Make fun of the “Saturday Night Fever” all you want, but our group won’t be leaving for their doomed trek without this oft-dissed soundtrack.
That late-1970s Bee Gees-dominated project found its way onto three lists for this edition of Desert Island Discs, tying it with the Band’s star-packed, far more critically acclaimed farewell concert film “The Last Waltz.” Elsewhere, the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Nights, and a pair of Thomas Newman soundtracks (for “American Beauty” and “Meet Joe Black”) each received two nods from the Something Else! Reviews panel, as well.
Other notables on our always-entertainingly varied lists include Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Brian Eno, John Barry, Trent Reznor, Branford Marsalis, Daft Punk and Vladimir Cosma — along with the multi-artist recordings associated with “Easy Rider,” “Singles,” “Finding Forrester,” “The Big Chill,” “Forest Gump,” “Almost Famous” and “Grease.”
Interest piqued yet? Well, then grab some popcorn! It’s time for the original movie soundtrack edition of our Desert Island Discs series …
1. MILES DAVIS – A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON (1970): “I could put together the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band you ever heard,” declared Miles. And he did so, quite literally as he recorded this album about a boxing legend that can go toe-to-toe with In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
2. CURTIS MAYFIELD – SUPERFLY (1972): Mayfield’s soul masterpiece one-upped the social concerns eloquently expressed on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, painting a visceral depiction of urban America that forced open the eyes of the comfortable middle-class.
3. TALKING HEADS – STOP MAKING SENSE (1984, 1999 Expanded Edition): If you had to choose just one Talking Heads, why not choose the one that covers most of the high points from this potent live act? The expanded edition adds more goodness, including the offshoot Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.”
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – FINDING FORRESTER (2000): Bill Frisell, early fusion Miles, mid-period Ornette, and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” tossed in for good measure.
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS – DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD (2002): T-Bone Burnett showed vast and quality knowledge of roots, folk and Americana music forms in curating this soundtrack. Full of majestic or soulful deeper cuts from Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and a few contemporary nuggets from the likes of Lauryn Hill and Bob Dylan. “Dimming of the Day” by Richard and Linda Thompson is the cherry on top of T-Bone’s sundae.
1. THE BEATLES – A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964): The film dubbed the “Citizen Kane” of jukebox movies boasts a superior soundtrack as well. Featuring a staggering number of Lennon/McCartney compositions (“And I Love Her” and “I Should Have Known Better,” just to name a couple) and a charming Harrison song (“I’m Happy Just to Dance with You”), it stands as one of the best rock movie soundtracks ever recorded.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977): Disco eventually suffered from overexposure, but this album retains its timelessness. This longevity is largely due to the Bee Gees’ impressive songwriting and producing achievements; for example, “How Deep Is Your Love” ranks with the best ballads ever written.
3. VARIOUS ARTIST – GREASE (1978): This is a sentimental favorite for me, as I absolutely loved it as a child. Today, its 50s-esque tracks are still beloved by generations of fans. Who can’t sing the lyrics to “Summer Nights” or “Greased Lightning”?
4. PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION – PURPLE RAIN (1984): As the album begins, Prince’s resounding voice preaches that “we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Wielding his piercing guitar and unique brand of funk, Prince proceeds to take listeners on a journey through his mind and often eccentric–yet powerful–compositions.
5. CURTIS MAYFIELD – SUPERFLY (1972): Few artists could transform a soundtrack into a serious statement addressing still-relevant social issues. Mayfield’s lyrics for “Freddie’s Dead” and “Pusherman” horrifically expose the less-than-glamorous world of drug dealing and addiction.
[BEYOND THE BEATLES’ HITS: Think you know the Fab Four? Kit O’Toole’s ‘Deep Beatles’ series takes you into some undiscovered corners of the group’s ageless musical legacy.]
1. JOHN BARRY – SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980): While not as well known as John Williams, John Barry was also quite prolific. Where Williams scores are sweeping and majestic, Barry’s have a haunting and yearning beauty to them and “Somewhere In Time” is a modern classic in that regard. To this day, I feel every note and the score still has the capacity to move me to tears with its heart-wrenching melancholy.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977): I don’t know of any other soundtrack that captured a snapshot of a moment in time as perfectly as this. I was still in diapers in the late ’70s, but listening to this soundtrack takes me back to that era in a very real and vivid way.
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS – FOREST GUMP (1994): This soundtrack is a musical timeline with great songs that really captured the passage of time in the movie.
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1973): Most of this soundtrack is forgettable. What saves it are the tracks by Madura and the closing track, “Tell Me” credited to James William Guercio but sung by the late Terry Kath. The song was later prominently used on “Miami Vice” in the 80s.
5. VARIOUS ARTIST – COCKTAIL (1988): With songs by Bobby McFerrin, the Beach Boys, John Cougar Mellencamp, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and the Georgia Satellites, this soundtrack had a bit of everything. Today, I’d argue the soundtrack has held up a bit better than the movie has.
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1. THE BAND – THE LAST WALTZ (1978): Every time I hear this I am struck anew by its wonders. The Band returned for a valedictory unlike any we’ve ever seen: Surrounded by an all-star cast, and featured amongst a chunky new horn section arranged by Allen Toussaint, this delicate and ferocious group rises to stake its claim again on an amalgam of rock, soul, roots and R&B unlike any before or since. Then they splintered forever.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991): Director Wim Wenders, in constructing a film almost no one would see in its final edited form, contacted more than two dozen bands with a proposition: Contribute songs that reflect how you feel the band would sound in the future. The result was an all-star, era-defining soundtrack from the likes of R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Daniel Lanois, Lou Reed, Can and U2. Even the Talking Heads contributed a never-before-heard song, in what would ultimately become their final release.
3. TALKING HEADS – STOP MAKING SENSE (1983): Speaking of the Heads, this may well be the greatest concert film ever made — if only because it marries their unique musical quirks with so many interesting filmmaking choices. Who can forget the band slowly assembling over the course of the first few songs around David Byrne? The weird;y effective chiaroscuro lighting? That enormous suit?
4. BRANFORD MARSALIS – MUSIC FROM MO’ BETTER BLUES (1990): With a featured guest in trumpeter Terence Blanchard, this soundtrack found Marsalis returning — with the late pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, his very best band — to straight-ahead jazz after a period of performing alongside Sting. It remains not just one of my favorite soundtracks, but one of my favorite Marsalis recordings period.
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS – SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977): This one still has zeitgeist/paint can-swinging cultural reverberations, decades later — and I’m still helpless to resist its butterfly-collared charms. Sure, there are a slew of Bee Gee hits but the album also includes hits from Kool and the Gang (“Open Sesame”), Yvonne Elliman (“If I Can’t Have You”), KC and the Sunshine Band (“Boogie Shoes”), The Trammps (“Disco Inferno”), even Walter Murphy’s loony disco version of Beethoven’s Fifth.
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1. BRIAN ENO – APOLLO: ATMOSPHERES AND SOUNDRTRACKS (1983): The score to the space-nerd’s must-see film, For All Mankind, Eno’s music provides a suitably spacy and unusual background for this fantastic documentary. Rather than rely on his usual ambient sounds, Eno enlisted the help of brother Roger and a young Daniel Lanois, who together create something that is so otherworldly as to be nearly impossible to describe. Space country? Sci-fry?
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – SINGLES (1992): Perfect timing, that’s what this one is. Right there at the very early stages of grunge, Cameron Crowe’s comedy about love in Seattle perfectly picked all the must-hear bands the genre had to offer, and offered up some choice exclusive tracks from each one.
3. DAFT PUNK – TRON LEGACY (2010): No one really expected the Tron sequel to be all that good, did they? But did they expect anything from the score, for it to be so riveting, so energizing and so beautiful? Burbling synths and hard beats only go so far… and that’s when the orchestra starts fill in. It’s really quite extraordinary — this coming from someone who couldn’t otherwise stand the output of Daft Punk.
4. TRENT REZNOR AND ATTICUS ROSS – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010): We had to know this was coming. After Ghosts and so many cinematic moments in his career as Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor came up with almost exactly what I’d imagined a score of his music would sound like. And yet somehow that’s what makes this even more accomplished. The expectation was fulfilled and still exceeded.
5. HANS ZIMMER – INCEPTION (2010): Simply put, the film wouldn’t work without the music. This music, exactly this music. It is every bit a major character as any of the actors. So powerful is its presence that, upon hearing the music before the film, I had to stop myself — because I felt as if knowing it beforehand would give something away.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Considering the relative geekiness of some of his music, Brian Eno has maintained an aura of cool that is undeniable. It’s the fact that he just lets his music be what it needs to be.]
1. THOMAS NEWMAN – MEET JOE BLACK (1998): This is my favorite soundtrack of Newman’s, who also composed the scores to American Beauty and Scent of a Woman. The permeating melodic theme of the soundtrack best heard on “The Next Place” is so incredibly beautiful that it sends me to an otherworldly place every time I listen to it. And, if I had one song to listen to for the rest of my life, it just might be Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” which is also featured on this soundtrack.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – PHILADELPHIA (1993): I truly do not know where to begin with album, because this album deserves an essay, not just a sentence or two. From Neil Young singing “Philadelphia” and Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” to Maria Callas performing “La Mamma Morta,” this soundtrack hits such a raw chord that it truly almost breaks your heart — but in a way that makes you want keep listening over and over again.
3. WHITNEY HOUSTON – THE BODY GUARD (1992): Whitney’s voice at the beginning of “I Will Always Love You” is so faint and delicate that it’s as if it is going to break at any point, which is so poignant for the meaning of the song.
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – PHENOMENON (1996): I’ve been waiting months for the soundtrack Desert Island Disc list just so that I can include “Change the World” performed by Eric Clapton.
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS – MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY 8 MILE (2002): Say what you will about rap music and Eminem, but it’s hard to think of a more positive and motivating message than that in “Lose Yourself.”
1. THE BEATLES – A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964): Besides the stellar material, my first Beatles album (even in its less desirable United Artists incarnation) was and is an evocative reminder of having seen the film — at age nine, and for 35 cents! — in a packed Saturday matinee of enthused fans transfixed from the very first guitar chime of the title song to the last notes of the closing credits. In short, A Hard Day’s Night will make you feel alright.
2. TOM WAITS/CRYSTAL GAYLE – ONE FROM THE HEART (1983): The movie title aptly sums up a sumptuous and striking achievement in which Tom Waits’ gravelly gravitas is affectingly offset by Crystal Gayle’s torchy and pristine crooning. The rich execution plays out beautifully in solo or duet — voices entwined or traded off — whether in songs of affecting poignancy or touched up here and there with some of Waits’ bluesy barfly renderings.
3. AIMEE MANN – MAGNOLIA (1999): Aimee Mann’s trademark pop smarts and craftsmanship, complemented by her literate and incisive lyrics, dominates this soundtrack to deeply melodic and bittersweet effect.
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – PULP FICTION (1994): Who says we’ll never hear surf music again? Of course you’re going to get your Dick Dale and Tornadoes along with the likes of Al Green, Dusty Springfield, Chuck Berry, and the Statler Brothers — plus the irrepressible Ricky Nelson and the underappreciated Maria McKee. But you take the royale with the cheesy on this splendidly eclectic and not unexpectedly eccentric survey of assorted and sundry song.
THE BAND – THE LAST WALTZ (1978): One of the best rock concert documentaries ever gets a suitably grand soundtrack of the Band’s farewell concert. In addition to their impassioned performances of choice cuts, the double album bursts at the seams with a wide array of cronies and guests, including Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: If there’s a knock on Aimee Mann, it’s that her albums don’t always do enough to properly feature her mood-setting lyrical complexity. 2012’s ‘Charmer’ answers the criticism head on.]
1. VARIOUS ARTISTS – ALMOST FAMOUS (2000): I had heard all these tunes before, except Stillwater’s fictitious hit ‘Fever Dog’ of course. But after this film I’ll never listen to them again without picturing a hippied-down Kate Hudson chasing the “Golden God” across the country with her team of groupies: “America,” “Tangerine,” “Tiny Dancer,” “One Way Out” — I’ll stop before your head explodes.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – JACKIE BROWN (1997): In typical Tarantino fashion, this soundtrack is laced with more variety than Baskin Robbins, and equally as delightful to the senses. From soulful sounds like Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” to Cash’s “Tennessee Stud,” this collection keeps you pleasantly surprised and on your toes with every track.
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS – THE BIG CHILL (1983): It was the first time I ever heard the haunting sounds of Procol Harum’s Hammond organ, and nearly three decades later I still don’t know what “Whiter Shade of Pale” even means. Painted with 1960s rock and Motown gold, this is everything a soundtrack should be: a direct link to every scene in the film through song.
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – EASY RIDER (1969): Dennis Hopper gave the growing American counterculture of the late 1960s a face and a sound with this landmark film. If Dylan, Hendrix and McGuinn aren’t enough to pique your interest, add the Band and Steppenwolf to that mix and call me in the morning.
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS – GARDEN STATE (2004): This movie, much like the soundtrack, had it all. It tore you down with its sadness, only to lift you up and send you away on a message of hope. The placement of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Only Living Boy in New York’ as Zach Braff stares over a New Jersey quarry, reborn in the possibilities of tomorrow, might be the single best song framework in modern cinema.
[REMEMBERING LEVON HELM: We celebrate Levon Helm’s stirring legacy both as a solo artist and as the loamy voiced, rail-jumping rhythmic center point of the Band.]
1. VLADIMIR COSMA – DIVA (1981): The soundtrack to my favorite movie of all time. The music contains suspense, reflection, and the incredible voice of Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez. Her stunning version of the aria from Catalani’s “La Wally” was my entry point into opera.
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS – BIG NIGHT (1996): The soundtrack to my second favorite movie of all time. There’s food, there’s wine, there’s Louis Prima. What more could a person want?
3. THOMAS NEWMAN – AMERICAN BEAUTY (2000): Newman wrote a score so intriguing and beautiful that it lured my attention away from the film. It required a second viewing so that I could pay attention to the actors!
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – PI (1998) An electronic, jittery soundtrack to an equally jittery movie.
5. THE BAND – THE LAST WALTZ (1978) When I listen to this one, particularly when Emmylou Harris is singing “Evangeline,” I’m brought straight back to the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Maine. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how my listening world began to expand because of the music presented in this film.
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