"The Best Movie Soundtracks of the Seventies"
From the first raggy pianola riff cooked up to accompany a Keystone Kops comedy
to the orchestral pomp and Top 40 pop blasting out of modern multiplexes, music
has been crucial to cinema. Just try to imagine movies without it: dialogue
thudding into dead air, chase scenes devoid of suspense, dramas without
crescendo, comedies without punch. In short movies would seem *ordinary*. Now
that's not why we go see them, is it?
Or, increasingly, to hear them. The music that tumbles off the screen has more
and more often been finding its way onto people's stereos, whether it's the
sweeping score of an individual composer, the perennial appeal of a classic
musical, or a snapshot of the pop-music moment. If you're looking to set up your
own Seventies movie-musical library, here's the score.
1. Saturday Night Fever
(1977) - Disco might forever be remembered as mere kitsch if we didn't have
Fever to remind us that is was also the unlikely music of emancipation.
Whether at a Brooklyn ballroom or Studio 54, disco delivered participatory
escapism, and it hardly mattered who provided the beat. Fever did boast stars,
of course, in the Bee Gees, who were busy reinventing themselves as R&B titans
just as surely as Travolta became a new dude when he put on those duds. But if
"Stayin' Alive" was a reason to live, even the lesser lights on this double LP
gave us happy feet. "Disco Inferno" still makes us want to wear white after
(1972) - A textbook case of a soundtrack that artistically dwarfs the film that
spawned it, Curtis Mayfield's opus is a testament to the powers of a musician at
the top of his game. Mayfield's music imbued the blaxploitation quickie with a
moral pulse, taking aim at the scourge of drugs in the inner city. It was one of
Mayfield's gifts that his songs could sound joyful and heartbroken at the same
time, suggesting the complexities of the human experience. "Pusherman,"
"Freddie's Dead," the title track -- Mayfield's lyrical high-mindedness would
have meant naught if the music weren't as addictive as the drug itself.
3. The Godfather
(1972) - The very first shock that audiences got from The Godfather? That
would have to be the music that ran during the opening credits: Instead of the
musical blam-blam-blam that one might expect to accompany Mafia mayhem, a
distant, mournful trumpet theme slowly swells with orchestration, like an old
man's memories slowly filing back. While that tune as well as the film's love
theme have become pop-culture signifiers invoking instant parody or homage, the
score itself brought Fellini collaborator Nino Rota long-overdue acclaim in
America, and it remains a disturbing benchmark for its very sense of quiet.
4. The Harder They Come
(1973) - This vital compilation introduced most Americans to reggae music, and
for that alone it deserves our lofty ranking. But Harder's relevance isn't
merely historical. Nearly 30 years after its release, the soundtrack remains one
of the few non-Bob Marley albums to make it into the collections of casual
reggae fans. And it's no mystery why: these 12 tracks -- featuring Jimmy Cliff's
spiritual and sweet "Many Rivers to Cross," the rude-boy menace of his title
track, and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop" -- are as heartfelt and urgent (in their
own gentle, loping way) as anything coming out of the States at the time.
5. American Graffiti
(1973) - Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when "oldies" weren't cool.
That was still the case in '73, when George Lucas asked "Where were you in '62?"
and helped popularize the notion of nostalgia for the recent past. He even
invented a plausible reason for the film's wall-to- wall music, a then-
revolutionary conceit: Nearly every character was near a radio tuned into
Wolfman Jack. Thus it came to be that a generation of Vietnam-hardened hippies
was suddenly grooving to "Green Onions," turning a double album full of artists
who'd been bypassed by the counterculture into an unlikely retro smash.
6. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
(1973) - Bob Dylan's first venture into scoring, for Sam Peckinpah's elegiac
Western, is best known for the ghostly folk rock of the moving "Knockin' on
Heaven's Door." But Dylan's soundtrack has much more to offer: spunky bluegrass,
a spooky "Final Theme," and spare, acoustic instrumentals that conjure up whore-
filled cantinas and the deaths of both Billy and the Old West itself.
7. Star Wars
(1977) - Why? (1) Because it's only the best-known film music of the last 25
years. (2) Because the orchestral swell when Luke looks out at the twin Tatooine
suns gets us every time. (3) Because it uses Wagnerian leitmotifs. Seriously.
Look it up. (4) Because we have friends who played the "Throne Room" passage at
their weddings. (5) Because Bill Murray once sang it.
(1978) - Sure, this disco-era ode to poodle skirts and greaser chic is hopeless
kitsch, a pale imitation of '50s rock, featuring Sha Na Na's mauling of "Hound
Dog." But original songs like "Summer Nights," "You're the One That I Want," and
the title track are tuneful fun. For a generation young enough not to know
better, these songs epitomize the blissful innocence of childhood in the '70s.
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(1975) - Tim Curry could out-act Olivier and Brando and still not live down
his turn as a cross-dressing scientist -- nor should he. Richard O'Brien's
hilarious rock musical is one of the most enduring vestiges of glam rock, but
the score's success hinges on how it stuck to musical-comedy tradition as much
as how it made Mick Jagger's transvestism blatant in Frank N. Furter's big
(1970) - There's something deliciously decadent about this cult film, and that
goes double for its music: bizarre bottleneck guitar musings from Ry Cooder,
bong-driven black militancy from the Last Poets, and chilling sonic drapery from
Jack Nitzsche. The icing on the poison-laced cake is Mick Jagger's "Memo From
Turner," which manages to sound obscene without resorting to profanity.
(1974) - The tricky thing about film noir is the sex. The music in a knotty
mystery like Chinatown"has to give off a sense of lurking doom -- of evil --
but it also needs to sound ripe with sultry erotica. You hear that mix in Jerry
Goldsmith's scores to Basic Instinct and L.A. Confidential, but Chinatown
remains the gold standard when it comes to slinky, mesmerizing rot.
(1972) - What good is sitting alone in your room? Well, plenty, if you've got
the soundtrack for Bob Fosse's take on the John Kander/Fred Ebb tuner. Removing
most traces of sentimentality and making a dark project even darker, they tossed
about half of the songs from the stage version, but memorably added "Mein Herr,"
"Money, Money," and Liza's big heartbreak showstopper, "Maybe This Time."
(1971) - The title track is a bad mother by any yardstick, but the rest of Isaac
Hayes' blaxploitation opera is a funkified mama jama too. You want uncut Stax
soul? Here 'tis. The 20-minute "Do Your Thing" is as evocative a period piece
(and sentiment) as was ever waxed. As Hayes sings, "If the music makes you move,
'cause you can dig the groove, then groove on."
14. Let It Be
(1970) - Time had caught up with the Beatles in 1970. John wanted to reconnect
with his rock & roll rave-up roots, while Paul ultimately chose to... well,
check the title. That tension makes for uneasy watching on screen, but songs
like "I've Got a Feeling," "Two of Us," and "Dig a Pony" beautifully explore a
nostalgia for simpler times -- theirs and ours.
15. The Sting
(1973) - Purists be damned: Director George Roy Hill and musical collaborator
Marvin Hamlisch knew perfectly well that their Paul Newman-Robert Redford con-
men buddy comedy took place in the 1930s, three full decades after composer
Scott Joplin's rags had been the rage. And like any good filmmakers, they knew
the music simply fit the film.
(1975) - Perhaps no two-note combination inspires as much sheer terror and
aquatic dread as the one in Jaws. The quickening "bum-bum, bum- bum" that
anchors John Williams' precise, dynamic score was so simple that when he first
played it for neophyte director Steven Spielberg, the latter thought it was a
joke. Funny as a shark attack, you might say.
(1970) - Some cynics had opined that without the chemical additives, the music
at Woodstock didn't sound that great. Balderdash. While not everything is mind-
altering, there's a wealth of primo rock here: Ten Years After's jet-propelled
"I'm Going Home," Santana's smokin' "Soul Sacrifice," Jimi Hendrix's "Star
Spangled Banner." Hot tip: watch the movie first.
18. Taxi Driver
(1976) - Completed just hours before Bernard Herrmann passed away, the final
opus from filmdom's greatest composer blends the sweaty tension of his Hitchcock
scores with a rare journey into sax-driven jazz. Only Herrmann could make a
simple snare-drum rat-tat symbolize a taxi meter, Travis Bickle's monotonous
routine, and his ticking time-bomb madness all at the same time.
19. The Last Waltz
(1978) - Quibblers complain about the subpar Dylan performance and the tacked-
on, studio-recorded "Last Waltz Suite," but this all-star tribute concert,
marking the 1976 disbanding of The Band, is packed with sublime moments, from
Neil Young's plaintive "Helpless" and Van Morrison's Irish-gospel lullaby "Tura-
Lura-Lural" to The Band's own "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
(1979) - Looking at the album cover can now make you wince: The "H" in the title
is formed by a cartoon of the terrorist-demolished World Trade Center. Which is
yet another reason to play the music. Nobody summoned the spry, gleaming,
hustle-bustle majesty of New York better than George Gershwin, whose
cosmopolitan ballads and rhapsodies give Woody Allen's film its timeless grace.
(1975) - How often does a major band take a second crack at one of rock's
classic albums? Once, so far. Fans split on the merits of the outright remakes,
but this more grandiose Tommy is hardly just a Who album -- not with Eric
Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner, and even Ann-Margret all bathing in
conspicuous consumption (literally, in Ann-Margret's case).
22. A Clockwork Orange
(1972) - Twist No. 1: Use civilized classical music as an ironic counterpoint to
director Stanley Kubrick's little shop of fantastic horrors. Twist No. 2: Hire
proto-eletronics composer Walter (later, Wendy, thanks to a sex-change
operation) Carlos to update some of those pieces, such as the "William Tell
Overture" and Beethoven's Ninth, on synths. Prog rock hits the screen.
(1975) - You'd think for a movie set in Nashville, director Robert Altman would
have enlisted country music stalwarts to knock off "authentic" fare. Instead, he
had his actors -- Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, and, most famously, Keith Carradine
-- write and sing their own material. The results were integral to the film's
memorably unpolished feel.
SONGS IN A MAJOR (SEVENTIES MOTION PICTURE)
Whatever the era, movies have thrilled us with indelible stand-alone songs.
Here's a chronological countdown of 10 tunes -- hit singles and shoulda-beens --
than rocked our moviegoing world in the Seventies.
- *Across 110th Street" - Bobby Womack (Across 110th Street, 1972)
- "Dueling Banjos" - Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell (Deliverance, 1972)
- "Live and Let Die" - Paul McCartney and Wings (Live and Let Die, 1973)
- "Tubular Bells" - Mike Oldfield (The Exorcist, 1973)
- "The Way We Were" - Barbara Streisand (The Way We Were, 1973)
- "Car Wash" - Rose Royce (Car Wash, 1976)
- "Theme from New York, New York" - Liza Minnelli (New York, New York, 1977)
- "Last Dance" - Donna Summer (Thank God It's Friday, 1978)
- "FM" - Steely Dan (FM, 1978)
- "Rock and Roll High School" - The Ramones (Rock and Roll High School, 1979)
CAMERON CROWE'S FAVES
Like John Cusak in Say Anything..., Cameron Crowe has been holding up a boom
box to the world, with his soundtracks for Singles, Jerry Maguire, and
Almost Famous. Entertainment Weekly asked the director of the upcoming
Vanilla Sky to name some favorite soundtracks from his own collection.
- The Graduate (1967) "Can a movie and its music work any better than this?"
- Friends (1971) "The great forgotten Elton John album is one of his best."
- The Strawberry Statement (1970) "In the post-Woodstock haze came this great and
odd combination of Thunderclap Newman, Neil Young, and classical music."
- Over the Edge (1979) "The movie is a gem of a suburban teen classic, and so is
the Van Halen- and Cheap Trick soundtrack."
- Trouble Man (1972) "Marvin Gaye called this his finest album. It's an
intoxicating, druggy thing of beauty. Oddly, the film barely used the music.
Here's a challenge: Someone make the move that truly deserves the music."
- Percy (1971) "The Kinks composed this rock-baroque soundtrack after their
success with 'Lola.' The movie, by the way, is about a penis."
- Entertainment Weekly, October 12, 2001.
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