This week’s question is from reader Matthew Quinn:
Recently, while re-watching Friday Night Lights as well as listening to Julien Baker’s album, I’ve realized that the tone of her music matches the tone of the show. I think certain songs on the album would have been great on the soundtrack of Friday Night Lights if it had been released before or during the show’s run. So my question is this: What song, musician, or album released after a show or movie was released would you retroactively want to put on its soundtrack?
We all agree that the big lightsaber fight at the end of Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace is the best part, right? Sure, it’s a little over-choreographed, but as an expression of “three space-wizards fight each other with magical laser sticks,” it’s about as good as the franchise has ever done. In fact, the only thing that could make it better is if we changed the music, switching out John Williams’ admittedly epic “Duel Of The Fates,” for “Genesis,” the lead-off track from Justice’s Grammy-nominated debut album Cross. Because while “Fates” is great, Justice’s bombastic electronic funk sounds like it was tailor-made for improbable backflips and Ray Park’s slick staff-fighting moves. Don’t believe me? Cue them both up on YouTube, mute Star Wars, and dig into one of the best accidental EDM music videos ever shot.
One of my favorite films of all time remains the big-screen adaptation of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? The landmark play was turned into an equally searing film, with performances and direction that capture the crumbling state of a toxic relationship. I had the opportunity to see it again on Broadway a couple of years ago, and the dialogue has lost none of its electrifying power in the ensuing decades. As a result, I’ve often wondered about contemporary analogues to the film, and one thing keeps coming back to me whenever I consider spiritual successors to Edward Albee’s play: the 2002 album Control, by Seattle-based indie rock group Pedro The Lion. A concept record about a couple whose relationship slowly dissolves into infidelity and murder, it’s a brutal and harrowing emotional ride, and one that eerily echoes the themes and sentiments in Albee’s masterpiece. There are several tracks that would lend themselves perfectly to the film, not least of which the languid sad-fest opener, “Options,” and closer “Rejoice,” both of which would make for fitting music to play over the beginning and end of the film. Perhaps when another hungry young auteur takes a crack at creating a contemporary cinematic vision of the story, they can turn to the group’s raw and downbeat classic for inspiration.
A few years ago, for reasons of my own, I decided to watch a bunch of public domain comedies from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. I suppose I wanted to see how screen humor, particularly rom-coms, had evolved or devolved since then. One of the movies I screened during this project was Irving Reis’ Three Husbands from 1950. It’s no great shakes, despite a better-than-average cast, and people shouldn’t scramble to track it down any time soon. But the premise is intriguing: Emlyn Williams plays a womanizing cad who comes back from the grave in order to tell three philandering husbands that he had affairs with their wives. He hasn’t, really, but these guys needed a wake-up call. The comedy never really gels, and I decided that what the film needed was a musical number. What Williams should do is sing “Who’s Making Love,” a great Stax soul oldie by Johnnie Taylor. The lyrics fit the plot perfectly: “Who’s making love to your old lady while you were out making love?” Too bad the song came out 18 years after the movie.
One of my favorite things about my favorite movie musical, Moulin Rouge!, is the way it serves as an incomplete but enthusiastic history of pop music roughly through the end of the 20th century. Another thing I love is its repurposing of a lot of songs I don’t have much actual use for—“Silly Love Songs” and “I Will Always Love You,” among others—in service of moments that can make me swoon over them, however briefly. Basically, there are dozens if not hundreds of junky and/or sappy Top 40 radio songs that have been released since 2001 that could go way up in my esteem via the Moulin Rouge! treatment. “We Found Love” by Rihanna is far from the worst of those songs; it’s actually pretty okay. But the original song’s incessant repetition of a thematically appropriate title hook makes it a perfect candidate for being chopped up and pasted into Baz Luhrmann’s phantasmagorical world. Really, though, I wish Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman could take a crack at most overproduced earworm radio songs, just so see if they can trick me into loving them.
Apocalypse Now is such an alternately brilliant and turgid phantasmagorical mess (tipping more to the turgid in the ill-advised Redux version) that, any time I watch it, I’m 80 percent sure someone could slip in new music completely unnoticed. And if anyone has the power to send his music through the space-time continuum, it’s Tom Waits. I don’t think he’d even mean to, necessarily—I just picture him clanging out a tune on his one-of-a-kind, homemade percussion instrument, the conundrum, and the song would simply vibrate backward through time and wind up there. Especially the clanking, trudging, madness-of-war march that is “Hell Broke Luce” from 2011’s Bad As Me. Since Apocalypse Now is such an undisciplined, sprawling experience, it wouldn’t even have to replace anything (although I’m not as wowed by The Doors as I once was). With Waits growl-howling out lyrics like “What did you do before the war? / I was a chef, I was a chef / What was your name? / It was Geoff, Geoff / I lost my buddy and I wept, wept / I come down from the meth / So I slept, slept,” it even fits in with the name of Frederic Forrest’s character, Chef, and the permanent, insane, druggy haze through which the mostly doomed Vietnam soldiers in the film march to their fates. Waits’ best songs seem to be coming from someone who, as Chef warns not to ever do, got off the boat. Sailing upriver with this song propelling them along would only make the journey into the heart of the film’s darkness even more appropriately insane.
The hubbub over ’80s teen movie Pretty In Pink turning 30 was justified. Not only did the film examine class and privilege in incisive ways, but it also boasted a hip college-rock soundtrack with New Order, OMD, and (of course) the Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty In Pink.” Although it’s difficult to quibble with the latter song as the movie’s theme, My Favorite’s “Working Class Jacket” might be a better contender. The late ’90s single basically traces the movie’s plot: Lyrics describe an absent mother, a lopsided high school caste system, and a Smiths-obsessed lead character who wears the titular jacket at the prom as a badge of honor. Musically, however, it’s an even bigger throwback. Jangly Britpop guitars, sugary synths, and longing female vocals conjure the time when being a mainstream misfit actually meant something.
As someone who came of age in the ’80s, it stands to reason that I’d have a long list of films from that decade that I tend to think of as underrated, even if I know in my heart that they wouldn’t really hold up for the average viewer. One such film is Electric Dreams, the story of a home computer that becomes sentient—it calls itself Edgar and it’s voiced by Bud Cort—and ends up in a love triangle of sorts with its owner and his beautiful blond neighbor. The film has a very synthpop-heavy soundtrack, and when I first heard Lansing-Dreiden’s “A Line You Can Cross,” I could immediately picture it being incorporated into the film. I’m telling you, if it had been released in 1984, it would’ve been huge!