10 movie soundtracks that changed music

by Heather Burke

1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Original, rhythmic and strikingly visual, the soundtrack
to the Academy Award winning film Birdman relies
almost purely on jazz drum solos. As principal composer,
Antonio Sanchez took a relatively improvised approach
to the score, complimenting the chaotic aesthetic of the
film. Placing percussion at the forefront of a soundtrack
requires confidence but Sanchez delivers a score that
remains fresh and stimulating throughout. The director,
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, says the score helped him find
the “internal rhythm” of a film which is made to appear
to be a seamless, single take. This is a first-of-its-kind
soundtrack, experimental without being excessive. It
marks a turn away from traditional practises of relying on
melody to evoke emotion, and will undoubtedly influence
countless film scores to come.

2. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Instantly recognizable in two notes, Ennio Morricone’s
theme tune to this 1966 Western ensures the soundtrack’s
position on this list. Resembling the howl of a coyote, the
main theme is employed frequently throughout the film.
Desolate, haunting and unapologetically masculine, the
soundtrack features twanging guitars, distinctive vocals,
and… whistling. It has continually inspired artists from different
genres, with the Ramones playing it at the start of
tours, Metallica covering it on a tribute album and Jay-Z
borrowing from the track ‘The Ecstasy of the Gold’. An
epically triumphant score, its integration into music and
popular culture is proof of its success.

3. Assault on Precinct 13

Directed and scored by the inimitable John Carpenter,
the soundtrack to Assault on Precinct 13 proves that
when building menacing atmospheres, less is more. The
title track, which is varied throughout the movie, is based
upon Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’. Minimalist and
magnetic, the electronic rhythm-based score remains
current today, almost forty years after its release. Indeed,
Carpenter is acclaimed to have popularised the very
idea of a film score composed of electronic music. The
soundtrack remains heavily influential on hip hop and
electronic artists today, including the likes of Gatekeeper
and Com Truise.

4. Saturday Night Fever

I’m writing this while listening to the Bee Gees’ ‘You
Should Be Dancing’ and I must admit it’s a struggle to
sit still without breaking out in dance. The soundtrack to
this movie, with the majority of contributions from the Bee
Gees and smaller contributions from Kool & The Gang
and K.C and The Sunshine Band embodies the disco
fever that swept the world in the late ‘70s. The album
soundtrack spent 18 weeks atop the UK charts, becoming
the best-selling album soundtrack of all time. The
pulsating beats and falsetto lyrics of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ can
be heard in clubs to this day and, almost singlehandedly,
Saturday Night Fever gave birth to an era of hip-popping,
disco-dancing, glittering giddiness.
(Must-hear track: ‘Jive Talkin’ – Bee Gees)

5. Blade Runner

Greek composer Vangelis’s darkly melodic score for the
1982 film Blade Runner juxtaposes electronic and jazz
elements to create a soundtrack that captures both the
dystopia of Los Angeles 2019 and the warmth of the
characters’ enduring humanity. Influential as it is evocative,
Blade Runner has been described as the “pinnacle of
synthesiser soundtracks”. Techno artists in 1980’s Detroit
were inspired by its futuristic and melancholic melodies
and one must only listen to Carl Craig’s ‘Sandstorms’ to
appreciate Blade Runner’s continuing influence.
(Must-hear track: ‘Memories of Green’ – Vangelis)

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey

A key aspect of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s incredible
legacy is its soundtrack. The intensely soaring opening
track, an excerpt from Richard Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach
Zarathustra’, has become synonymous with space travel.
Stanley Kubrick blazed new paths in film music, combining
early classical pieces such as ‘The Blue Danube’ with
modernist classical music composed by György Ligeti.
Ligeti’s pioneering use of micropolyphony (sustained
dissonant chords) is heard in ‘Atmosphères’ and this style
has influenced other composers – and even the likes of
Sonic Youth. It is a courageously elegant soundtrack that
extends musical horizons in parallel with the physical
horizons explored in the plot.

7. Fantasia

Fantasia, a Walt Disney animated movie released in 1940,                                                 was the first movie to use stereophonic sound, and thus
marked the end of an era of thin, strained music. The
invention of ‘fantasound’, through the use of overdubbing
and multi-track recording, ensured that the audience
were given a brand new audio experience throughout the
film. Fantasia is notable not only for its sound technology
but for the soundtrack itself. With Leopold Stokowski as
conductor, Fantasia introduced audiences to classical
pieces such as Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Theme’ and Stravinsky’s
‘Le Sacre du Temps’. Fantasia was the first (of
many) films to use music from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker

8. Romeo + Juliet

The 1996 version of arguably Shakespeare’s best-known
play features an emotional, searching soundtrack that
spans genres from garage punk to alternative rock to soul.
The tense bitterness in #1 crush (Garbage) and Talk Show
Host (Radiohead) is softened by songs such as Kissing
You (Des’ree) and Angel (Gavin Friday). This soundtrack
displayed the softer, vulnerable side of alternative rock
and marked the crossover of indie music soundtracks to
the mainstream, emulated in later years by blockbusters
like Twilight. A powerfully edgy soundtrack to accompany
a hyper-kinetic movie, ‘Romeo + Juliet’ is a musical
journey that fluctuates between the comforting and
(Must-hear track: ‘Talk Show Host’- Radiohead)

9. Trainspotting

This 1996 ‘Cool Britannia’ classic boasts a dynamic
soundtrack that swerves around with a youthful restlessness
throughout the film. Championing britpop and
post-punk movements, the movie rolls out one exceptional                                           track after another. Eclectic choices are seamlessly stitched
together to create a bleak yet disjointedly romantic masterpiece.
This soundtrack, with songs by Primal Scream, Pulp and                                           New Order, primed the field for the punk-edged techno                                                 songs that swept the world shortly afterwards. It remains                                               a stellar soundtrack to this day, and the technique of                                                   compiling soundtracks from various popular artists                                                   within a given genre has become commonplace in film.

10. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ iconic movie was
considered so significant to the overall production that it
was recorded even before filming began. In contrast to
the tumult of hip hop and pop music that flooded the industry
in the 2000s, this soundtrack was a rediscovery of
bluegrass and country music. Produced by the legendary
T-Bone Burnett, it was a contrasting work of both macabre
and cheerful songs. Featuring songs by Alison Krauss
and the Soggy Bottom Boys, O Brother Where Art Thou?
brought about a revival in folk music in popular culture,
paving the way for acts such as Mumford and Sons and
The Lumineers in the proceeding decade.
(Must-hear track: ‘I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow’
– The Soggy Bottom Boys)




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