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The 25 Best Rock Soundtracks

List Of The Day

I'm a glutton for punishment. Go over to any CD retailersite and punch in "Movie Soundtracks" and you will be hit with over 20,000options. While there are plenty to readily dismiss, there are still hundredsthat could easily qualify for whatever "list" you want to make. Soundtracks arebig business. Sometimes it's the only way to sell music. Busy, working people(not me) don't have the time to search out new music. When they hear somethingin a movie that grabs their ear, they're likely to hunt out the soundtrack.I've done it myself. But most soundtracks, especially these days, are glorifiedmixtapes, a handful of acts all managed by the same people or who record forthe same record label. Or maybe the director does like music and chooses hispersonal faves and got the licensing for half of them.

So while you will undoubtedly disagree with this list, youwill hopefully find a few that you do remember fondly, or would be inclined tocheck out if you weren't convinced that I'm out to ruin your life withmy deliberately "bone-headed" picks. At first, I wasn't going to includesoundtracks from movies that were almost exclusively music oriented. The Band'sThe Last Waltz doesn't exactly have a plot beyond their own saying "byebye" (for the first time) and Woodstock,The Concert For Bangla Desh, The Decline Of Western Civilization and Wattstaxwere concert films. But then The Wall and Purple Rain wereconceived by musicians who probably would've recorded those albums anyway. Thealbums were designed to stand up as albums before they were soundtracks totheir films. And I'm not necessarily vouching for the films.

These aren't the best-selling soundtracks of all-time. If 15million people want to listen to The Bodyguard soundtrack, that's fineby me. But that means in a country with 300 million people that 285 millionstill didn't buy it. Even if you lop off 100 million people as being too old,too young or too broke to purchase it, that still means 185 million peopledidn't care enough to buy it. Besides, music is personal. You experienceit. If the soundtrack to Titanic makes you weep, that's your deal andyou're entitled to it.

On that note, wouldn't it be neat if we could borrowone another's brains for a few hours? You'd have to promise to give mine back.

25) More: PinkFloyd made a few soundtracks and on a different day, I might opt for ZabriskiePoint or Obscured By Clouds, but this one had some pretty nicemoments, as all the members seem to be contributing at this point, underliningthe concept of the "group."

24) Easy Rider:A movie with Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all in theiryoung prime should have a movie with a decent soundtrack. "Don't Bogart Me" wasthe perfect high school stoner anthem. Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9" is the kind ofmath even I can comprehend and while I never need to hear "Born To Be Wild"ever again, it's nice to think that there was a time when it was new.

23) The Last Waltz:Robbie Robertson befriends Martin Scorsese and gets a top notch document on The Band's final gig. Except The Band eventually soldier on without Robertson.I'm not sure who chose such a sleepy Joni Mitchell number (did Joni playanything else?), but Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young and Bob Dylan areall worth checking out for sure. And then, of course, the Band played aswell...better than any wedding band I've ever seen.

22) Woodstock: Noone put together Altamont, which is actually too bad (Gimme Shelter isclose but not pure performance), since the Stones played quite well that night,as an audience bootleg of the concert has proved, but Woodstock was thebetter vibe, since nobody died and while the kids could've picked up afterthemselves a bit better, it does have its moments. And you have to figure noone went about correcting their mistakes since most of the acts sound prettyrough (and better for the wear and tear to these ears).

21) Singles: Thissoundtrack captures the time and place when Seattle-based "Grunge" wascornering the popular marketplace. Throw in Paul Westerberg, who spent theprevious decade shooting himself in the foot and selling criminally fewrecords, and you've got an album you can play for the grandkids and say thingslike "I was there!" They won't know what you mean. But when you're thatold, no one listens to you anyway.

20) Times Square: This is even out of print, I'm told.Too bad, since it's a great two-record set with a rare XTC cut and bands suchas Talking Heads, Pretenders, Patti Smith Group, The Cure and guys like GarlandJeffreys and Lou Reed and even Desmond Child and Rouge. Desmond Child before hehooked up with Aerosmith! Now that's classic.

19) Until The EndOf The World: German film director Wim Wenders was always a heavy-dutyrock n' roll fan and saw to it that his films included music that reflectedthis love. Rock musicians, even notably ornery ones like Lou Reed, acquiescedto Wenders' request. Probably because when you speak in German, you soundparticularly threatening.

18) Concert ForBangla Desh: Some people (Norah Jones) might enjoy the side of sitarmusic, but most of the intrigue here was the presence of Bob Dylan, who at thetime rarely set foot on a concert stage anymore. Now, nobody can get him off ofone. How times change!

17) Dazed AndConfused: The 1970s were such a fun time to be baked out of your mind,apparently. How else could so much goofy, lovable music make it to the top?These days we have laws stopping this from happening. But back in the day youcould put Foghat and Black Oak Arkansason the radio and nobody could stop it.

16) I Am Sam: Since The Beatles weren't around to regroup, it was decided that other people shouldsing their songs and bring them to new life. Sean Penn plays a prettyconvincing Beatle fan in the movie, too.

15) Decline Of WesternCivilization: Punk rock was once something that scared people. It madethem angry. It made them cross the street. There was no such thing as HotTopic and people with piercings and tattoos were often looked uponnegatively. Black Flag and Fear were not household names in any but the mostderelict households. This is no longer true. This is the fault of cable TV, Iassure you.

14) Shaft: Withthe recent passing of Isaac Hayes, it's time people stopped referring to him asthe 'Chef from South Park' and startedexploring his recorded legacy. Throw in Truck Turner and Tough Guysand you've got yourself a glorious soundtrack trilogy.

13) Repo Man: SuicidalTendencies were once a very popular group for songs such as "I Saw Your Mommy AndYour Mommy's Dead" and "Institutionalized," which appears on this soundtrackalongside the Circle Jerks and their "acoustic" number. Everyone looked to getUnplugged at one point.

12) I'm Not There:Bob Dylan didn't need any help from director Todd Haynes when it comes toadding to his myth and the movie isn't as enlightening as it thinks it is. Iwent to sleep instead. But this soundtrack is a lot of fun, since half thepeople sound like they've never heard of Bob Dylan before and the others knowthey can't emulate it anyway, so why bother trying? The result is somethingthat surprises more than it should.

11) Rock N' RollHigh School: At this point who doesn't love the Ramones? They're asAmerican as Apple Pie, Coca Cola and (your product placement here). Blowing uphigh schools is always a fun movie idea, but remember kids: don't try this athome. Your parents could get in trouble for not raising you right.

10) Wattstax: Betterthan Woodstockif only because Sha Na Na didn't appear. Soul music was on the verge of changingfor good. Disco was in the wings. Wattstax wasn't intended as a memorialor anything and it doesn't play as one. But it does represent the end of an eraabout to become "bygone."

9) Natural BornKillers: The movie was typical Oliver Stone overkill, much like Chinesefood where you're hungry an hour later. But beyond the razzle-dazzle of thehigh-octane special effects and jarring film editing remains a soundtrack thatsounds pretty damn good if you own a stereo loud enough to handle it.

8) The Harder TheyCome: This movie soundtrack was like the "gateway" album for reggaemusic into rock music circles, introducing innocents to the works of JimmyCliff, Toots And The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, The Melodians and The Slickers.Next thing you know, people are hitting this stuff hard and asking for BobMarley and Peter Tosh by name. Once the people start asking questions aboutLinton Kwesi Johnson, you know times have changed.

7) Saturday NightFever: Disco music only annoyed people at the time because the Bee Geesseemed to be on the radio 24/7. In retrospect, the songs--"Stayin' Alive,""Night Fever," "How Deep Is Your Love"--sound much better. But at the time, youcouldn't exist in the late 1970s without hearing what sounded like theChipmunks coming out of every sound system imaginable. The Chipmunks themselvessuddenly had a new viable career.

6) The Wall: RogerWaters pretty much took over Pink Floyd, writing in the tradition of the rockopera an unfathomably heavy-handed tale about a self-centered rock star who'shaving a mental breakdown because he takes too many drugs and makes too muchmoney--and his dad was killed in WWII. Thankfully, Mr. Waters could still relyon the steadying hand of guitarist David Gilmour to add his musical flourishes.The album sold gazillions and they made a movie out of it.

5) A Hard Day'sNight: The Beatles were quite popular in their day and it's trulyamazing that they managed to record such quality material while the world wentgaga over them and gave them little time to rest. Not only did they provide asolid soundtrack to their first film, but they supplemented the (British) albumwith more original compositions, forever damning all bands to attempt to writetheir own material no matter how bad the results.

4) Purple Rain:This feels like a chicken or the egg question. Would the album be what itis without the film that inspired it? Or did the writing of the album inspirethe little guy to try his hand at a film? In any case, for whatever reason, youwrite "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "Darling Nikki" and the title track,it really doesn't matter how it came about. You just sit back and watch themoney roll in. And then learn to act.

3) The Great Rock N'Roll Swindle: The Sex Pistols were a hype. A very effective hype.Musically, they weren't much, but the energy was scary at times and thismish-mosh of a film put together a soundtrack that includes Eddie Cochran,Jonathan Richman and Chuck Berry covers, songs sung by singers other thanJohnny Rotten and bass obviously played by someone other than Sid Vicious. Butit's a "Swindle" after all.

2) The RollingStones' Rock N' Roll Circus: It only took nearly three decades or so toget this to official release because supposedly the Rolling Stones thought theWho blew them off the stage? I'd say they're all in pretty fine form here.Besides, you get John Lennon leading a supergroup of Keith Richards, EricClapton and Mitch Mitchell on "Yer Blues" just for kicks.

1) Superfly: CurtisMayfield provided this soundtrack that easily stands alone as an album withoutthe film. "Little Child, Running Wild," "Freddie's Dead" and "Pusherman" aresoul music milestones. The kind of thing you play when the folks from Pluto(you'll always be a planet to me) land here and want to know more about whathappened in 1972. They're bound to be curious.

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