Till My Head Falls Off 10.15.02: Three Types Of Soundtracks

For Your Listening Pleasure

If you’ve been wondering what this section of the column is all about, it’s simply my ‘soundtrack’ of the week … the music I’m listening to as I put these 700-1000 words or so together for your reading pleasure. While I’m explaining things, and since many of you have been wondering where the title of this column comes from, “Till My Head Falls Off” is a fun little They Might Be Giants song (off of Factory Showroom) that I also happened to name my college radio show after at one point.

Enough explaining. This week’s selection comes straight out of a High Fidelity Moment I had about a year and a half ago. Okay, I’ll explain what I mean by that, and THEN no more. Remember that scene from High Fidelity (great John Cusack movie, derived from an excellent Nick Hornby book, which has one of my Top Five Favorite Soundtracks) where Cusack confidently states “I will now sell five copies of ‘The 3 Eps’ by the Beta Band” — and then all of a sudden everyone in the store are movin’ to the music? Well, I was at Newbury Comics in Boston, and I SWEAR the guy working the counter put this CD in KNOWING my will power was at a low. Of course, I bought it…

Spoon – Girls Can Tell

And since I mentioned Spoon, here’s a little shout-out to fellow 411 music columnist Garrett Martin who mentions them, along with other Unpopular Pop Music in his latest Totally Wired.

News to You

While I’m passing shout-outs around, I have to give props once again to Iago Ali, or as I like to call him, The Champ. The Champ’s outdone himself this time, with a
Pop Culture Locket that totally puts my column to shame. In fact, DON’T click on that link, ok? Not until you’ve read this column. But he actually explicates a Fabolous lyric, rhyme for rhyme, and that’s just impressive enough for me to forgive you if you decide to click over and read his column first. Traitor.

This week, the news hasn’t really lent itself to cheap comedy, so I’m at a bit of a loss. New Depeche Mode DVDs don’t excite me, while Pink Floyd breaking up would be interesting … if it were 1976. I happened to walk through Strawberry Fields in Central Park the other day, glad that John Lennon’s killer was denied parole, while wondering how John would feel about the state of pop music upon hearing the news that Justin Guarini was just awarded a record deal.

One thing that I heard really bothered me, though: apparently Britney Spears will be covering an Elvis tune on an upcoming NBC special. Are they serious?! This goes right alongside Kid Rock touring with Aerosmith and Run DMC in the “one of these things doesn’t belong” category. Please save me…

Three Types of Soundtracks

Back to my point about High Fidelity. Great movie, and the soundtrack is perfect. Good music is an essential part of any film, and can even make a mediocre movie memorable. “Wild Thing” being blasted throughout the stadium as Charlie Sheen makes his way to the mound in Major League; Steve Martin and friends dancing the meringue in My Blue Heaven; Mike Madsen, as Mr. Blonde, dancing to “Stuck in the Middle With You” in the famous ear-cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs; the “Tiny Dancer” bus scene in Almost Famous; and, of course, the Beta Band “Dry the Rain” scene from High Fidelity that I mentioned above, are all examples of this.

Since the mid-nineties (Forrest Gump, Singles, Reservoir Dogs, Dazed and Confused, etc.) it seems that the overall quality of movie soundtracks has greatly improved. Hey, why not? It’s a great way to make more money off of a film, as well as a new outlet musicians can use to get their music heard. Lisa Loeb was unsigned until the Reality Bites soundtrack made her single “Stay” a hit.

But what makes a “good” soundtrack? It seems to me that there are three types of soundtracks these days:

1. The “songs inspired by” soundtrack

2. The music of the times soundtrack

3. The “mix-tape” soundtrack

A “songs inspired by” soundtrack is one where the songs were written basically for the movie. In the early eighties, New Jersey natives John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band wrote and performed the entire soundtrack for Eddie and the Cruisers, a movie about a fictional sixties band who’s lead singer (played by Michael Pare) disappeared, seemingly dead, twenty years earlier, and who’s music was suddenly experiencing a Renaissance. In the past year, we’ve seen I Am Sam inspire a wonderful soundtrack of modern artists covering classic Beatles songs, to accentuate the affinity for the Fab Four held by Sean Penn’s lead character. In fact, the Vines’ version of “I’m Only sleeping” may be better than any of the original songs on their debut CD. Additionally, Badly Drawn Boy practically begged for permission to write and record a collection of beautiful ballads and cute instrumental interludes for the About a Boy soundtrack – the second soundtrack from a Nick Hornby-written movie that I absolutely love listening to over and over again.

Then there are soundtracks that incorporate a variety of songs from the same time period into an album that has to (a) fit with the emotion of the movie and (b) flow into an appropriate group of songs. Singles was the perfect soundtrack for the grunge era; Can’t Hardly Wait was a good collection of cheesy late 90’s songs; The Wedding Singer, Dazed and Confused and Dirty Dancing all inspired TWO separate albums filled with songs from the movies; and Forrest Gump is the epitome of this type of movie soundtrack. Does anyone NOT own that one?

And then there’s the third type: the “mix-tape” soundtrack. How do you take a bunch of songs that seemingly have nothing in common, no similar theme, except the fact that they’re all a part of the same movie? The truth is, sometimes you don’t need any reason to group songs together, like on a personal mix-tape, except that it just “feels right.” This is a very personal type of soundtrack, and the ones that are successful are those where a lot of thought has been put into the selection process. Made is an example of a mix-tape soundtrack gone awry. There are some very good songs on this soundtrack, but the CD sounds thrown together, jumping from Dean Martin to Native Tongues-style hip-hop to punk without any rhyme or reason. Then there’s the soundtrack to the Broadway show Top Dog, Underdog which flows Wayne Shorter into James Brown, and DMX into Howlin’ Wolf so smoothly you don’t know what hit ya (and you can’t wait to hear what’s next). Pulp Fiction is another example of a mix-tape soundtrack that you can tell was put together with a great deal of thought, and I’d be remiss (did I just use the word “remiss” in my column?!) if I didn’t throw High Fidelity into the mix as a perfect example of this type of soundtrack — and, as I’m sure you can tell by now — one of my favorite of all-time.

What’s your favorite movie soundtrack? Why? Let me know and, if they’re good, I’ll include your responses in next week’s column …

Fun With Spellcheck!

As you remember from last week, I ran “Aguilera” through the spellchecker, and our good friends at Microsoft recommended “uglier” as an alternate spelling. Priceless.

This week? MS-Word suggests I replace “Cusack” with “cossack” — according to Dictionary.com, “one of a warlike, pastoral people, skillful as horsemen, inhabiting different parts of the Russian empire and furnishing valuable contingents of irregular cavalry to its armies, those of Little Russia and those of the Don forming the principal divisions.” Uhm, yeah. That’s definitely not as funny as last week’s. I don’t even think of horses when I think of John Cusack. Now JOAN Cusack? That’s a different story altogether….

See you next week, and thanks for reading.

peace. love. moe.

– Matt

Till My Head Falls Off can be found weekly on 411 Music (old columns are archived in the pull-down menu below). Already read them all? Already read everything on the entire 411 site? In that case, Matthew Michaels also writes about various topics for 1-42.