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From Williams to Elish: The best of silver screen soundtracks

Written by Film

Sorry, this isn’t an ode to Toss a Coin to your Witcher or the ‘Bathroom Dance’ from Joker… Sorry. 

With Billie Eilish now the youngest artist to release the title track for a James Bond film; No Time To Die, it’s about time we look back to some of the best soundtracks in cinema. There’s a bit of everything here, but before anyone starts with the ‘well where’s John Williams or Hans Zimmer?!’ – I’ve left them out purposely. Yes, they’ve made some of the best soundtracks, but I thought now might be a good time to shed some light on a couple of others… 

2017’s Call Me By Your Name soundtrack is up there with some of the best. It’s got everything you could ever want: French 1980s pop? They’ve got Bandolero’s Paris Latino. Seven minutes of piano that makes me want to go finish Grade 4? They’ve got John Adam’s Hallelujah Junction. Well, the first movement of it anyway. Love songs to make you cry? Sufjan Stevens Mystery of Love. It’s a beautiful film by itself anyway, but the soundtracks pushes the emotions even more. 

Benjamin, scored by James Righton, has to be one of the simplest but heart-warming/breaking soundtracks you’ll ever hear

Perhaps slightly off the beaten-cinema-track, but last years’ Benjamin, scored by James Righton, has to be one of the simplest but heart-warming/breaking soundtracks you’ll ever hear. Turn off the shuffle play, and you’ll hear audio clips from the film that make the impact of the next piece all the more powerful: I was just wondering if you might still be in the business of being interested in me? I think I might have put you off by being a lunatic. I strongly recommend Edith Bowman’s podcast ‘Soundtracking’, and her interview with Simon Amstell and James Righton on the music of Benjamin (episode 133)… and every other interview as well. 

Barry Jenkins got plenty of deserved attention for If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), but Nicholas Britells’ score isn’t talked about enough. Whilst the music itself is stunning, I’m obsessed with the level of detail in the actual names of each piece – four of which derive from Ancient Greek words for different kinds of love. The 3rd track, Agape, symbolises unconditional love often associated with religion. Eros (the 5th track) symbolises romantic love, Storge (13th track) for love of a family, and Philia (17th track) for self-love. Personally I think it’s genius. 

I don’t think I can write this without mention the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks. Controversially, I actually prefer the second soundtrack to the first one – you can’t tell me baby Groot dancing around to Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky in the middle of a space battle isn’t one of the most adorable things you’ve ever seen. They work so well here, and not so well in D.C’s Suicide Squad, because these songs have meaning to the characters. The whole concept of Peter Quills’ mother leaving him these mixtapes after she passed away is enough to tug at my heartstrings – even if she didn’t put David Bowie’s Heroes on there. 

My favourite soundtrack is Richard Cutis’ 2013 film About Time

One of my favourite films, and my favourite soundtrack is Richard Cutis’ 2013 film About Time, about a time-travelling Domhnall Gleeson who keeps going back to get the girl and do things right. It’s got a fair bit of range; The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love feels more than fitting, and although Jimmy Fontana’s Il Mondo (which Bill Nighy’s character calls the: “greatest record ever recorded by an Italian who looks like he’s got a dead badger on his head”) might feel out of place sandwiched in-between Nick Cave’s Into My Arms and an instrumental piece – it’s a small but brilliant point, brought up repeatedly in the film. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to this at least once a week – and make others listen to it as well. 

Whilst No Time To Die is certainly better than previous releases for Bond films, it remains to be seen whether the film will break the run of ‘average’ Bond films we’ve seen recently (Rotten Tomatoes gave 2015’s Spectre 63%). In the meantime, there’s a fair few other soundtracks deserving of your attention.

Last modified: 13th March 2020

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