Soundtrack albums have been a staple for working deejays since the 1950's. From "Blackboard Jungle" to "The Graduate"; "Saturday Night Fever" to "Pretty In Pink", soundtracks have always been a great (legal) way to load up on hits without breaking the bank. Plus, since the 80's, most soundtracks are remastered for Dolby Stereo, so you get not only the tunes but a greatly improved listening experience as well. The following list examines 10 of my favorites, albums that I have either kept near the front of my crates for the last decade-and-a-half or so, or, in the case of "American Hustle", just dropped in recently. If you want to travel light, even if you spin vinyl, these soundtrack records are sure to please the most demanding crowds. Or if you just wish to listen to some great tunes at home, or while driving in your car, but don't want to listen to the same artist the whole time, these will do that too. As Karl Malden used to say in the old American Express commercials, don't leave home without 'em...
10. Dazed and Confused. Foghat. Black Sabbath. Alice Cooper. Deep Purple. And every other staple of stadium rock you can imagine circa 1976. If you could only own one album of 70's hard rock, the soundtrack to Richard Linklater's 1993 lighthearted remembrance of growing up stoned in America wouldn't be a bad place to start. And if you could have one CD permanently stuck in the deck of your Camaro...
9. Carlito's Way. Disco meets salsa in Brian DePalma's 1993 crime drama, starring Al Pacino. Equal parts menace and merengue, Jellybean Benitez' slinky soundtrack perfectly captures the edgy vibe of the film. I mean, where else are you going to find Cheryl Lynn, Ray Barretto, Marc Anthony and The O'Jays on the same disc? Exactly. Nowhere.
8. Ocean's 11. The soundtrack to Steven Soderberg's 2001 remake of the Rat Pack film of the same name could just as easily have been called "It's Hip to Be Square". How else does one explain the grouping of tunes by Percy Faith and Perry Como alongside Handsome Boy Modeling School and David Holmes (who does most of the heavy lifting here with 14 original compositions)? A previously obscure Elvis gem ("A Little Less Conversation") provides a swaggering theme to this Vegas crime caper which stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
7. Trainspotting. With the exception of a couple of oldies by Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, every song on this soundtrack to Danny Boyle's 1996 crime comedy was either recorded exclusively for the film, or exceedingly rare before its inclusion here. Featuring a who's who of British techno and pop stars from the 90's-- Blur, Pulp, Elastica, Leftfield, Primal Scream, for starters-- the album holds together surprisingly well, as the techno tracks balance with the pop singles. Befitting the film's storyline concerning Scottish junkie friends leading semi-criminal lives, every song is quite melancholy, creating a bleak, yet oddly romantic, atmosphere throughout. Along with the title track by Primal Scream and Underworld's "Born Slippy", Pulp's jaunty "Miles End" best captures the soul of the film.
6. Swingers. This winning flick from 1996 made stars of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau (who wrote the screenplay), offered an eclectic yet cohesive bunch of songs that took the swing revival of the late 90's as its jumping off point, but also included soul ("Groove Me"), funk ("Pick Up The Pieces"), and even country ("King of The Road", "She Thinks I Still Care"). Still, this one's a lounge lizard's classic, with Dean Martin's mid-60's version of "You're Nobody 'til Somebody Loves You" providing the theme for what is essentially a very sweet film. I dare you to listen to this album all the way through without shaking up a martini. OK, I double dare you...
5. Boogie Nights. P. T. Anderson's 1997 star-studded character study concerning the porn industry of the late 70's and the lost souls who populate it, made stars of several actors (Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle). While more a collection of great tunes than a narrative songtrack, this collection captures the feeling of the era as well as any soundtrack out there, as it runs through disco ("Best of My Love," "Jungle Fever"), funk ("Spill the Wine," "Got to Give It Up, Pt. 1," "Machine Gun"), soft rock ("Magnet & Steel"), AOR ("Livin' Thing"), oldies ("God Only Knows"), and heavy metal power ballads ("Sister Christian"). And of course, there's the folk-pop classic "Brand New Key" by Melanie. Rollergirl, anyone?
4. Pulp Fiction. The juxtaposition of the innocent (Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry) with the horrific (brain spatter, adrenaline shot to the heart, "The Gimp") has always been Tarantino's calling card and he reached his zenith with 1994's Pulp Fiction. At first blush, enlisting surf music as a metaphor for extreme violence seems sort of tongue-in-cheek. But when you really stop and think about the nature of surfing, with its inherint risks to both life and limb, it's really not that much of a stretch. Thus, surf music, highlighted by Dick Dale's all-time classic "Misirlou" truly gives this film its heart. Kool & The Gang's "Jungle Boogie" provides a backdrop for Samuel L. Jackson's finest performance, and Urge Overkill's excellent cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" injects some romance into the proceedings. A couple of soul classics ("Let's Stay Together", "Son of A Preacher Man") seal the deal, and the dialogue speaks for itself. Tarantino would repeat this formula, but never as seamlessly as he does here. Bustin' Surfboards indeed.
3. O Brother Where Art Thou? T-Bone Burnett's warmly produced collection of bluegrass tunes for The Cohen Brothers' 2000 depression era retelling of The Odyssey has been called the greatest movie soundtrack ever. And with great performances by bluegrass stalwarts Fairfield Four, Ralph Stanley and The Whites, as well as talented newbies Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris, it provided a much needed (and well-deserved) shot in the arm for a genre of music that had been commercially ignored for far too long. Since its 2000 release, it has sold steadily, and can be rightly credited with having ignited the Bluegrass revival of the past decade-and-a-half.
2. The Harder They Come. "Collections don't come much better than this", glows All Music Guide's Toby Ball. Jimmy Cliff starred in and performed three huge reggae hits for this era-defining 1973 film directed by Perry Henzell. The remainder of the album is a compilation of singles released in Jamaica from the period of 1967 through 1972, and features hits by The Melodians, The Slickers, Desmond Dekker and Toots and The Maytals. The film made Cliff an international star and opened up reggae to a worldwide audience, paving the way for Bob Marley's emergence as a global superstar later in the decade. In 2003, the album was ranked number 119 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album also appears on greatest albums lists from Time, Blender, and was named the 97th best album of the 1970s by Pitchfork Media.
1. American Hustle. A nuanced and playful soundtrack, this collection of gems from David O. Russell's 2014 ABSCAM epic is rooted in the music of that decade (Donna Summer, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Electric Light Orchestra), yet surprises abound: Jack Jones' wistful version of "I've Got Your Number" kicks like a shot of fine bourbon; an Arabic version of White Rabbit mystifies; a beautifully mastered live recording of Duke Ellington's "Jeep's Blues" takes us on a much needed daytrip out of the polyester decade. And Tom Jones' "Delilah" is the perfect song choice for a key scene which both delights and foreshadows the betrayal to follow. But it is Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes' "Don't Leave Me This Way" and The Bee Gee's "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" that give the soundtrack, and the film, its soul. All-in-all, the finest, most perfectly balanced film soundtrack that I've ever had the pleasure to have listened to.