In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re featuring our favorite songs that only appeared on soundtracks.
Peter Gabriel is most often remembered in film as the voice coming out Lloyd Dobler’s boombox in Say Anything. But almost two decades later, Gabriel lent a similar sound—this time in an original song—to the animated film Wall-E, and it’s just as magical. The science-fiction comedy follows the life of Wall-E, a robot living on the Earth of the future—one that has been all but completely destroyed by the vices of humanity. Wall-E’s job is to clean up the garbage left behind by the mass consumerism of humans, a population that has relocated to starliners while Wall-E and the like tend to the ruined planet left behind.
It’s a cautionary tale that hits closer to home as each year passes; the scenes of humans glued to screens, unable to personally connect, is proving terrifyingly true. Within that cautionary tale, though, is a song of hope, directing the humans down to Earth. Gabriel’s signature dreamlike voice weaves a series of pointed questions—“Did you think you’d escaped from routine / By changing the script and the scene?”—before taking charge in the chorus, singing, “We’re coming down to the ground / There’s no better place to go,” urging the former inhabitants to take responsibility for their previous actions—“Oh, when we messed up our homeland / And set sail for the sky.”
Backed by the Soweto Gospel Choir and an arrangement that alternates between introspective and upbeat, “Down To Earth” was nominated for Best Original Song at the 66th Golden Globe Awards and the 81st Academy Awards, but lost to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” from The Wrestler and A. R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire, respectively, which I think is complete bullshit in both cases. “Down To Earth” did come back the following year to win the Grammy for Best Song Written For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media. More importantly, as one of the 38 tracks on Wall-E’s 2008 soundtrack, it stands out as a stirring song about the importance of responsibility and sustainability in the ever-changing and magical planet we all call home.