In a recent conversation with friends concerning the best-selling albums of all time, something struck me as a bit odd. Beyond the Dark Sides and Thrillers of suburban ineptitude sat quite a few unexpected truths. The Bodyguard and Saturday Night Fever soundtracks both crack the top ten with Dirty Dancing not far beyond in the top twenty. Now while one could easily argue the merits of these records and furthermore their usage in the films, (Like how in the hell are they listening to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in 1963 when it was written in 1987?) it’s probably better to focus on an even more apparent phenomenon. Where have all the movie soundtracks gone?
The previously mentioned albums all share many similarities despite being released in three separate decades. They have original songs written specifically for the movie, two of three are dominated by one artist (Whitney Huston and the Bee-Gees) and everybody’s suburban mother owns a copy of at least one if not all three. Some of the credit goes to the marketing of these films, but beyond all the corporate hearsay, it’s crazy to think that something once so apparent in our culture has slowly dissolved. People really aren’t buying soundtracks like they used to.
A child of the 90’s, I was perhaps a bit too spoiled with a barrage of healthy alternatives to my mother’s Saturday Night Fever. Radiohead in Romeo + Juliet, Smashing Pumpkins in Singles; even if the movie turned out to be a colossal turd (cough cough Batman and Robin); the soundtrack was usually full of a few rainy-day hits from MTV’s star roster. Videos where the band played in some themed room to a few of the film’s stars with poorly-edited clips in the mix were standard. We only got more excited knowing what the closing credits would sound like.
As I grew up and my tastes became considerably more defined by the movies, it seemed only natural that for a film to really strike a nerve, it had to carry the right grooves. It became something of a bad habit, watching the credits, trying to determine what songs fell when. These tunes would then grow outward like low-hanging fruit for potential mix CD’s and start-up conversations. Directors were considered more human with affinities for psych, indie and soul. Suddenly every ear-budded stroll across campus warranted thoughts of quirkier times with an elaborate casts of parasites singing along.
Nowadays the background noises are bit muddier. While certain filmmakers still handpick their moments, more often than not, these songs are direct throwbacks to another time and place (See Guardians of the Galaxy or American Hustle). Original songs aren’t written nearly as often and with less fanfare. Much like listening to the radio, we hear the same hits in pretty much every movie with little distinction. Music supervisors don’t make gut-wrenching mixes for their audience, because it’s easier to just phone it in. Hey was that Spoon playing in that one exterior shot? Yeah man, those five seconds of guitar sounded really good, if I only knew who the hell that was?
As an avid film fan and unfortunate victim of the millennial hashtag, I can’t stifle my frustrations for the way in which music and film have grown apart in the last decade. While I don’t want some corporate douchebag shoving another thirteen track answer in my face, at the same time, I want thirteen tracks to take me out of my head and make the transition far less unsettling. My favorite underground bands don’t need to sell their souls for a faint taste of screen time, however, if they think their three and half minute anthem fits the bill, then by all means let it breathe.
There just isn’t a happy medium anymore, and maybe there never will be again. The soundtracks of my youth felt all-encompassing, some of them even worthy of a vinyl reissue for today’s weary subscribers. Perhaps, all the young filmmakers don’t know what they like quite yet or are stuck jumping through the same hoops as their predecessors, cold-calling musicians only to get turned down. I’d like to think that it just hasn’t happened yet, that movie about my generation with all the bass and treble to keep me in check. The problem is as I get older, the more akin I feel to Kevin Klein’s character in the The Big Chill.
– “Don’t you have any other music, ya know, from this century?”
– “There is no other music, not in my house.”
Time to do the dishes to Motown if only to avoid whatever silences follow.
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.