossa Nova and Samba : This brilliant little indie romance introduced me to Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joa, Astrud and Bebel Gilberto. My favorite rainy day music.
Muriel’s Wedding—ABBA/Disco: Disco sucks, so they say, and I don’t blame anyone for hating ABBA after the bleatfest that was Mamma Mia, but this Aussie film made me love ABBA (and Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths). Oh, sneer away, I’m too busy dancing.
Donnie Darko—80’s New Wave: Tears For Fears, The Cure, INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division? It’s a solid soundtrack without an ounce of sparkle motion.
Almost Famous—70’s Classic/Psychedelic/Prog Rock: Let’s not pretend. You knew this was coming. Before the credit sequence to Almost Famous, I had no idea The Beach Boys were capable of anything other than girls, cars and surfing. This soundtrack also introduced me to Yes, Rod Stewart, The Allman Brothers, The Who and, oh yeah, Zeppelin. Suffice to say, it opened a lot of doors. (Oh, yeah, you bet, The Doors.)
O Brother Where Art Thou?—Bluegrass/Country: Country was for hicks and bluegrass is basically country, right? Wrong on both counts. Thank god for the Coen Brothers, for T-Bone Burnett, for this soundtrack and for introducing me to Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and the incomparable Ralph Stanley.
So, does it matter how you learn to love the things you love? Or when you learn to love them? Is there music you hadn’t thought of trying until you heard it on a soundtrack? Music you forever identify with a certain scene or filmmaker?
Joanna Robinson regrets the lack of Wes Anderson on this list. Next time.