How many of you grew up on film soundtracks? For some people, especially those who grew up in markets where radio was stale and toxic, they were often the most accessible gateway to discovering new music. Speaking personally, I can’t tell you how many afternoons I wasted in Blockbuster Music (RIP) after seeing films at the nearby theater, trying to find the handful of songs that tickled my fancy on the silver screen. It was always a very cathartic experience when I did find the song and usually led to a purchase, even if I didn’t particular care for the film. Isn’t that funny?
Well, it used to happen all the time. Growing up in the ’90s, the Internet was still a budding thing, and going to the movies on a weekly basis (even if it was to see absolute shit) was much more common than it is today, so there was a rare agency to soundtracks. They were not only an enriching part of music discovery, but a popular one, which is why studios would pump millions of dollars into promoting big accompanying releases full of original music, major hits, or new gems, and they would do this with just about everything. That’s why I owned soundtracks for blockbuster hits like Batman Forever and Twister and for more agreeable alternative flare like Empire Records and 200 Cigarettes.
Here’s the thing, though: Despite the proliferation of digital music, it’s not like soundtracks just up and vanished. This past century has seen some excellent compilations, and not just for great, timeless films like Drive, Adventureland, or Lost in Translation. No, the trend of shitty movies and great soundtracks is a thing that continues even today; you just don’t have the CD stores to promote the albums, which means they’re traditionally relegated to the back end of iTunes and Amazon. That seemed like an interesting little challenge for us, which is why we’ve assembled this list, a collection of 10 really amazing soundtracks that were tied to some pretty miserable movies. Who knows, you might disagree — shocker — but in an era where bad movies will certainly render these soundtracks almost non-existent, we felt the need to shed some light on them.
So, grab some headphones, a bucket of popcorn, and listen up.
I Am Sam (2001)
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
With each passing year, Jessie Nelson’s I Am Sam looks worse and worse, a treacly affair that suffers from a paper-thin script and an overrated Oscar-nominated performance by Sean Penn, which is now best remembered by being lampooned and criticized in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. The film’s inspired soundtrack, however, has some of the greatest Beatles covers of all time, and to think, it came together by accident. Originally, the producers attempted to get the rights to the original recordings, but since The Fab Four are particularly stringent about their work, they said no, which led to this assembly of magnificent covers. A few highlights include selections by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn (“Two of Us”), Eddie Vedder (“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), and especially Paul Westerberg (“Nowhere Man”). Granted, nobody will ever sing “Across the Universe” better than Fiona Apple, but Rufus Wainwright comes close. A couple we could do without, namely The Black Crowes’ tawdry rendition of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, but the rest are primed for a pleasant afternoon drive. –Michael Roffman
01. Aimee Mann and Michael Penn – “Two of Us”
02. Sarah McLachlan – “Blackbird”
03. Rufus Wainwright – “Across the Universe”
04. The Wallflowers – “I’m Looking Through You”
05. Eddie Vedder – “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”
06. Ben Harper – “Strawberry Fields Forever”
07. Sheryl Crow – “Mother Nature’s Son”
08. Ben Folds – “Golden Slumbers”
09. The Vines – “I’m Only Sleeping”
10. Stereophonics – “Don’t Let Me Down”
11. The Black Crowes – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
12. Chocolate Genius – “Julia”
13. Heather Nova – “We Can Work It Out”
14. Howie Day – “Help!”
15. Paul Westerberg – “Nowhere Man”
16. Grandaddy – “Revolution”
17. Nick Cave – “Let It Be”