Soundtrack to My Life

Timmy’s Top 5 Soundtracks

It’s a given that most of what Hollywood churns out these days is slop. Being tolerant of that, and with somewhat limited entertainment options, I usually shell out for the formulaic A-list silver screen fodder. Boy meets girl bank heist or boy meets girl disaster flick makes little difference to me. Check your brain at the door, extra butter on the popcorn and a bucket of sweet soda and I’m good to go. The soundtracks that usually accompany these big budget features are generally of little concern. Only rarely will a soundtrack album dent a sales chart and even less likely will it be remembered for its reprise and credit rolling overtures. Occasionally a film’s music supervisor will manage to hit stride with more than just a collection of background tunes.

Veterans in this arena include the impish Grammy-laden John Williams, Danny (Oingo-Boingo) Elfman and Bill (Rocky #1-#5?) Conti. These guys, while seasoned pros, are quite robotic in their delivery. Poignant piano bit, philharmonic chase scenes and a soppy ballad or two usually round out the package.

Then, there are those who have recast this stale staple with insightful approaches to the craft. Obsessed with the damp, low-lit back alleys of ‘40s film noir, composer Barry Adamson created a brilliant three-act film score for Moss Side Story, an imaginary nonfilm where “even murder brings a touch of color.” Darker still is DJ Shadow’s scoring of Dark Days, the documentary film that chronicles the lives of the subterranean Manhattan homeless. Chaotically discordant, we mustn’t forget Darren Aronofsky’s baffling film Pi, which features Orbital, Autecre and David Holmes.

Speaking of which, Irish bad boy Mr. Holmes scored outright with the Soderbergh-directed Out of Sight, featuring his quirky brand of Hammond organ funk and ‘50s era kitsch. Modeled loosely after the Pulp Fiction formula, which blended forgotten ‘70s soul cuts with some alt-rock; this sample-laden classic is often referred to as a benchmark in soundtrack compilations. Holmes struck gold once again with Oceans Eleven, using an identical mold.

For thematic era-driven collections, check out Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused with ‘70s power dinosaur rock or the Oscar-winning Boogie Nights to find your disco queen within.
Consistency seems to be the elusive animal here. A cohesive chord is nearly impossible considering any film script’s many bumpy turns. Another director whose attention to musical detail is noteworthy is Wes Anderson, whose Royal Tannenbaum soundtrack stands tall without its visual. This director successfully finds the link between a song’s melodic energy and its on-screen narrative. Using ‘60s gems from Dylan, Nico and The Velvet Underground, his input clearly went beyond actors’ cues. German director Tom Tywker’s Run Lola Run also broke with convention, delivering a dark and furious set of hyper-drive techno that stands tall on its own.

No respectable soundtrack round-up would be complete without a mention of Angelo Badalementi, music supervisor to David Lynch’s entire oeuvre. His lush backdrops have often carried the film when abstract plots wander afar. Conversely, the quality of a soundtrack can have little or nothing to do with a film at all. Jason Bently, KCRW moderator and consultant on the forgettable City of Industry, daringly licensed tracks from Massive Attack, Tricky and Bomb the Bass, only to have the film bomb quite handily on its own. The film’s demise does not detract from the skill with which it was conceived and scored.

While the industry realizes that soundtracks are simply marketing vehicles for needless product, every thousandth or so film sees it done right.

Timmy’s Top 5 Soundtracks
•Requiem for a Dream / Various Artists (Red) 2002
•The Big Blue / Eric Serra (Virgin) 1988
•Moss Side Story / Barry Adamson (Mute) 1989
•City of Industry / Various Artists (Polygram) 1993
•Pi / Various Artists (Thrive) 1998

You can hear breaks, bossa and rare groove on the High-Fidelity broadcast every Friday from 8 to 11 pm on Radio One 91.9 FM. Tim Otis is at

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