Once upon a time, about 20 years ago when R.E.M. ruled the world, it was common practice for people who just saw a good movie to go to a CD store (remember those?) and purchase the film's soundtrack. Directors scrutinized what songs made it into their films, and as a result the 1990s were a golden era for compilations like Singles, Reservoir Dogs, Empire Records, The Bodyguard, and Magnolia. Then something happened, and people suddenly stopped buying soundtracks. As music sales declined, so did Hollywood's emphasis on pairing films with great music.
There were some exceptions, like O Brother, Where Are Thou? winning the 2001 Album of the Year Grammy, and occasionally a power ballad like "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" or "My Heart Will Go On" triumphed. But it's hard to name a soundtrack that has had any cultural impact since 2004's Shins-tastic Garden State. It's not for lack of trying: Greenberg hired LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World had Beck, but neither caught on with the masses. (Those all-star Twilight albums don't count; they're a hodgepodge of songs cashing in on teenage girls' allowances.) It's been hard times for "Music inspired by the original motion picture"... until Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn came along and saved the soundtrack.
At press time, Drive is Number 11 on the iTunes album chart, and it peaked even higher in the days following the film's September 16th release. The movie isn't exactly breaking box office records, so a larger-than-usual percentage of the audience must be running home and buying the soundtrack. Impressively, the album as a whole is roaring up the chart, even though 14 of its 19 songs are selections from composer Cliff Martinez's dark synth-pop score. The track that's doing most of Drive's heavy lifting, and the one that the audience hums as they leave the theater, is College's "A Real Hero":
There's also the tone-setting opening credits song by the French electro-house artist Kavinsky:
Drive might be Refn's first box-office hit stateside, but he's been placing incredible tunes in his films at the perfect moment for a while now, like 2009's Bronson. It's unfortunate Bronson came out before its star Tom Hardy became a marquee name -- this soundtrack would be getting a lot more play if the film was released after Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.
Glass Candy - "Digital Versicolor"
Pet Shop Boys - "It's a Sin" (NSFW)
Earlier this week on Conan, Drive star Ryan Gosling talked about meeting Refn for the first time -- the director was completely standoffish while the two were cruising around Los Angeles until R.E.O. Speedwagon's "Can't Stop Loving You" came on the radio. Suddenly, Gosling could hear Refn singing along, and when the song hit its sappy crescendo, the director burst into tears. We need this guy making more great movies with great soundtracks.