A Track-by-Track Breakdown of the “La La Land” Soundtrack
Without good music, you’re not going to have a very successful movie musical. In the case of “La La Land,” the music blends seamlessly with the story, complementing each scene or montage extremely well.
I’ve given the soundtrack quite a few spins and I’ve found that when separated from the movie, the music is even more charming. Let’s go through all the tracks on the soundtrack in more detail and look at the songs themselves as well as how they add to the movie overall.
Another Day of Sun
Starting an album with this song is sort of like waking up in the morning and immediately having five shots of espresso.
This is one of the most bubbly, effervescent songs I’ve ever heard. Whenever I put this on, it totally takes me away from whatever moment I’m currently living. It’s hard to separate it from the dazzling freeway dance number on screen, but if I just concentrate on the lyrics, it’s a different experience altogether. It’s that dreamers tale, it’s the lure of Hollywood, and it’s all done pretty concisely. It is a toe-and-finger-tapping delight. If they sold a single that was just this song’s isolated bass line, I’d buy it and dance into my office every morning while playing it over my phone’s speakers. I’m sure I’d get some looks, but it’s the peppiest damn thing I’ve ever heard, so I wouldn’t care.
The song follows the verse-chorus structure and repeats it twice, then has a little instrumental interlude. From that point on, it just builds to that great vocal crescendo which then gives way to the most thrilling part of the song, the timpani-booming, trumpet-blaring instrumental that launches itself out of your speakers. It’s like the song can barely contain itself.
Of course, like the movie itself, this tune isn’t all sunshine. There’s a tinge of darkness just below the surface. This is mainly accomplished through lyrics like “and when they let you down, you get up off the ground.” However, this isn’t as dark as I originally thought. You know the line near the end of the female vocal in the first verse where she sings “it called me to be on that screen, and live inside each scene?” I thought she was saying “and live inside a Jeep.” That line may be no less realistic for struggling actors, though it doesn’t rhyme at all, proving only that I am often an idiot. Moving on…
Someone In The Crowd
I didn’t think too much of this one the first time I heard it, but now I think it’s the hidden gem of the soundtrack. At the beginning, it plays as a bit of a vapid ode to the even more vapid Hollywood party scene. As it goes along though, it moves deftly from a pop confection to a slow, melancholy lament and then back to a flourishing finale.
During this one, it’s obvious that Mia is skeptical of this scene from the get-go. It’s less obvious that her friends are. The first time around, they seem pretty gung-ho. After repeated listens, however, it’s clear they’re laughing at the scene as well, but they still know they have to play the game. “You make the right impression, and everybody knows your name.” That’s LA in a nutshell. But it’s clear that Mia just doesn’t care about any of this. Her slow, almost heartbreaking singing to the mirror at the party betrays her vulnerable side, and it’s a beautiful moment in the movie. The slow instrumental crescendo that follows is one of the absolute best moments on the soundtrack.
Mia & Sebastian’s Theme
While “City of Stars” will win the awards and “Another Day of Sun” is the show-stopper, this song is the real theme of the movie. Its melody is referenced and called back to more than any other. It’s the emotional center of the soundtrack. It’s dramatic, tumultuous and foreboding. This version is capped by Sebastian’s wild, off-the-cuff solo that abruptly ends, as does his employment at the restaurant. Thinking about this does lend a bit of humor to an otherwise serious tune.
A Lovely Night
Ahh, the real song and dance number. In a movie loaded with references to the Hollywood of old, this is the most earnest throwback. Luckily it manages to feel incredibly authentic at the same time. It’s fun to hear this on the soundtrack without looking at the dance scene. You can pick up on far more details of the song itself. It terms of sequencing, it’s a nice pick-me-up after the relative angst of “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme.” The piano-only finish is a delight.
A good swinging jazz tune. It’s necessary in the movie for Sebastian’s intro to jazz for Mia, but it doesn’t do a ton for me on the soundtrack. I usually listen because it’s so brief, but if I were to skip ahead, I don’t think I’d miss it much.
City of Stars (I)
This is the one that most people are humming and/or whistling for days after seeing the movie. This is the abbreviated version of the song, and it terms of the soundtrack, it’s just a bridge. This plays better in the movie, with Sebastian roaming the pier, still a bit distraught with self-doubt despite having a new love interest. The instrumentation in this version is more compelling than the piano-and-vocals version that Gosling and Stone sing, and is definitely more cinematic. It leaves you wanting more. A problem which is soon remedied…
You know how I know this is a great piece of music for this scene (the sky walking/dancing sequence at the observatory)? Because when you hear this song playing behind it, you think, “Oh, of course, this had to be it.” It fits so naturally with the on-screen action that if you heard any other song, it just wouldn’t fit the same way, the right way. From the quiet moments and the flittering flutes to the grand orchestration of the melody from “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme”, this one fits the mood of the scene perfectly. And then the huge crescendo at the end during the kiss. One of the highlights of the soundtrack.
If the goal here was to write an upbeat instrumental that would run behind a summer-y montage about newfound love, then mission accomplished. I spend 95% of the time when this song is playing trying to figure out if it’s reprising/calling back to something else on the soundtrack. I’m 98% sure it doesn’t, but I can never be entirely sure. Can someone put this to rest for me?
City of Stars (II)
This one is, on the whole, more satisfying than the first go round, because there’s more than four lines sung. It’s more of a complete song in this instance. This song is incredibly simple, and its lyrics aren’t really all that inspiring, although it does put the theme of the movie out there relatively succinctly. It’s the that simply melody, however, that just lodges itself in your brain until you either forcefully evict it or just happen to get another one of these songs stuck in there in its place.
Start a Fire
Okay, you can’t really judge this song, because it’s meant to be bad. Or if not bad, then at least embarrassing to be performing. Just look at Sebastian during this scene. He can barely hide his shame. If the song overall seems pretty harmless, it’s because it’s total fluff. Go ahead and look at the lyrics. It’s gibberish. It’s about absolutely nothing.
The music starts out pretty innocuously, but when the band kicks in, it goes down in flames in a hurry. Sebastian’s solo (on whatever the hell that thing is that he’s playing) just throws more gasoline on the blaze. It’s so overproduced that believing that anyone would take this song seriously is probably the biggest stretch in the movie. And this is a movie where two people fly around and dance in the dome of an observatory. So let’s move on.
If you have something negative happen in your life, and you need to wallow in despair for roughly 90 seconds, this would be an excellent piece of music to use as a soundtrack for your sadness. Within the first few notes, this one just screams “sorrow”. But it’s also just a concise, beautiful arrangement. I’m not sure I would be thrilled if the pianist broke this one out at my own engagement party, but I’m glad it was part of the movie.
Audition (The Fools Who Dream)
The first thing I looked up when I got home from seeing the movie for the first time was whether this was a re-purposed song from an old movie. I was actually a bit surprised when I found out it was an original. That’s how familiar it sounded.
This song and “City of Stars,” form the earnest and sentimental center of the soundtrack. Obviously this is Mia’s big moment on screen, and the song brings the drama to match it. This one could easily be a big dividing line for how people view this movie. If you you are a bit of a dreamer and this one tugged at your heartstrings or made your eyes well up, you’re likely in on the movie as a whole. If you were rolling your eyes at the seriousness of the moment, you’re probably out. As a stand-alone piece of music, I could see how this could be viewed as a little melodramatic. In the context of the story, however, it works totally fine for me. And those strings when Mia hits the word “dream” in the chorus just stab me in the heart every time.
For all the dazzle of “Another Day of Sun” or the simpleappeal of “City of Stars,” this is the real showpiece of the movie and the soundtrack. This might be my favorite sequence in the movie and and my favorite experience on the soundtrack. In terms of the music, it’s a tour back through the story, with seamless callbacks to many of the previous numbers. It’s an excellent summation of the musical theme. It’s a nearly eight-minute tour de force and ties everything together perfectly.
Clocking in at 46 seconds, I’m not sure this really needed to be included on the soundtrack, but it does close out the action in the movie so I guess it’s a fitting end here. Or, at least, it should have been…
City of Stars (Humming)
This version with Emma Stone humming the melody with some accompaniment from an acoustic guitar is nice, but it’s pretty unnecessary here, especially with two other versions of “City” already on the album, and with “Epilogue” and “The End” wrapping everything up perfectly. I mean, they had a track called “The End.” That seems like a good place to stop.