The 90's saw a revolution not only in American film but also in popular music. With the rise in popularity of Alternative Rock, Techno, and Gangsta Rap, the Top 40 landscape reconfigured itself for a new era. It was inevitable that the movies would eventually embrace these trends and more. And they did, giving the decade an abundance of great soundtracks. And here are 10 of them!
Terrible movies with great soundtracks were plentiful in the 90's, kids.
THE TOP 10 MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS OF THE 90'S
If a movie has fulfilled its promise, a viewer will leave with a sense of the movie, a vibe if you will, that lingers. And later, a soundtrack fulfills its promise by taking that viewer back to that same vibe. These are 10 soundtracks that I feel can stand on their own as thoughtful compilations but that also sweep their listeners right back into the mood and atmosphere of the films they represent.
For me, part of judging a soundtrack's worth involves determining how well a director or musical coordinator have applied original or preexisting music to the story they wish to tell, and the TRAINSPOTTING soundtracks (there are 2) effectively tell the story of the movie all on their own. From the romping, stomping "Lust For Life" (the film's opening piece), through the harrowing, nightmarish tunes that score the belly, to the sardonic yet hopeful strains of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," the TRAINSPOTTING soundtrack offers a nearly operatic narrative that perfectly evokes the film's skeevy junkies and rotting flesh décor.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Nightclubbing, Perfect Day, The Passenger, Inner City Life
#9. BATMAN FOREVER
Where Tim Burton's Bat-Man films existed in an insulated world, protected by a bubble of Burton quirk and Danny Elfman's cartoonish bombast, the Joel Shumaker models sought connection to a more modern and familiar soundscape. And that meant a more traditional soundtrack album, loaded with contemporary artists all vying for Big Hit Single status and a big royalty payoff. But by mixing the likes of Seal and Brandi with edgier acts like PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Flaming Lips, and Sunny Day Real Estate, the BATMAN FOREVER
soundtrack achieves a strange kind of synergy that not only evokes the movie (if you're into that kind of self-abuse) but also the 90's Billboard Charts as a whole. And stellar tracks like "Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me," "Bad Days," and the ubiquitous "Kiss From A Rose" elevate the soundtrack far above the artfulness of the actual movie.
Lola could run faster than Forrest any day of the week
STANDOUT TRACKS: Kiss From A Rose, One Time Too Many, Smash It Up, There Is A Light, Bad Days
The Farrelly Brothers proved with Dumb and Dumber that while their taste in comedy runs low, their taste in bright and sunny Indie Rock tilts to the high side. With their second full length film, the absurd yet heartfelt KINGPIN, they strove to use the music to help tell the story. Loaded with the punchiest of Power Pop both modern and classic, the KINGPIN soundtrack makes for a great listen with or without the movie on a sunny or rainy day.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Save It For Later, Ooh La La, I Saw the Light, We Should Always Be Together
#7. RUN LOLA RUN / OUT OF SIGHT / FIGHT CLUB
My criteria for (most) of this list is that it be restricted to actual soundtracks as opposed to film scores, but it's my list and I can change the rules mid-stream if I want. And I'm doing just that with Entry #7.
This trio of soundtracks pioneered the idea of using techno music as a score rather than as occasional sex club source music. And while today's action movies pulse with a fairly standardized undercurrent of electronica, in the mid 90's it was a revelation.
LOLA uses its beats to the best effect, but the Dust Brothers' near surreal score for David Fincher's FIGHT CLUB also enhances the adventurousness and the trippiness of its movie. And David Holmes' neo-soul excursions give OUT OF SIGHT much of its edge and personality.
#6. PULP FICTION / BOOGIE NIGHTS
This pair of 70's obsessed long players could have easily come off like K-TEL's Super Hits of the Me Decade, but thanks to the creative and music obsessed minds of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson these companion pieces are host to a series of soul gems and bubblegum rock
nuggets. In a moment when 70's nostalgia was at a peek, these albums not only caught the wave but helped to define the mania. And each soundtrack benefits from input by the films' directors. Tarantino insisted that the PF soundtrack be sprinkled with bits of dialog from the film like so many soundtracks from the 60's, giving the record (or 8 Track if you go that route) an old school charm. And Anderson gave the BN soundtracks (there are 2) some creative bits from the movie as well.
Boogie nights reintroduced a new Gen to the disco bug
PF: Miserlou, Son of a Preacher Man, Love Is A Red Dress, Rumble
BN: Best of My Love, Spill the Wine, Magnet and Steel, God Only Knows
#5. JUDGMENT NIGHT
Often soundtracks can be better than the films from which they arise (see BATMAN FOREVER & PRETTY IN PINK in the 80's), but the disproportion between the dreck on screen vs. the proof in the sonic pudding when it comes to the JUDGMENT DAY soundtrack is positively mind blowing. I mean, this movie is so bad (a morality play about reverse racism and something to do with Emilio Estevez in a Miami Vice blazer), it is nearly unwatchable. In fact, it is totally unwatchable, and I know because I have never been able to watch more than 3 minutes of it's drecky suckage. But the soundtrack...my god! The soundtrack is not only exceptional...it was groundbreaking! Today, the notion of marrying hard rock and metal to rap seems like par for the course, but in 1990, it was downright unthinkable. Only somebody did think of it, and we got this killer collection out of it. A collection that manages to honor what's extraordinary about BOTH genres while hopefully making you forget the movie ever even existed. And there's enough power in this music to do just that!
STANDOUT TRACKS: Disorder, I Love You Mary Jane, Judgment Night, Real Thing
Love it or hate it, 1995's CLUELESS genuinely spoke with the voice of a new generation, and the soundtrack has the indie credentials to prove it. Boasting tracks by The Muffs, Luscious Jackson, and Radiohead, the CLUELESS soundtrack is an adorable romp through the 90's alt rock carnival, and
the album comes off just as bubbly and effervescent as the movie itself.
Hey, reality DOES bite! Darn!
STANDOUT TRACKS: Kids In America, The Ghost In You, Change, Need You Around
#3. REALITY BITES
I'll be honest with you, this pick is downright sentimental. This was not only the soundtrack to one of my favorite movies in college...it WAS the soundtrack to my college experience! This I had on cassette, and the cassette eventually wore out. I loved practically every song on that damn tape (I never did warm up to Big Mountain). And while the movie has not aged particularly well, the soundtrack still packs the same pop punch! And as a snapshot of Gen X at the dawn of their self-awareness but just before the dam of coopting and commercialization broke, it serves as a fine reminder of the idealism that shines in youth before life renders you cynical. (Not to be cynical.)
STANDOUT TRACKS: Spin the Bottle, Spinning Around Over You, All I Want Is You, Going Going Gone, Locked Out
#2. THE CROW
As a movie, THE CROW was all about atmosphere. And the soundtrack is no different. A hodgepodge of works by late 80's/early 90's gloom-n-doom rockers, THE CROW soundtrack manages to plunge its listener into the deep, dark morass of Alex Proyas' Halloweeny nightmare noir without so much as a frame of the actual film flickering.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Burn, Big Empty, Dead Souls, Snakedriver
The SINGLES soundtrack managed to collect nearly all the big guns of Seattle Grunge before they were such big guns. Selections by not only Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains but also lesser knowns like Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney gave Cameron Crowe's movie and soundtrack an authenticity, a cool cred that it needed in order to sell itself as a story for a new generation. Throw in some seminal Smashing Pumpkins and a couple of catchy-as-hell Paul Westerberg tunes, and you've got yourself one powerful document of ardor and angst. Like a lot of these soundtracks, the music has held up better than the movie, but in the case of SINGLES it was mostly about the music anyway.
STANDOUT TRACKS: the whole grungy soundtrack, man!
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The 90’s was one of the great decades in American Cinema, and I intend to explore it one film, genre, or director at a time.
Matt Berry is a copy writer, music journalist & occasional author of Weird Tales-inspired short fiction from Illinois who loves talking and writing about movies and music almost as much as he loves the music and the movies themselves. And the more coffee, pie, and cigarettes consumed during those discussions, the better!|
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