The most essential soundtracks of all time

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

What’s tougher than making a good movie? Making a great soundtrack.

Think I’m kidding? Check out Guardians of the Galaxy. Based on the box-office take and critical consensus, the irreverent comic-book flick is a hit. The accompanying album? Not so much. Sure, Awesome Mix Vol. 1 debuted at No. 3 in Billboard, and topped iTunes and Amazon’s listings. But that’s based less on content than on the sorry state of the music industry, the film’s cultural momentum and the fact it’s the dog days of summer when there’s less competition. What the 60,000 people who shelled out for Peter Quill’s mixtape got for their money was a batch of ’70s and ’80s soft-rock cheese and novelties — Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love, Rupert Holmes’ Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and so on. Sure, it’s cute. But really, Quentin Tarantino did it first — and better — two decades ago on Reservoir Dogs (and even used Hooked on a Feeling).

Of course, GotG is far from the first film to falter on the musical front. There are plenty of soundtracks built around one hit (I’m looking at you, Titanic). And iconic as scores for Star Wars and Psycho are, does anybody sit down and listen to them? With that in mind, here’s an alphabetical list of essential soundtracks — albums that not only work as companion pieces to their films, but also stand on their own. Now that’s awesome. (Note: To keep from going crazy, I ignored kid flicks, classic musicals, purely symphonic scores and concert-movie albums. Those are other lists entirely.)

ESSENTIAL SOUNDTRACKS YOU KNOW

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Five decades later, it’s easy to forget the Fabs’ third disc was a soundtrack — and one of three they made, along with the equally superb Help! and Magical Mystery Tour.

The Bodyguard (1992)

It seems fans (and Dolly Parton’s music publisher) will always love this blockbuster — it still stands as one of the biggest-selling discs of all time.

8 Mile (2002)

Thanks to the powerful track Lose Yourself, the companion album to Eminem’s semi-autobiopic found itself winning a slew of awards including an Oscar.

The Graduate (1968)

Simon and Garfunkel’s songs — topped by the then-new Mrs. Robinson — are as vital to this film as Dustin Hoffman. They are trying to seduce us … aren’t they?

Grease (1978)

Cheesy? Sure. But thanks to a handful of hits — including the title cut, Hopelessly Devoted to You and You’re the One That I Want — Grease is still the word.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

T-Bone Burnett kickstarted a new Americana boom — and won the Grammy for Album of the Year — with this star-studded celebration of bluegrass and country gospel classics.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Personality goes a long way. And Tarantino’s audacious, surf-centric amalgam of obscure tunes and his own razor-sharp dialogue is one charming mother.

Purple Rain (1984)

Dig if you will, the picture. But don’t forget the nearly flawless soundtrack that boasts five timeless hits. This is what it sounds like when Prince is firing on all cylinders.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Do the time warp again with Tim Curry — that sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania — and co-stars like Meat Loaf and Susan Sarandon. Don’t forget the toast!

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother, if you were alive in the ’70s, you probably owned this disco-drama double-disc — and perhaps a white leisure suit.

ESSENTIAL SOUNDTRACKS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

Apocalypse Now (1979)

This is the end … and the start of an odyssey into the Nam’s heart of darkness, narrated by Martin Sheen and scored by Carmine Coppola, with air support from Wagner. Smells like victory.

The Harder They Come (1972)

Jimmy Cliff helped popularize reggae beyond Jamaica’s borders with this crime-flick companion album, which also introduced Toots & the Maytals to the masses.

Judgment Night (1993)

The action-thriller movie is forgettable. But this set of original collaborations between rockers and rappers — Slayer & Ice-T, Pearl Jam & Cypress Hill — is far more memorable.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Compiled by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, this 75-minute audio collage mirrors the frantic fever-dream approach Oliver Stone used in this Quentin Tarantino-penned serial-killer satire.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Tarantino redefined the soundtrack — and Stuck in the Middle With You — with this clutch of ’70s kitsch classics connected by Steven Wright’s fake DJ from K-Billy. Now let’s go get a taco.

Singles (1992)

Much like The Harder They Come did for reggae, Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-centric rom-com boosted grunge’s mass appeal with cuts by Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and others.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

What would Brian Boitano do? He’d blame Canada (and that bitch Anne Murray too) while laughing to the smutty hilarity of the South Parkers. 2004’s Team America is a close second. F— yeah.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid. And Spinal Tap obliterate it with their spot-on parodies of ’60s pop and ’70s metal. Tonight they’re gonna rock you tonight.

Super Fly (1972)

There are some great blaxploitation soundtracks — but Curtis Mayfield’s fusion of urban-dystopia odes and funky grooves is the mack daddy of all. Though Shaft isn’t far behind. Damn right.

Trainspotting (1996)

Here comes Johnny Yen again — with the liquor and drugs, plus a slate of Britpop and electronica from underworld, Blur, Pulp and more. Not to mention Iggy’s cruise-line classic. Choose this.

darryl.sterdan@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @darryl_sterdan


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