Music and film can often seem synonymous, with the audio accompaniment to your favourite movie being just as important as the dialogue itself. It can feel like a dream come true when a musician or band you love and your favourite director team up and make a little piece of heaven. We’ve taken a look back at some notable musicians who have composed the soundtracks to some classic (and not-so-classic) films. From Simon & Garfunkel’s seminal songs for The Graduate and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood; to some lesser-known gems and some downright surprises. Come on a musical journey through some of your favourite cinema soundtrack moments.
The My Bloody Valentine vocalist contributed five songs to the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, including one number performed by the whole band. Much like the film itself, the score received much critical praise, even considered by some as the third main character in the film, and garnering as much recognition as the actor’s themselves. Shields was awarded a BAFTA for his work.
Aside from his work producing artists like Radiohead, Nigel Godrich wrote the score for 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs.The World along with Beck. Godrich made use of atmospheric electronic tangents, interspersed with many side steps of indie rock; while Beck contributed five songs to the soundtrack, including the song “Ramona” which features multiple times, even at one point being sung by the film’s star Michael Cera. The musical maverick also composed the tunes performed by the titular character’s band SEX BOB-OMB. Godrich also roped in two members of Supergrass to sing backing vocals for a cover utilizing music from the popular video game The Legend of Zelda.
After a year of trying to swoon the French duo, director Joseph Kosinski finally got the robotic pair on board to compose the score to Tron: Legacy after the completion of their 2006/2007 Alive world tour. The duo’s score for the Tron reboot is a mix of orchestral and electronic music, arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, a fan of their work. In describing their contribution, two years in the making, Trapanese said “It was a continual translation between the two worlds and hopefully we put something together that will be different because of that.” Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo has said: “We knew from the start there was no way we were going to do this film score with two synthesisers and a drum machine.” Bonus trivia! Thomas Bangalter also previously worked on the film soundtrack to Gaspar Noé’s 2002 French film Irrevérsible.
As well as being one integral half of Dead Can Dance, Kiwi/Aussie singer and instrumentalist Lisa Gerrard has composed numerous film scores, with one of her first being the Oscar winning, Russell Crowe-starring epic, Gladiator. Conceived alongside legendary Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, who was awarded an Academy Award, however no such recognition was given to Gerrard. Still, both won a Golden Globe Award in the same category. Along with the sword and sandals epic, Gerrard worked on the independent New Zealand film Whale Rider, which she performed and composed entirely on her own. More recently, she’s written for Australian film Balibo, which was recognsied with the APRA Screen Music Award as well as the ARIA for Best Original Soundtrack/Cast Show Album.
Nine Inch Nails frontman and producer/composer Atticus Ross have each had successful careers in their own right, but aside from their respective musical endeavors and production projects, the two are becoming old hands at scoring for film. The two first collaborated on David Fincher’s 2010 film about Facebook, The Social Network, earning the pair an Academy Award for Best Original Score, as well as a Golden Globe Award in the same category. Recently they completed their second collaboration, and sophomore outing with Fincher on his version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, for which they were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Score. Before that, Reznor had produced a number of scores on his own, including ‘curating’ the aggressive ADHD score for Oliver Stone’s brutal 1995 flick, Natural Born Killers. Reznor also provided music to One Hour Photo, which was not included in the creppy 2002 film due to director Mark Romanek deciding it didn’t fit. The compilation was then evolved into Still by Nine Inch Nails.
He’s not just a paranoid android, he’s also a very talented composer; yet according to some, the Radiohead guitarist should’ve scored a nomination at the 2008 Academy Awards. Greenwood earned a large amount of praise after scoring the 2003 documentary Bodysong, with critics noting his excellent use of jazz, electronic, classical, and experimental styles. His score for the 2007 film There Will Be Blood was widely praised by critics, and was regarded as a contender for the Academy Award for Original Music Score. However, due to his reworking of one of his pieces from Bodysong, he was controversially disqualified from contention, as the Academy requires all eligible scores to be composed exclusively for the film at hand. Nevertheless, Greenwood has forged a strong career as a film composer, returning to work with PT Anderson for The Master, as well as We Need To Talk About Kevin, and the silver screen adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.
Did you know that one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most memorable songs originally came from a movie? The Graduate is the only film the duo ever scored together, spawning the hit song “Mrs. Robinson”. The song has become synonymous with the 1967 dramedy, as well as its thematic idea of an older woman seducing younger men, named after the film’s titular character (played to sultry aplomb by Anne Bancroft). Along with this classic, the film also includes the folk rock pair’s other big hit, “The Sound Of Silence”, but only as an instrumental version throughout, and a shortened version that appears later in the film – originally used as accompaniment to help with pacing and editing, until it was decided that a better replacement couldn’t be found.
Composed and performed by the progressive rock keyboardist himself, Emerson’s score for Inferno did not receive a favorable response with critics drawing attention to its failure to compliment the action happening on screen. Michael Mackenzie of DVD Times balked: “The music is more or less adequate and at times adds to the tension, but it frequently contradicts what is happening on-screen”. Fellow DVD Review scribe Guido Henkel shared those same sentiments. “The music is poorly spotted and too often cues are placed where they shouldn’t be or placed so that they actually break tension rather than help building it,” wrote Henkel of Emerson’s indulgent score.
Annie Lennox and David Stewart describe it as “Kraftwerk meets African tribal meets Booker T and the MGs;” yet according to the duo, their soundtrack for the filmic take on George Orwell’s literary classic is far from being synth pop. The two worked in isolation on the soundtrack, with no contributions from other musicians or outside influences, but if director Michael Radford had had his way, the two wouldn’t have been involved with it at all. After publicly complaining that the work of Eurythmics was “foisted” on him, Lennox and Stewart claimed they had accepted the commission in good faith and would have never taken it on had they known the director didn’t like them. Notably, in the director’s cut of 1984, most of the work of the band has been cut out and replaced with a score Radford had commissioned himself. Apart from a select few songs, hardly any of Eurythmics’ score has lyrics, with certain songs containing references to Orwell’s text.
The first, and what would be the only film score from the man born Robert Zimmerman, and one could say it went rather well - more so for Dylan, not so much the film. The score is a dusty and mostly instrumental work, but is notable for being the home of his memorable and much loved song “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”. What’s notable too is that Dylan made a cameo in the film also, in one of his only cinematic appearances, playing Alias who becomes a friend of Billy the Kid. For his work on the score, Dylan was recognised with both BAFTA and Grammy nods. He has never quite returned to composing for a film, but in his half century career has seen the film panned by critics upon its studio edited release, to having it now be considered a modern day classic after the director’s original cut seeped out.
It became a song that defined a genre, and even today the reputation of the title theme overshadows what many younger generations actually know about the film itself, or the rest of its funkified score. Isaac Hayes would live through a career with enormous highs and lows, but even after his death, that classic chorus lives on. He was nominated for a number of awards for his work, including the Oscar for best score, only the third time an African American had been nominated in any category. Its concise lyrics, with lines like Who's the black private dick/that's a sex machine to all the chicks?” could have been as much about the man that wrote them than Shaft himself. (“You’re damn right!)
Following the breakup of The Police in 1984, drummer Stewart Copeland found major success in producing music for film, receiving a Golden Globe nomination for his instrumental soundtrack to Rumble Fish - directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Copeland also released a song from the flick, “Dont Box Me In”, which received significant airplay upon the film’s release. Following his successful debut, more soundtrack followed for many more films including Talk Radio, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Highlander II: The Quickening as well as a score of television shows, and even the popular 1998 videogame Spyro The Dragon.
In the way that The Beatles and Elvis did in the 60s, Prince’s Purple Rain took cross promotion to a whole new level, catapulting him to superstar status in the process. As well as staring in the cinematic feature, Prince’s film spawned the accompanying album of the same name, which contained some of his biggest hits. It marked the first time audiences would hear “When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy” and the epic, emotive title track; leading to both Grammy and Oscar success, as well as the boat load of money he would have made from the 10 million copies of the soundtrack he sold in the US, and the 20 million worldwide. Two similar film/album cross-overs followed, in 1986’s Under The Cherry Moon (and accompanying album Parade) and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, but to diminishing success. The less said about his contribution to the 1989 Batman the better…
First coming to the attention of many in the band Oingo Boingo, you could say that Danny Elfman always had a knack for the theatrical. As acting ringleader for the bizarre pop group through the late 70s and into the early 90s, Elfman also came to the attention of a young Tim Burton, who came knocking when he needed a soundtrack. In fact all but three of Burton’s films have been scored by Elfman, including Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Batman and Batman Begins, as well as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Along with his work with Burton, Elfman is a noted producer of many familiar TV show themes, including the themes for The Simpsons and Desperate Housewives. Sadly he has never been nominated for a Golden Globe or Oscar for his work.
Better known as the guitarist, singer, and songwriter of Dire Straits, Knopfler has had much success outside of the band in scoring film. His score for 1987 cult classic, The Princess Bride was commended by the film’s director Rob Ryan, who said of it, “only Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits could create a soundtrack to capture the film’s quirky yet romantic nature.” The song “Storybook Love” featured in the film was performed by Willy DeVille and co-written by Knopfler, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Following the successful turn of his band Genesis, Peter Gabriel could have chosen any film in the world to score, and yet the one he chose to take, would turn out to be one of the most controversial of all time. 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorsese, is the film adaption to the controversial novel of the same name. While the film itself divided opinions due to the controversial portrayal of Jesus engaging in sexual activities (and strangely, not for the casting of the crazy eyed Willem Dafoe as Christ) . The film’s score was widely praised for Gabriel’s use of traditional music from around the world, winning the 1990 Grammy for Best New Age Album as well as receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
The prolific indie outfit’s film scoring may have flown under the radar, further than their many album releases, but it’s only because they’ve stuck with low budget indie films and smaller releases. Yo La Tengo are the band responsible for the soundtrack to the film that introduced Amy Adams to the world, Junebug, and they also did the score for the well-loved Jesse Eisenberg/Kristen Stewart-starring Adventureland. Those two are a part of quite a good compilation of indie films that the band have scored, which also includes Game 6, Shortbus, and Old Joy.
With tracks baring titles like “Lizards”, “Rats”, “Spiders” and “Worms”, you may think the domed Pumpkins frontman was having an infestation problem at his studio when he wrote his first film soundtrack for Ransom starring Mel Gibson. However his first and last original film score receives little notoriety today. The film itself was rather successful, although there’s little to no information around about the score itself. Later in 1999, Corgan contributed one song to the film Stigmata, and appeared in 2002 cult film Spun as a doctor, as well as contributing the original track “Freedom Ain’t What It Used To Be.”
While they’ve had a stellar career, the Scottish indie darlings have made some questionable choices in the films they’ve produced scores for, and while filmmaker Todd Solondz signed them for his next film after Happiness, he rejected much of the music they gave to him. Neither the band or the studio were happy with this decision, yet it didn’t help that the songs on the album may have been the worst in their career. The group later released an album of the pieces that made up the score, with chopped and changed parts of dialogue inserted. It wasn’t great.
Until 2005, the Prince of Darkness had never produced a film score, so when he finally got around to it, he didn’t go into it by halves. The Proposition features a score by Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis, as well as a screenplay by Cave himself. The impressionistic Western, set in the Australian outback starring Guy Pearce, is the perfect fit for Cave’s free and poetic style. Director John Hillcoat continued his fruitful creative relationship with the Australian artist, working together on 2009’s The Road and again on this year’s bootlegging crime feature Lawless.
While an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who contributed to a number of bands throughout the 80s and 90s (including The Bats and Jellyfish’s 1993 album Spilt Milk. In the 90s, Brion had branched out into production, working on albums by artists including Fiona Apple, Spoon, Keane, and more recently Best Coast’s sophomore album The Only Place. Alongside this, he’s also a prolific film composer, including his Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for 1999’s Magnolia. He also is the go-to composer for quirky indie comedies and dramas alike, most notably Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, Punch Drunk Love, I Heart Huckabees, The Break-Up, and Step Brothers.
The colourful Yeah Yeah Yeahs mouthpiece has featured on numerous film soundtracks as a contributor, including 2005’s House of Wax, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” for eclectic biopic I’m Not There, and the fittingly howling wail on Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Karen O actually composed her first score for Where The Wild Things Are, at the behest of director and former flame, Spike Jonze. Credited as Karen O & The Kids, the score received positive responses from most, with some even rating it as better than they rated the film.