Coo, Coo, Ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson
It's impossible to imagine "The Graduate" without it. Even though the movie's soundtrack contains just a few Simon & Garfunkel songs ("The Sound of Silence," "Scarborough Fair"), most of them previously released, the album captured the spirit of one of the best films of the 1960s and vaulted to No. 1 exactly 50 years ago this week. Click though for more on that and other essential movie soundtracks.
"The Graduate" (1968)
The soundtrack to this movie almost had no Mrs. Robinson at all. As the film neared completion, director Mike Nichols asked Simon & Garfunkel if they had any more tunes to contribute. That's when they offered him an unfinished song about former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. "Mrs. Roosevelt" was changed to "Mrs. Robinson" and the rest is pop music history.
"Saturday Night Fever" (1977)
The best-selling soundtrack album of all time, this one topped the charts for 24 weeks. With songs such as "Stayin' Alive," "Jive Talkin'" and "More Than a Woman"—written by the Bee Gees in a single weekend—it made the Brothers Gibb as big in record sales and pop culture influence as the Beatles had been just a decade before. And while the disco phenomenon is long gone, the music from "Saturday Night Fever" lives on.
"West Side Story" (1961)
Though much of the singing in "West Side Story" was dubbed, with uncredited "ghost singer" Marni Nixon doing the vocals for star Natalie Woods, the movie soundtrack is widely considered to be better than the original Broadway cast recording. With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the album spent 54 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's album chart, setting a record that has never been broken.
"Easy Rider" (1969)
With great songs by the Band, the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Steppenwolf, the "Easy Rider" soundtrack reportedly cost $1 million in licensing fees, nearly triple the budget for shooting the film. Bob Dylan contributed lyrics to "The Ballad of Easy Rider," and even though that and another Dylan song, "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," are performed on the soundtrack by Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn. the LP still stands up, evoking a time in music we'll never hear the same way again.
With its giddy tribute to 1950s rock and roll, "Grease" proved that John Travolta could really sing and Olivia Newton-John could, well, kind of rock. One of the most enjoyable soundtracks of all time, everything here, from "You're the One That I Want" to "Summer Nights" to "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" pulsates with teenage fun.
"The Harder They Come" (1972)
This soundtrack—featuring Jimmy Cliff (who also stars in the film) and the likes of Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals—played a key role in bringing Jamaica's reggae sound to the U.S. Everything here is excellent, with Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop" standouts. "The Harder They Come" is one of the best mix-tape soundtracks ever produced.
"High Society" (1956)
The movie—a musical remake of "The Philadelphia Story"—pales next to the original. But "High Society" has something that 1940 classic doesn't—a delightful score composed by the great Cole Porter and sung by stars Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. The songs include what are now standards, "True Love" and "You're Sensational." So skip the film and simply buy the soundtrack.
"Pulp Fiction" (1994)
Though the album is missing seven songs from the movie, it's still a great listen. With a hip mix-and-match selection of rock and roll, surf music, pop and soul (running the gamut from Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie" to Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town"), director Quentin Tarantino redefined what a soundtrack could be. And, of course, there's Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell," which helped make John Travolta a dancing star again.
"Midnight Cowboy" (1969)
This Oscar-winning movie starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman boasts one of the best soundtrack albums of the 1960s. Well known for Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'," it also offers a beautiful score by composer John Williams. There are a few '60s pop period pieces here—"He Quit Me, written by a then-unknown Warren Zevon, and "Old Man Willow," a seven-minute psychedelic jam by Elephant's Memory (which went on to briefly serve as John Lennon's backup band). When you listen to this album, add one song to the mix: Nilsson's "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City," which was written for the film but later dropped. It's a perfect bookend to the opening track, "Everybody's Talkin'."
The original U.S. soundtrack release of "Help!" contains just seven songs performed by the Beatles. The rest is instrumental filler, which makes the whole thing a bit disappointing. But the version released in the UK—now recognized as the movie's "official" soundtrack—is a marvel, with double the number of Beatles songs. Of course, there's title track, a No. 1 hit that Lennon always considered one of his best compositions. But there's also "The Night Before," "Ticket to Ride," "Another Girl" and McCartney's instant classic "Yesterday." The album displays the lads from Liverpool well on their way to the maturity of "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver."
"Black Orpheus" (1959)
Set during the famous carnival in Rio de Janeiro, "Black Orpheus" features one of the most influential movie scores of its time, which helped popularize Brazil's bossa nova sound and turned singer/composer Antonio Carlos Jobim into an international star. Warm, sensual, exotic and pulsating with life, this album sounds as fresh today as it did when first released. "Black Orpheus" is one of the few movies that simply could not exist without its soundtrack.
"The Long Goodbye" (1973)
John Williams' soundtrack to director Robert Altman's great take on the fictional detective Phillip Marlowe is a jazz blast for the ages. Featuring a single eponymous song (co-written by Johnny Mercer), the slinky jazz tune appears differently throughout the film, as radio music, hippie cult chant, supermarket muzak, even a doorbell's ring. The whole thing has a film noir feel to it, like you're nursing a cocktail in a 1940s bar knowing something's about to happen that's going to change your life forever, but you're not sure what it is.
"Purple Rain" (1984)
There are times when a soundtrack totally eclipses the movie its scored to. And that's the case with Prince and the Revolution's "Purple Rain." With its alchemy of sounds and influences—pop, R&B, dance, funk, gospel—and breakout singles such as "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy" and the title song, this album is a soundtrack epic. As Prince admirer Jon Bon Jovi noted, "There's every emotion, from the ballad to the rocker. All the influences were evident, from Hendrix to Chic."
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)
Music producer T Bone Burnett's Depression-era soundtrack to this Coen Brothers film had a life of its own beyond the screen, going platinum and winning a Grammy for Album of the Year. With old-timey folk and country songs such as "You Are My Sunshine," "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and, especially, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," the album helped kick off the Americana trend now practiced by the likes of the millennial Avett Brothers and Hurray for the Riff Raff.
"Dirty Dancing" (1987)
No. 1 for 18 weeks on the Billboard album chart, the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack equaled the movie in popularity. Its Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes duet "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" became an international hit and won an Oscar for Best Original Song. There's also Bruce Channel's great 1961 tune "Hey! Baby," and even star Patrick Swayze acquits himself nicely with the ballad "She's Like the Wind." Surprisingly, Swayze's song nearly didn't make it into the movie. It was inserted at the last minute when the film's producers realized they were a song short.
"Super Fly" (1972)
Curtis Mayfield's "Super Fly" soundtrack out-grossed the movie and emerged as an influential soul and funk classic. With a groove-laden sound and socially aware lyrics confronting poverty and drug abuse, Mayfield pushed the envelope on what a soundtrack album could be. The wah-wah-laced "Freddie's Dead" (heard in the movie only as an instrumental), combines Mayfield's ethereal falsetto with down-to-earth lyrics about the film's most tragic character: "Everybody's misused him/Ripped him up and abused him/Another junkie plan/Pushin' dope for the man..."
"Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973)
Bob Dylan never had much success as an actor, and his performance in this revisionist western directed by Sam Peckinpah was no exception. But Dylan did create a great soundtrack for the film, which includes his immortal "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Made up mostly of instrumentals, the album is mellow and acoustic, it's really just Dylan digging into his roots and having some fun.
"Moulin Rouge!" (2001
Director Baz Luhrmann tends to go over the top, with music and visuals overwhelming the story in some of his movies. But with "Moulin Rouge," he gets the balance exactly right. Of course, there's the Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink update of Labelle's "Lady Marmalade." But there's also David Bowie singing "Nature Boy" and a surprisingly fine-voiced Nicole Kidman—the movie's star—on several cuts, notably the lovely "One Day I'll Fly Away." All in all, it's a lush, rich soundtrack that's also a lot of fun.
Films that capture that feeling that comes over you when the leaves begin to change
25 essential songs, from Simon & Garfunkel hits to his solo classics
Classic comedy from a Not Ready for Prime Time Player
40 snapshots of the Neapolitan beauty who became one of Hollywood's biggest stars
Highlights from four decades of brilliant comedy, from early SNL to impromptu interactions with fans
Not Ready for Prime Time classics from the '70s