Never underestimate the importance of a soundtrack.
In this cinematic climate, where CGI must always strive to become bigger and better to quell an audience’s ever-increasing expectations – where 3D movies are exasperatingly relentless in their number – it’s all too easy to focus on the visuals. But it would be a mistake to think that what makes a great film is all in its cinematography and the performances of its lead actors. Just one good song can transform a scene or sequence into something entirely more beautiful. Songs can give meaning, or convey and sustain emotion to a strength that even the best actors can’t quite reach on their own. They can also be one of the foremost things that you take in as a viewer, fresh from the cinema. Not everyone has the instrumental score of a classic film on their iPod, but on every MP3 player there will always be that one song or album that you just felt compelled to download, because you heard it in a film or on a TV show/advert and couldn’t get it out of your head. This list is dedicated to songs from compilation soundtracks exactly like that from the last 10(ish) years, spanning from 2003 to now.
10. Shrek 2 (2004)
Call me childish, but the soundtrack to the first sequel of DreamWorks’ most popular franchise is incredibly catchy. In fact, in my asking around on social media as research for this article, a surprising amount of people cited Shrek 2 as one of their favourite soundtracks. And actually, thinking about it, it shouldn’t be surprising at all. Animation is one of the most joy-inspiring mediums of film there is, popular with children and adults alike, and one part of its magic is in the songs it chooses to exemplify the fantastical stories it tells. Disney films, for instance, are notorious for their infectiously heart-warming tunes – look at Frozen and The Lion King, as just two examples of how music can transform an animated film into a phenomenon, worthy of Oscars and Broadway glory. While the Shrek 2 soundtrack may not be as popular as that, its covers of classic songs such as Bowie’s Changes and the Bonnie Tyler epic, Holding out for a Hero are wonderfully attuned hallmarks to the film’s adventurous plot. The song that is the most memorable however has to be Counting Crow’s Accidentally in Love – an Oscar nominee for Best Song in 2004, as well as the perfect song to convey the inner beauty of Shrek and Fiona’s unlikely romance.
- School of Rock (2003)
This one is kind of self-explanatory – it is literally an education in rock music, taught by the irrepressible Jack Black, in one of his better films, which showcases a story that is funny, inspiring and well, awesome. The soundtrack includes classic rock anthems from legendary artists such as AC/DC, The Who, The Ramones, Stevie Nicks and Led Zeppelin (which in itself is impressive, given the band’s aversion to allowing their music to be used for commercial purposes). The most endearing track from the film however, is Teacher’s Pet – written (in the film at least) by one of the students, and performed by The School of Rock in the crowd-pleasing Battle of the Bands finale. It’s prolific in the fact that it shows how inspiring music can be and how with a pinch of rock, a dash of roll and a whole lot of courage, anyone can ‘stick it to the man’ and find their own way.
- The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
Say what you will about young adult book adaptations, but it can’t be denied that the soundtracks for such films are always pretty spot on. Even The Twilight Saga had the likes of Paramore, Florence + the Machine and Muse on its sparkly vampire playlist and so cannot be completely disputed. The much-anticipated film based on John Green’s bestselling romance novel is no different in its choice of emotive melodies – ranging from Ed Sheeran’s heartfelt ballad All of the Stars to tracks by the likes of Tom Odell, Jake Bugg and Birdy. While a personal favourite of mine from this album is the hauntingly beautiful No One Ever Loved by Lykke Li – The soundtrack’s lead single Boom Clap by Charli XCX is the perfect anthem to celebrate the joyous rapture of young love, like the one that Augustus and Hazel-Grace share, without spoiling the eventual plot of the film. Okay? Okay.
- The Boat That Rocked (2009)
Richard Curtis’ exuberant comedy about the rise and fall of Pirate Radio in the sixties – as you might expect – has quite a few brilliant songs featured in it. This psychedelic soundtrack features the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix and is incredibly (for want of a better word) groovy. The music is what grounds the film’s plot of liberated DJ’s, led by the much missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, fighting against the hard-nosed British establishment using only their library of records and a punk cavalier attitude. This film is essentially a celebration of the pop industry and of the radio stations that still exist and broadcast every genre of music today, in a context that is both funny and heart-warming. All Day and All of the Night by The Kinks from the film’s opening sequence, encapsulates the free-spirited delight that music brings not only to the characters of the film, but surely to everybody else too.
- Pitch Perfect (2012)
Being a musical comedy, which trailed along the now ebbing trend of acapella groups, revived by shows like Glee, Pitch Perfect obviously has a pretty good soundtrack. In fact, it is currently the best-selling soundtrack album in digital history – so aca-scuse you. The collection of songs, all carefully fused into sets performed by the groups using only vocals, is incredibly catchy. The ending performance of the film’s main acapella group, the Barden Bellas, is particularly wonderful, as it combines songs of old and new (Jessie J’s Price Tag, Pitbull’s Give Me Everything and Simple Minds’Don’t You (Forget About Me) – made famous by the 1985 classic, The Breakfast Club) to make for a spectacular finale. However, the most iconic song from this soundtrack has to be Anna Kendrick’s simplistic, but nevertheless memorable rendition of Cups. Originally a 1931 track called When I’m Goneby the Carter Family, a band called The Landshapes revived and improved the song in 2009 by adapting the lyrics and using the “cup-clap” technique as a percussive beat. This soon became an internet craze, and was only increased in popularity by its feature in the film – to the point that Kendrick was later asked to film a music video, performing a longer version of the song, which can be found here.
- St. Trinian’s (2007)
This reimagining of the glamorously criminal antics of a school of rowdy female misfits is hugely entertaining – with a soundtrack that is as catchy and bubbly as the girls themselves. A star vehicle for several acclaimed actresses and singers, including Gemma Arterton, Juno Temple and Paloma Faith – as well as featuring the thespian talents of Rupert Everett (both in and out of drag), Colin Firth, Russell Brand and a pre-Cersei Lena Headey, this hyperactively enjoyable film features songs by the likes of Mark Ronson and Lily Allen, The Noisettes, The Ordinary Boys, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. There is also a hilarious cover of Love is in The Air by Firth and Everett, as well a bubble-gum pop rendition ofTrouble by the cast. However, the theme song sung by Girls Aloud, dressed to the nines in that iconic school uniform, is perhaps the best estimation of this tale of unruly girl power.
- Kick-Ass (2010)
Matthew Vaughn’s cinematic reworking of the hugely popular comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, has become somewhat iconic for its scenes of profane violence and the array of colourful characters it introduces – most notably Kick-Ass himself (played by Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Chloe Moretz’ surprisingly ruthless Hit Girl. The soundtrack to this adrenaline-fuelled adventure is just as excitable as its main protagonist. Featuring songs by Mika, Ellie Goulding and Primal Scream, the energy is never-ending with this film. One of the greatest scenes, though, is when Kick Ass fights his first batch of criminals outside a diner in town, to the frenetic sound of Omen by The Prodigy. To put it simply, the accompaniment of this pumping anthem to such an action filled sequence, kicks someserious ass. (Clip features strong language)
- Submarine (2010)
The soundtrack of this independent coming of age film, based on the critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorpe, is not the same as others on this list. While the other musical candidates offer compilations of older songs, with perhaps the odd original or an alternative new cover of a song, Submarine’s music is, much like its main protagonist – Oliver Tate – uniquely different. Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner crafted five original acoustic tracks as a backdrop for Richard Ayoade’s stunningly melancholic, yet darkly amusing tale of a teenage boy with a peculiar view on everything. While many are sure to be familiar with Piledriver Waltz (which was later re-recorded as a track for the band’s fourth album, Suck it and See), the song Stuck on a Puzzle has particular resonance in its ability to capture the sense of tender awkwardness in Oliver’s first pass at romance with his enigmatic new girlfriend, Jordana.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Stephen Chbosky’s screen adaptation of his own much-loved coming of age tale features a soundtrack that is for want of a better word, beautiful. In the book itself, music was a massive influence on its main character, Charlie – and the translation of that need for lyrical therapy in the film is flawless. Capturing the essence of confused youth, as well as the hallmark traits of its characters (Charlie’s vulnerability, Sam’s free spirit, Patrick’s rambunctious eccentricity) this soundtrack isn’t just a collection of songs – it’s like a cohesive extension of its literary and cinematic counterparts that so vividly brings the story to life. There are so many great songs in this film, by artists varying from Dexy’s Midnight Runners to The Smiths and New Order, but the most notable track has to be from one of the movie’s most pivotal scenes, in which the trio find their ‘tunnel song’ –Heroes by David Bowie. The use of this song, as well as the imagery of the iridescent beauty that is Emma Watson, practically floating through the wind as she stands tall against the backdrop of the city is stunningly poignant and arrests you into the most incredible feeling of untarnished, carefree elation, which – for a film – is pretty rare.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Ask anyone exiting a screening of this film what their favourite part of Marvel’s most recent comic adventure is, and I guarantee most people will start bopping on the spot, ranting to you about how great the music is. Marvel has a history of giving their superhuman prodigies some mean anthems to kick butt to (Iron Man, in particular, is a big fan of AC/DC) but Chris Pratt’s roguish Star Lord (a.k.a Peter Quill) takes that to a whole other level with his ‘Awesome Mix’. His compilation of retro tunes from the 70’s and 80’s, not only offers a fun and sometimes reflective backdrop to this futuristic tale, but also brilliantly captures the hugely entertaining quirkiness of his fellow guardians (who in case you didn’t know, include a gun-wielding raccoon and a tree) and their ultimately triumphant effort to work together and save the universe. In a soundtrack that includes the classic I Want You Back by The Jackson 5, Bowie’s Moonage Daydream and The Pina Colada Song, it’s hard to pick favourites. However, Redbone’s 1974 track Come and Get Your Love is arguably the most memorable (and un-spoiling) song from the film. Without Pratt’s infectious dance-miming to this feel-good tune in his opening sequence, the character of Star Lord might not have turned out to be the endearingly funny hero that we know and love today.
This article was written for The Indiependent. It can be found in it’s original form here