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My Favorite Soundtracks
An ode to the scores and playlists that live rent-free in the attic of my mind.
Here’s something a little different today, my dear viber. I listen to music a lot when I’m writing, working, and hanging out. I love a good soundtrack — when I’m watching a movie or television show, I mentally take note of a song that fits within a scene and it stays in the memory bank for the rest of time. In fact, if I could pick any job in the world, it would be to choose songs and music for visual masterpieces. What a gig!
Be warned: most of this list is 1990s/2000s heavy, but there are a couple that round it out. Because I came up in the 90s, okay?! This is by no means an exhaustive list; rather, a compilation of soundtracks I still listen to often and are in heavy rotation over here. And as I put this list on paper… it’s definitely not an accident (or mistake) that I have at least two Baz Luhrmann and two Danny Boyle films featured here, or that a handful of these scores include some very, very sick beats.
I wish I could provide a legit playlist of all of these for you, but because of licensing… that’s a bit difficult. I linked to YouTube playlists (for the main list) and to pages on Wikipedia (for the honorable mentions) so you can peep the entire official track lists.
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Dirty Dancing (1987). Honestly, do I need to even say anything about this one? I don’t, but I will! This was the first soundtrack I fell in love with, ruining cassette after cassette. A no-skip set of songs that fit the time in which the movie takes place (early 1960s) but also with a few modern tracks that would undoubtedly chart in the late 1980s. The film opens with the dancers getting down and dirty with one another to “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. We’re given ditties like “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, “Yes” by Merry Clayton, and “Hey! Baby” by Bruce Channel. I’ll never forget falling more in love with Patrick Swayze when I found out he’s the voice behind “She’s Like the Wind” (swoon!). And who could forget Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes?!”
Hackers (1995). THREE separate volumes. The GOAT!! This is the first of a few you’ll see here in this list that share a theme: I love electronica, techno, poppy beats that provide a perfect backdrop for what’s happening in a film. Featuring songs by The Prodigy (“Voodoo People”), Leftfield (“Open Up”), Moby (“Go”), and Orbital (“Halcyon + On + On”), this soundtrack makes you thump along to the beat without fail. I love to pop this record on while I’m writing — it puts me in a trance and my fingers fly across the keyboard. It’s one of the absolute best.
Trainspotting (1996). Yeah, I’m coming in hot with a soundtrack rated “the 7th best motion picture soundtrack in history” by Vanity Fair just over a decade after its release. A film directed by Danny Boyle (we don’t deserve his talent) that walks us through the life of a few heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland and explores their addiction and poverty all while set to a bright soundtrack of Britpop, alt-rock, electronica, and more. It includes the beautiful, somber ballad “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed, Iggy Pop’s pulsating “Lust for Life,” “Sing” by Blur, and Underworld’s “Born Slippy (Nuxx).” A second soundtrack was released with some additional songs from the film, including David Bowie’s “Golden Years” and “Statuesque” by Sleeper. Choose life.
Romeo+Juliet (1996). Oof. This soundtrack, quite possibly one of my fave soundtracks of all time, absolutely slaps. Garbage. Everclear. Butthole Surfers. Radiohead. I👏🏻CON👏🏻IC. Desiree’s “Kissing You” and The Cardigans’ “Love Fool” stand the test of time. Don’t forget Kim Mazelle’s glitzy cover of the disco jam “Young Hearts Run Free” either — a bop for the ages! I recently was gifted this soundtrack on vinyl and was thrilled to add it to my collection. When I listen, I can see the scenes fly by my field of vision and it makes me want to drop everything and watch the movie, again, for the millionth time. A lesser-known release, a sequel of sorts, included the orchestral score of the film.
American Pie (1999). Peak Millennial jams, this soundtrack is a perfect time capsule that instantly transports me to 1999. I recently gave the “core four” American Pie movies a rewatch and loved the lil’ nostalgia ride. The first movie in what would turn into a “franchise” has bangers like “New Girl” by Third Eye Blind and “Mutt” by Blink-182 (two of my fave bands of all time) and lesser-known (to most) jams like “Super Down” by Super Transatlantic. “Sway” by Bic Runga always shows up in my Faves list, too. I just wish the other songs featured in the film made it on to the final soundtrack release, because there were so many other excellent songs like Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” and Hole’s “Celebrity Skin.”
The Beach (2000). This. Movie. Is. Everything. To. Me. If someone asks me what my favorite movie is, I always say this is it. Honestly, anything Danny. Boyle directs is an instant classic in my eyes. (See also: Trainspotting, as mentioned earlier… And, obviously, Leo!! 🥵) I first saw this film at a pivotal time in my life and loved the story (I have not read the book it is based on, though it lives on my TBR list). I could wax poetic about the classic troupe of leaving real life behind in search of something more freeing, but back to the music. It makes me want to leave life behind, find a deserted island, and start a commune with like-minded souls. Look, I listen to this one a LOT — it’s great for writing, with ambient and electronic bops like Moby’s “Porcelain,” Leftfield’s “Snakeblood,” and Underworld’s “8 Ball” to mention just a few.
Blow (2001). This soundtrack (and film) is epic. With hits like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by The Rolling Stones, Link Wray’s “Rumble,” and “Strange Brew” by Cream, this soundtrack is another time capsule, but of the 1950s-1970s. I enjoyed this film, but I enjoy the soundtrack even more. I mean, you can’t help but get hyped up when you hear Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” or actually feel the glamour of the 1970s when the beginning notes of “Blinded by the Light” (the more famous cover by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band is the one we’re hearing on this soundtrack, not the original by Bruce Springsteen) hits your ears.
Moulin Rouge! (2001). So… where were you when you found out Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman could sing?! I remember watching this movie for the first time and losing my damn mind. The covers! The cinematography! The writing! The brilliance! When Ewan sings “Your Song,” I melt. “El Tango de Roxanne” is so sexy and the juxtaposition of the scene while it plays is heartbreaking. Lest we forget, this is the film that gave us the incredible collaboration of Pink, Mya, Christina Aguilera, Missy Elliott, and Lil’ Kim for their fun “Lady Marmalade” cover. I DIE. Oh, and David Bowie’s “Heroes” (as well as his rendition of “Nature Boy”).
American Pie 2 (2001). I cannot mention the first soundtrack without giving its sequel a spot on this list. The second film in the American Pie series features hits like “Every Time I Look For You” by, again the iconic Blink-182, “Phoebe Cates” by Fenix TX, and “Vertigo” by American Hi-Fi. Another time capsule that will always have a special place on my shelf. And same as the last one, not all the songs made it on the official soundtrack (shoutout to Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” and Alien Ant Farm’s “Smooth Criminal”).
Star Wars A New Hope (1977) — John Williams, you’re a genius.
Top Gun (1986) — Danger Zone! Take My Breath Away! And so many more!!
Dazed & Confused (1993) — alright, alright, alright. ✌🏻
Clueless (1995) — as if I’d forget this one. Come on.
Almost Famous (1995) — Stillwater is one of the best fakes bands of all time.
Empire Records (1995) — damn the man, save the Empire! 💿
Titanic (1997) — IMHO, it’s James Horner’s best score.
Garden State (2004) — this one just speaks for itself. Let’s listen to The Shins.
Zombieland (2009) — the score rocks, but the movie opens with Metallica. 🤘🏻
Tell us the comments: if your life was a movie… what would you feature in your soundtrack? What’s your fave soundtrack of all-time and why? 🎶