Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t that great. Controversial, yes, but lets face it, the main reason for its success? Its music. In a genius move by James Gunn, hits from the era of big hair and clashing neon were incorporated into the script to create a funky intergalactic adventure fuelled by Piña Coloda and Cherry Bombs. We were hooked on a feeling as soon as Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love blasted into our cinemas, eager to look over the film’s glaring plot and character flaws. Can a stellar soundtrack thus make or break a movie?
You could add any song from the 70s to a scene to make it automatically cool, but pair them with an already stellar production, and you’ve got vinyl mastery. Love or hate him, Quentin Tarantino has a damn good taste in music, his films laden with the surfer rock and jive anthems of his youth. Though most will cite Pulp Fiction‘s use of Kool & The Gang, Chuck Berry, and the addictive theme tune of Misirlou as his finest mixtape, I’d argue Jackie Brown is an underrated powerhouse of black soul and R&B, with Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street beautifully bookending the film.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to be too clever to integrate good music into your movie; just blast out an upbeat non-diegetic tune that somewhat links to your plot, and hey presto, you have Simon and Garfunkel singing Mrs. Robinson throughout The Graduate to brilliant effect. Similarly, Trainspotting‘s opening would be pretty bleak if Ewan McGregor wasn’t running to Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life. If you’re not so lucky however, the band you hired to pad out the audio may in fact outshine the film itself. I mean seriously, would we even bother re-watching Saturday Night Fever if it weren’t for The Bee Gees? Beware of overplaying that CD though, as you may regret its imminent domination of the airwaves – remember the dark days when Love is All Around from Four Weddings and a Funeral was at number 1 for 15 weeks? Scold your parents and older siblings, immediately. It makes you wonder how the soundtrack for The Breakfast Club was originally panned, dubbed ‘disposable and marred by 80s artefacts.’ Now we can’t help but throw our fists in the air at Don’t You (Forget About Me).
It goes to show you don’t need music composed specifically for a production to become an instant classic. The Blues Brothers did just fine covering, well, the blues, casting the legendary Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Ray Charles amongst others to give us the most authentic jukebox musical ever, getting you to Shake a Tail Feather and realise that Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. However if you must have original songs to drive your plot, stick to the likes of The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night or Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker to have an hour and a half of the greatest musicians ever lived; of course they’re self indulgent, but who could argue with Smooth Criminal and Can’t Buy Me Love?
Nowadays, its easy for movie studios to neglect composers and utilise your average 13-year-old’s iPod playlist as a lazy way to appeal to mass demographics. But if done with enough passion and a love for talented artists, a soundtrack can long outlive the silver screen.