The pandemic may have left us with neither a summer music nor movie season to relish this season, but at least we can still turn to some noteworthy amalgamations of the two genres. Movie soundtracks might not captivate with the same mega-sales as they did in what was probably their golden era — the 1980s — but recently released biopics and remakes have stimulated interest in back catalogs and original songs alike.
The only rule for this collection was this: focus solely on movies. So, no TV shows or musicals are involved. As well, since soundtracks for animated films could spawn their own story, those are also excluded (however, in an unscientific poll, friends with children seem to vastly prefer “Moana” to “Frozen”).
Here Here’s a nostalgic guide to 35 soundtracks from the 1970s through now.
“Super Fly” (1972): Nine tracks bursting with soul and funk courtesy of Curtis Mayfield. Aside from the “Superfly” single, the movie’s theme, “Freddie’s Dead,” spotlighted Mayfield’s political pointedness.
“Saturday Night Fever” (1977): It’s the second-biggest selling soundtrack in history (16 million — and keep reading to find out which one tops the list) and with the Bee Gees at the helm, these 17 songs propelled disco under the mirror ball lights with the indelible “Stayin’ Alive,” “Jive Talkin',” “How Deep Is Your Love” and “You Should Be Dancing” among its hits.
“Grease” (1978): The Bee Gees and John Travolta crossed paths again as the band’s Barry Gibb wrote the Frankie Valli-sung theme song. But it’s really the chemistry of Travolta and Olivia Newton-John on “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want” that provide the charm. Also, are there more potent declarations of yearning than their respective “Sandy” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You”?
“The Wiz” (1978): Produced by the immeasurable Quincy Jones, this musical complement highlighted by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson reminding us to “Ease on Down the Road” became a bigger hit than the movie.
“Flashdance” (1983): Boasting a pair of No. 1 hits — Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeling” and Michael Sembello’s caffeinated “Maniac” — the album is noted for dislodging Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” from the No. 1 spot after 17 weeks. (Jackson returned to his perch after two weeks.)
“The Big Chill” (1983): The film is the epitome of Boomer-dom, and its accompanying music appropriately reminisces with the heavily ’60s-era sounds of Marvin Gaye (“I Heard it Through the Grapevine”), The Young Rascals (“Good Lovin'”) and The Temptations (“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”).
“Footloose” (1984): Although Kenny Loggins’ No. 1 title track is the song still most likely to be played at a wedding, save yourself the boredom of hearing it for the 7,832nd time and indulge in Bonnie Tyler’s gloriously dramatic “Holding Out for a Hero” or Shalamar’s silky “Dancing in the Sheets.” (And OK, Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is rather immortal, too.)
“Purple Rain” (1984): Prince’s first offering with The Revolution also helped him achieve inaugural No. 1 status with major radio players “Let’s Go Crazy,” “When Doves Cry” and the title track. Shout-out as well to 1986′s “Under the Cherry Moon” soundtrack, which moonlighted as Prince’s “Parade” album and offered the slithering “Kiss.”
“Hard to Hold” (1984): Rick Springfield’s movie debut was an unmitigated bomb, but the musician used his deft melodic touch not only on the hit “Love Somebody,” but the fun rockers “Stand Up” and “Bop Til You Drop.”
“Back to the Future” (1985): Huey Lewis & The News earned their first No. 1 hit with the pedestrian “The Power of Love.” Skip to track No. 5 for the infinitely superior “Back in Time.”
“Top Gun” (1986): If you’ve lived near a radio, you’ve heard Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” ad nauseam. The true gems on this nine-million-plus seller are Cheap Trick’s muscular “Mighty Wings” and the “Top Gun Anthem” written by Harold Faltermeyer (of “Axel F” fame) and performed alongside Billy Idol’s longtime ace guitarist, Steve Stevens.
“Pretty in Pink” (1986): John Hughes’ movies tended to be stocked with New Wave nuggets, and this beauty unleashed The Psychedelic Furs on the title song, as well as OMD’s timeless “If You Leave,” Nik Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good” and the first appearance of Suzanne Vega’s “Left of Center.”
“Dirty Dancing” (1987): Another massive commercial success with more than 11 million copies sold. The combination of classics (“Be My Baby,” “Love Is Strange”), originals (“Hungry Eyes,” which Eric Carmen turned into a hit; the enduring “[I’ve Had] The Time of My Life,” from Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes) and Patrick Swayze behind a microphone (“She’s Like the Wind”) proved a popular mélange.
“Batman” (1989): An original collection from Prince that is dark, brooding and elegantly funky. We’re not sure which is cooler – the expertly inserted film dialogue or the insinuating “Batdance.”
“When Harry Met Sally” (1989): It could have also served as when Harry – as in Connick – was introduced to the world. With his dreamy, Sinatra-esque approach to evergreens such as “It Had to Be You” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” Connick was instantly acknowledged as a striking young talent with an old soul.
“Boomerang” (1992): A LaFace release means there is plenty of Babyface, L.A. Reid and even a Dallas Austin sighting (he produced Grace Jones’ “7 Day Weekend”). But this is a fine time to remind people that this was also the home of P.M. Dawn’s sleek “I’d Die Without You.”
“Singles” (1992): A nifty time capsule of the Seattle grunge movement that was creeping into the mainstream in the early ’90s with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains taking center stage. Even the album cover looks as if it needs a shower.
“The Bodyguard” (1992): And here we have our victor for the best-selling soundtrack of all time (more than 18 million in the U.S.). Of course, Houston’s superhuman rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” (suggested by Kevin Costner and produced by David Foster) is the centerpiece. But “I Have Nothing,” “Run to You,” “Queen of the Night” and a feisty remake of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” aren’t too shabby, either.
“Dazed and Confused” (1993): The Richard Linklater written-and-directed comedy named for a Led Zeppelin song brought us early Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey, as well as a soundtrack bursting with classic rock staples from Alice Cooper, The Runaways, Sweet and Kiss.
“Reality Bites” (1994): Along with introducing a new generation to The Knack (“My Sharona”), it also launched the career of the then-unsigned Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories with the wispy prettiness of “Stay (I Missed You).”
“Waiting to Exhale” (1995): Again we see the ubiquitous Babyface (who wrote and produced the collection) and Whitney Houston (“Exhale [Shoop Shoop],” “Why Does It Hurt So Bad” and, with CeCe Winans, “Count on Me”). But don’t forget the rest of the powerhouse lineup that includes TLC, Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle and Brandy.
“Trainspotting” (1996): A congruent supplement to the seedy surroundings of the movie (based on the Irvine Welsh novel) with the brilliant inclusions of Iggy Pop (“Lust for Life”), Blur (“Sing”) and a haunting Lou Reed (“Perfect Day”). A second soundtrack was released the following year.
“Boogie Nights” (1997): Another movie that warranted two volumes of a soundtrack. But the first is primarily a ’70s time capsule of dance and disco (“Best of My Love” from The Emotions, “Got to Give It Up [Part 1]” from Marvin Gaye) until an ’80s blast of Night Ranger with their overwrought “Sister Christian.”
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000): The combination of writers/directors the Coen Brothers and soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett produced one of the oddest success stories of the decade. The collection of bluegrass and folk tunes was spearheaded by “Man of Constant Sorrow” (sung on record by Dan Tyminski) and culminated in a Grammy win for album of the year in 2002.
“High Fidelity” (2000): Many John Cusack movies have spawned solid musical accompaniments (“Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”). But for a film about an indie record store owner, this is the expected treasure chest with eclectic offerings from The Velvet Underground, Love, The Kinks and, yes, Jack Black.
“I Am Sam” (2001): Comprised entirely of covers of Beatles songs, these 17 remakes confirm the ageless beauty of their catalog. Aimee Mann and Michael Penn are sublime on “Two of Us,” while Rufus Wainwright (“Across the Universe”), Ben Folds (“Golden Slumbers”) and Paul Westerberg (“Nowhere Man”) also bring the heat.
“A Mighty Wind: The Album” (2003): The brilliance of Christopher Guest cannot be overstated, and his mockumentary about the folk music circuit is especially hilarious. Kudos to Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Guest, whose performances on original songs “Old Joe’s Place,” “The Ballad of Bobby and June” and the terrifically clever title track (”A Mighty Wind Is Blowin’”) are aces.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014): For a current soundtrack to sell nearly 2 million copies is impressive. That its songs – crafted as a mixtape – come from Rupert Holmes (“Escape [The Pina Colada Song]”), Blue Swede (“Hooked on a Feeling”) and Elvin Bishop (“Fooled Around and Fell in Love”) make it a happy anomaly.
“Sing Street” (2016): Fans of synthesizers and mellifluous melodies will adore the original songs penned by Gary Clark, of Scottish ’80s band Danny Wilson. “Up” and “A Beautiful Sea” define pop perfection, while those looking for familiarity will find it with The Jam, The Cure and Duran Duran.
“Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (2017): Initially, the hits were to come from Kid Ink, Tyga, Wale, YG and Rich Homie Quan (“Ride Out”), Wiz Khalifa and Iggy Azalea (“Go Hard or Go Home”) and T.I. and Young Thug (“Off-Set”). But it was the heartbreaking “See You Again” by Khalifa and Charlie Puth, which paid tribute to recently deceased “Furious” star Paul Walker, that sent the soundtrack to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
“The Greatest Showman” (2017): Few Oscar performances are as memorable as Keale Settle’s invigorating “This Is Me,” which was nominated in 2018 for best original song. The uplifting anthem is rivaled only by “The Greatest Show,” which also spotlights Settle, as well as Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Zendaya.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018): Of course the parade of Queen hits is here, as well as 11 previously unreleased songs from the band. But the defining moment of the film is the re-creation of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance, and the ability to finally have five of those live tracks on audio is a kind of magic.
“A Star Is Born” (2018): The 1976 iteration of the film bestowed us with Barbra Streisand’s creamy “Evergreen” and, prior to that in 1954, Gershwin delivered “The Man That Got Away” for Judy Garland. In the recent remake, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper wrench our hearts with their Oscar-winning “Shallow,” but don’t overlook Gaga’s even more tender “Always Remember Us This Way.”
“Blinded By the Light” (2019): This valentine to the power of Bruce Springsteen’s music contains plenty of familiar songs on the soundtrack (“Hungry Heart,” “Badlands,” “Dancing in the Dark”). But fans can also revel in rarities such as the first performance of “The River” from the 1979 No Nukes concert at Madison Square Garden and the previously unreleased “I’ll Stand By You.”
“Rocketman” (2019): Those who worried that Taron Egerton couldn’t pull off the embodiment of Elton John will be schooled here, as the actor puts his own coating on “Rocket Man” and “Your Song.” But John aficionados will get a taste when he duets with Egerton on the new “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.”
Melissa Ruggieri has covered music and entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2010 and created the Atlanta Music Scene blog. She's kept vampire hours for more than two decades and remembers when MTV was awesome.