10 Essential Film Soundtracks to Own on Vinyl
What makes a good film soundtrack? Ideally, the perfect film soundtrack should serve as something of a time capsule, with the notes of a song able to send you right back to where you were during a given scene, whether that's a heartbreaking ballad or a ripping guitar solo during a movie's climax. Music and film share a symbiotic relationship, with a soundtrack being able to make or break a movie, and a good movie able to inspire feelings of nostalgia, warmth or excitement when a songs comes on shuffle. Here are ten essential film soundtracks available on vinyl. Note, we're only covering soundtracks on this list rather than scores (more on those later this week.)
Purple Rain (1984)- Prince
Beginning with perhaps THE essential soundtrack (and little argument to the contrary), Purple Rain is Prince's masterpiece. Already a rising star coming off 1999, Purple Rain vaulted Prince into pop superstardom, serving as the soundtrack to the accompanying film of the same name. Purple Rain marked the beginning of Prince's experimental era, and showcased his dynamic compositional and instrumental talent. The title track is the highlight here, a pop-rock anthem that combines elements of soul, rock, and even gospel, complete with an iconic guitar solo.
Pulp Fiction (1994)- Various Artists
Nobody can ever accuse director Quentin Tarrantino of not being adventurous with his musical choices. While most films feature a soundtrack as well as a theatrical score, Pulp Fiction does away with the latter, instead relying on an eclectic mix of surf rock, old-school rock and roll, and soul to supplement its wild story. Dick Dale's iconic "Misirlou" plays during the opening credits to set the tone, while Chuck Berry's "You Can Never Tell" accompanies the film's iconic twist scene, a dance that is likely burned into the memory of anyone who's seen this movie. However, the highlight here may be Urge Overkill's cover of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" playing over a visceral, anxiety-inducing Uma Thurman dance scene.
Forrest Gump (1994)- Various Artists
If we're talking pure nostalgia, it doesn't get much better than the soundtrack for Forrest Gump. Designed to take us on a "remember when?" trip of the latter half of the 20th century, it's certainly hard to forget Forrest's run-in with Elvis Presley that resulted in his iconic "Hound Dog" dance. The highlight of the soundtrack is the real-time shift in which counterculture begins to take hold in the second half of the 1960s, with Vietnam War protest songs taking center stage. The opening few notes of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" serve as the perfect backdrop to the roaring helicopters as Forrest heads to Vietnam.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)- Various Artists
The Great Depression serves as the setting for the Coen Brothers' 2000 period piece based on Homer's Odyssey. Now that we've got that mouthful out of the way, the Coens took an inventive approach for the soundtrack, tapping Americana legend T Bone Burnett to product. Burnett compiled a soundtrack of traditional American music, from blues to Southern folk to bluegrass, with a twist. Rather than use vintage recordings, Burnett brought in some of the biggest stars of the day, such as Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris, to record these standards. The standout track comes courtesy of The Soggy Bottom Boys, led by Dan Tyminski, a rousing version of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow."
Do the Right Thing (1989)- Various Artists
In his breakout hit, Spike Lee knew it was important that his soundtrack reflect the personality of his Brooklyn, and the rising racial tensions of the time. Lee blended elements of soul, gospel and hip-hop to create a soundtrack that perfectly encapsulated the feeling of late '80s Bed Stuy. The notable track here is Public Enemy's "Fight the Power", blaring from the boombox of Radio Raheem and serving as the film's anthem.
Baby Driver (2017)- Various Artists
Director Edgar Wright pulled out all the stops for Baby Driver, the most recent entrant on this list. Wright let the soundtrack tell the story, with the lead character's love of, and reliance on, music serving as a central theme. Wright assembled a genre-spanning array of songs from across the decades, matching each track perfectly to its corresponding spot in the film. Simon and Garfunkel's tune "Baby Driver" essentially serves as the film's theme song, but one of our personal favorite tracks is Focus' prog rock instrumental "Hocus Pocus" playing during a frantic chase scene.
Trainspotting (1996)- Various Artists
Danny Boyle's look at a drug-addled group of friends in 1990s Scotland is an admittedly bleak film. Trainspotting was released during a surge in popularity of Britpop, a sort of reimagining of the 1960s "Swinging London" music that dominated counterculture. The film's soundtrack places you squarely in the middle of the rise of Britpop, with songs by Blur, Pulp, and Joy Division dotting the track list. However, it's the opening track from veteran rocker Iggy Pop that steals the show, setting the table for what to expect for the rest of this film.
Clueless (1995)- Various Artists
Clueless basically serves as the '90s counterpart to Trainspotting. A modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma about preppy, teenage Angelenos, Clueless' soundtrack is a brighter, more colorful look at music in the 1990s. Tracks by some '90s favorites like Counting Crows, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Coolio appear on the soundtrack, as the film's characters entered their signature slang like "as if" into the cultural zeitgeist.
The Graduate (1968)- Simon & Garfunkel
A seminal work of the New Hollywood movement in the 1960s, The Graduate featured a soundtrack by folk legends Simon & Garfunkel. Arguably their signature song, "The Sound of Silence" features prominently in the film, including two reprisals, and while Paul Simon also contributed to the film's theatrical score, the soundtrack features several more of the duo's songs. It's "Mrs. Robinson" that draws our attention this time, referring to Anne Bancroft's iconic character in the film, though the version we hear on this record is not the complete version recorded for one of their later albums.
Super Fly (1972)- Curtis Mayfield
It's not often that a film's soundtrack outsells the film it accompanies, but that was the case with Curtis Mayfield's Super Fly. Produced as a soundtrack to the Blaxploitation film of the same name, Super Fly is considered a landmark of the soul genre. Mayfield seamlessly blended traditional soul music with psychedelia, and his socially conscious lyrics contrasted perfectly with his smooth singing voice. A truly groundbreaking album, Super Fly allowed Mayfield to flex his creativity in a way that his previous work hadn't, and quickly thrust him into icon status.