Favorite Soundtracks of All Time

In honor of the great music of the “Guardians of Galaxy” series, the CineNation writers picked their favorite soundtracks of all time.

Music has become an integral part of the Guardians of the Galaxy series ever since Star-Lord danced onto the scene with “Hooked on a Feeling”by Blue Swede from his Awesome Mix Vol. 1 Mixtape. The film’s first soundtrack is considered a favorite by many. People were excited to hear what music would accompany the second and they were not disappointed with songs like “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra and “Bring it on Home” by Sam Cooke. In honor of the recent release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and it’s great soundtrack, we at CineNation wanted to talk about some of our favorite soundtracks of all time. Read on to find out what some of the CineNation contributors picked as their favorite soundtracks of all time.

Top Gun

By Dan LeVine

From the opening’s adrenaline-fueled “Danger Zone” to the emotional “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” at the film’s close, Top Gun is fueled by a very strong soundtrack.

The soundtrack melds with the movie better than most, with songs like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Lovin’ Feelin’” even playing pivotal parts in the story. The latter of those two will be forever associated with the scene in which Tom Cruise and his fellow pilots serenade Kelly McGillis with an a capella rendition of the Righteous Brothers tune.

Another hit from Top Gun was Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” which plays over the Cruise-McGillis love scenes. The song, which was created for the film, went on to reach #1 on the Billboard charts, and it won Best Original Song at the 1986 Academy Awards. In fact, the whole soundtrack was reached number one on the Billboard charts five separate times and it went 9x platinum in the U.S.

While the Kenny Loggins song “Playing With the Boys” is prominently featured in the classic beach volleyball montage, most of the other songs are only featured briefly or play in the background. But these songs are all excellent too. Listen carefully and you can hear “Hot Summer Nights” by Miami Sound Machine, “Destination Unknown” by Marietta, “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, and, my personal favorite, “Mighty Wings” by Cheap Trick. It’s impossible to listen to that song without your heart rate increasing by at least 25 bpm.

These eighties hits are tied together with a simple yet powerful score by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens that any film buff will recognize as the “Top Gun Anthem”. So pop in the DVD or even just the soundtrack, and take a trip back to this classic from the eighties. Bring back that lovin’ feelin’.

American Graffiti

By Brandon Sparks

This topic was originally tough one for me, but once Thomas picked one of my other top choices for this it became a lot easier for me. First off, American Graffiti is one of my favorite films of all time and I might hurt some feelings here, but it is also the best directing job George Lucas ever did (Yes, even over Star Wars: A New Hope). This doesn’t deal with the soundtrack, but I want you all to know that this might be one of the most stacked crews I’ve ever seen. George Lucas was the writer and director (Star Wars), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) was the producer, Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) was the sound designer, Verna Fields (Jaws) and Marcia Lucas (American Graffiti) were two of the editors, and Haskell Wexler (Days of Heaven) shot additional photography for the film and was a visual consultant. And that’s just the crew, the cast was pretty great as well with early roles from Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, and Cindy Williams.

The backbone, however, of American Graffiti was not the cast or the crew, it was the soundtrack. The radio show of famous DJ Wolfman Jack is present in almost every scene from the first to last frame. Legendary artists like Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, and Buddy Holly are heard throughout the film, but classic songs from artists who are lesser known to today’s audiences are the ones that take up most of the soundtrack. Songs like “The Great Pretender” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, and other classics from the time.

The reason why the soundtrack is because these songs are not just needle drops. They aren’t thrown in there to increase soundtrack sales or to make the film feel “more professional” like how some films today think if you put a Bob Dylan song in the soundtrack, then you are automatically a much better film. The soundtrack is integral to the sound design and the story. The soundtrack puts you into the mood of the scene. It used more like a score than a soundtrack, which was something that became very popular during this era (just watch Mean Streets or any Scorsese film). Lucas chose not to use sound-alikes even though Universal wanted him to do so. He wanted it to be realistic no matter the cost. The licensing cost so much that they didn’t have enough money to hire a composer. They honestly didn’t need it. Lucas later said that he used the music as sound effects and the sound effects as score because the sound effects helped build the tension and the drama. If you watch the scenes where there is no music you can tell they are more dramatic and the sound effects almost seem amplified.

So, if you haven’t watched American Graffiti then go watch it because it is easily one of the best uses of a film’s soundtrack. If you have seen the film before then go watch it or go re-listen to it. It’s great to listen to while writing, I did it for this article.

Sing Street

By Sean Randall

My first instinct was to pick either the criminally underrated/underwatched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (the soundtrack for which is elevated to superstar status for me by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson singing “Black Sheep”) or my favorite Disney musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I feel the spirit of the question means I should exclude musicals where the songs drive the plot. Instead, I thought about what soundtrack I’ve listened to on repeat nearly constantly since discovering it, and landed on the criminally underrated/underwatched best live-action musical of 2016, Sing Street. (Not La La Land. Not even close.)

Sing Street is the kind of musical where the songs do not drive a narrative plot, but are aspects of the plot. Essentially, the film is about a young Irish boy who sees an attractive girl and decides to impress her by telling her he’s in a band and that they want her to be in their music video. The only problem: He’s not in a band. Ultimately, he gathers himself a motley crew of musicians, writes some songs influenced by the various rock and futurist bands of the mid-1980s as the music video craze begins taking off, and attempts to woo this girl through his band’s talents and his cocksure confidence.

Funny thing is, the band, while going through a decent range of sound and influence, is actually good, and it’s absolutely bonkers to me that “City of Stars” won an Oscar while none of the songs from this film, including the big push “Drive It Like You Stole It”, even got nominated. Criminal.

Anyway, the soundtrack is nifty because it not only features the songs crafted by the titular band, but it also includes the influences for each song from major bands of the 1980s. Some of these songs you may have never heard, but songs from The Cure, Duran Duran, Motörhead, Hall & Oates, and Joe Jackson all make an appearance, among others. It’s a pretty wonderful collection of fun, new throwback songs originally written for the film and flavor of the times to create a feeling that you’re in the 1980s dreaming of someone. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s on Netflix, and it’s so much better than La La Land. Do yourselves a favor and give it a look. Then give it a listen.

All of The Music from Ken Burns’ Movies

By Alex Bauer

Besides picking a favorite film, choosing a favorite soundtrack is next to impossible. So much great soundtracks exist and add tremendous value to the film’s they score. Halloween, TRON: Legacy, The Last of the Mohicans, Titanic and O’ Brother Where Art Thou feature incredible music. All of these soundtracks make for great additions to all playlists.

Phew, ok. With that all said, I can’t definitively pick a favorite. My answer is a bit of a curveball, but my mind (and ears) keep going back to this music.

The soundtrack(s) I re-visit the most, and consider my favorite, is the music from Ken Burns’ films. The soundtracks from The Civil War, The National Parks, Jazz, Mark Twain, The War, Lewis & Clark and more are absolutely sublime as music but also as part of the films. The music is beautifully composed by a host of musicians through the years, but certain tracks stand out. Original pieces like Ashokan Farewell and Sligo Creek provide iconic themes to their respective series. The musical “takes” on songs such as How Can I Keep From Singing and Beech Spring are nothing short of musical bliss.

The power behind Burns’ films stems greatly from the music. They leave an emotional impact on the stories his films tell. His awareness of capturing the mood and tone of the story is mesmerizing, due largely to the film scoring. The music seamlessly connects the viewer with the specific time period being shown. Though the songs might not originate from that time period (see Ashokan Farewell), the scoring and performances capture the viewer’s sense and hurl you into the story.

Not only is the music in Burns’ films the perfect addition to the story the film tells, the music can also serve as a symbolic purpose. In his Baseball series, the national anthem starts off the title card sequence — just like how every baseball game starts. Burns had fun with this, opening the episode of baseball in the 1960s with the Jimi Hendrix rendition.

I have listened to the soundtracks that accompany Ken Burns’ films 1,000+ times. They help inspire; they help reflect; they help tell the story of those who came before us. The scenes where music and history come together in a Burns film is when the film is at its utmost importance.

The Big Chill

By Thomas Horton

I understand we’re supposed to be selling you on the soundtrack here and not necessarily the film, but can we take a second to talk about The Big Chill as a movie? First off, it was shot in my native state of South Carolina, so it automatically gets points. Then you factor in that it was written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the unsung hero of the golden age of Lucas and Spielberg. And have you seen this cast? JoBeth Williams…Tom Berenger…Glenn Close…Jeff friggin Goldblum…KEVIN KLINE?!? (Frequent CineNation readers might sense a trend here.) Name a more iconic ensemble. I’ll wait.

Quick summary: The Big Chill is about being reunited with old friends, those people who used to be closest to you, but you haven’t seen them in years. After one of their old group commits suicide, these long separate friends spend the weekend together catching up and reminiscing. It’s one of the original “hang-out movies,” and it perfectly captures that sensation of “revertigo,” being immediately taken back to your youth when you’re surrounded by the people you shared it with.

The music of the film plays to this phenomenon, as the characters sing and dance along to the songs they loved when they were all together. Filled from beginning to end with some of the biggest rock and Motown hits from the 1960s, the soundtrack is a testament to the close sensory link between music and memories. The songs are often poignant and always fun, and The Big Chill soundtrack would set the standard for “throwback” soundtracks that fill their films with a fun, vintage feel, no doubt leaving an impression on filmmakers like Richard Linklater, Cameron Crowe and James Gunn.

The best part is that with all the amazing songs collected on this soundtrack, from Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” to Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” to The Temptations’ “My Girl,” and many more, the collection functions just as well as an amazing ’60s mixtape as it does the perfect soundtrack to the film.


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