Think Outside the Boom Box: Sounds and stories

Music columnist Patrick McKenna on music’s role in film

By Patrick McKenna | March 4, 2014

Tags: Movies Music

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To my lovely, (maybe) devoted readers:

I thought, in honor of this past weekend’s True/False Film Fest and 86th Academy Awards, that I’d pay homage to the last thing remembered from the Oscars.

It’s the reason you can’t get “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion out of your head and the powerful backdrop that pushes good movies into the atmosphere of greatness: music in films.

Nothing can be said more about the direction a director takes a movie, the charisma an actor or actress supplies to awe-inspiring scenes, or the visual experience that takes viewers to imagination nation. But it’s the music that always paves the way for that enlightening mood, that inspiring aura, we as moviegoers yearn so deeply for.

Whether it’s a collection of phenomenal tracks throughout the course of four generations or a score that leaves audiences sobbing, soundtracks truly can make or break a movie.

Below is list of my five favorite soundtracks. These gold-status compilations hold the songs that bring every emotion phenomenal movies supply, with just a touch of sentimental value. You might forget that one actor’s name, but you never forget the song that played during the ending credits.

“Dazed and Confused”

The ultimate teenage summer movie, “Dazed and Confused” is a film that brought to life every fantasy-turned-reality spectrum of the ’70s high school legacy. With each song touching on the theme of the scene perfectly, this soundtrack screams, “The keg’s tapped!” like only rock ’n’ roll can.

Key Tracks: “Slow Ride” by Foghat, “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper

“Pulp Fiction”

Undeniably brilliant in every possible way, this flick shows Tarantino’s consistent direction of cinema, with some of the most memorable scenes of all time (even if you’d rather not remember — you know I’m talking about the gimp). The soundtrack only adds to the fear, ferocity and fruitfulness of “Pulp Fiction.”

KT: “Misirlou” by Dick Dale, “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield, “Surf Rider” by The Lively Ones

“Almost Famous”

My favorite movie of all time, “Almost Famous” is a rock ‘n’ roll classic and includes the most fitting soundtrack. Unsurprisingly, “Almost Famous” leaves a mark on viewers with a little Zeppelin, a little ’70s soft rock and a sing-along scene with some Elton John that moves audiences practically more than the movie itself.

KT: “America” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Sparks” by The Who, “That’s the Way” by Led Zeppelin

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

If the scoundrels running Wall Street are as frightening as this movie depicts, Martin Scorsese came up with a movie well worth the three hours it uses. The soundtrack includes a captivating usage of “Mrs. Robinson” as the bad guys are finally brought down, leaving viewers confused on who to root for. This movie shows how well music can take over a scene after one simple chord.

KT: “Mrs. Robinson,” by The Lemonheads, “Smokestack Lightnin’” by Howlin’ Wolf, “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys

”Friday Night Lights”

A score more than an actual soundtrack, the rock-instrumental aficionados Explosions in the Sky supply a dusty, passionate soundwave that matches up perfectly with every crunching tackle and character downfall. That string section … it’ll put that knot in your throat.

KT: “Your Hand in Mine,” “First Breath After Coma,” “Memorial” all by Explosions in the Sky

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